Yankees Weekly Preview: Athletics will make it tough to gain ground

Elsa

With the AL West leading Oakland A's coming to town, plus a series at Kansas City (and, oh yeah, a game against Felix Hernandez thrown in for good measure), it could be a long week for the Yankees.

Last week, the Yankees went 3-3, taking two of three from the St. Louis Cardinals before dropping two of three to the Minnesota Twins.  The Yankees now sit at 29-26 and 3.5 games back of the Toronto Blue Jays.  Even with the Blue Jays taking on the Detroit Tigers and the Cardinals this week, don't look for the Yankees to make up much ground.  New York will face the Oakland Athletics and the Kansas City Royals.  However, they will begin the week with one game against the Seattle Mariners, as the two teams must makeup for their April 30th rainout.  We'll just focus on the A's and the Royals here - as far as Seattle goes, the Mariners will be sending ace Felix Hernandez (2.70 xFIP, already 2.8 fWAR) to the mound against David Phelps (4.05 xFIP), so, and I know I'm going out on a limb here, this one will probably go to the Mariners.

The opponents

Athletics: 1st in AL West (35-22), 1st in runs scored, 3rd in OPS (.755), 2nd in wRC+ (115), 7th in FIP (3.57), 12th in xFIP (3.73)

Royals: 5th in AL Central (26-30), 23rd in runs scored, 28th in OPS (.659), 29th in wRC+ (82), 20th in FIP (3.98), 25th in xFIP (3.99)

Quick hits

Young arms bolstering Athletics rotation: After losing both Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin to Tommy John surgery, the A's faced a lot of question marks in their rotation.  Since then, newcomers Drew Pomeranz and Jesse Chavez have answered those questions.  Pomeranz is 5-2 with a 3.83 xFIP (although he could be a lot better if he got his walks down, as they currently sit at 4.03 BB/9).  Chavez has been even better, posting a 3.21 xFIP while striking out 8.47 batter per nine innings.  With the resurgent Scott Kazmir (6-2, 3.61 xFIP), the A's have, so far, pieced together one of the best rotations in the league.  Combining them with a lineup led by Josh Donaldson (160 wRC+ in 2014 after an MVP-caliber 2013), the A's have become a force in the American League.

Alex Gordon leading Kansas City offense, Lorenzo Cain strong since return: While Kansas City's offense has been bad, Alex Gordon hasn't.  Gordon has been carrying the Royals at the plate all year long, hitting .282/.355/.413 with a 116 wRC+ in 2014, and he was even better in May, posting a 132 wRC+.  Center fielder Lorenzo Cain has been about the only other offensive threat in the Royals lineup, and since he returned from the DL on May 5th, Cain has hit .342/.400/.474.  Now if only they could get some help...

Yankees notes for the week

Double dose of Kuroda: Kuroda will make two starts for the Yankees this week, opening the series against Oakland, and then pitching Sunday at Kansas City against Royals ace James Shields.  While Kuroda has struggled this year, he picked it up in May, posting a 6.20 K/BB with a 3.73 xFIP.  However, he's been giving up a couple more homers than usually this season (0.90 career HR/9 vs. 1.25 HR/9 in 2014), and he'll need to keep his pitches down in zone if the Yankees are going to have a decent chance to beat arguably the two best starters on these teams.

Ellsbury hopefully returning to form: After a scorching start to his Yankee career (.312/.369/.452 and a 124 wRC+ in March/April), Ellsbury struggled mightily in May, hitting just .231/.317/.327 with a 78 wRC+.  However, during the last week of May, Ellsbury started hitting again.  Since May 24th, when Ellsbury went 2-for-5 with a homer and two runs scored, he's hit .281 in the seven games since then with seven RBI and four stolen bases.  He's still not tearing the cover off the ball like he did to start the season, but the Yankees really need him to returnto his April form.

Prediction: 3-4 (0-1 vs. Seattle, 1-2 vs. Oakland, 2-1 vs. Kansas City)

It should be another tough week for the Yankees, as they'll face Felix Hernandez, three of Oakland's best pitchers in Kasmir, Chavez, and Pomeranz, and Kansas City ace James Shields.  With only one episode of Tanaka Time this week and an offense that has been inconsistent recently, plus the Oakland A's coming to town, the Yankees could very easily do worse than 3-4 this week.

Pitching matchups

Monday: David Phelps (3.38 ERA, 3.97 FIP) vs. Felix Hernandez (2.57 ERA, 2.23 FIP)

Tuesday: Hiroki Kuroda (4.57 ERA, 3.96 FIP) vs. Scott Kazmir (2.36 ERA, 3.02 FIP)

Wednesday: Vidal Nuno (5.48 ERA, 5.10 FIP) vs. Jesse Chavez (2.78 ERA, 3.55 FIP)

Thursday: Masahiro Tanaka (2.06 ERA, 2.52 FIP) vs. Drew Pomeranz (2.37 ERA, 4.28 FIP)

Friday: Chase Whitley (2.37 ERA, 2.28 FIP) vs. Jeremy Guthrie (4.00 ERA, 5.18 FIP)

Saturday: David Phelps (3.38 ERA, 3.97 FIP) vs. Danny Duffy (3.57 ERA, 4.88 FIP)

Sunday: Hiroki Kuroda (4.57 ERA, 3.96 FIP) vs. James Shields (3.36 ERA, 3.75 FIP)

How do you think the Yankees will fare this week?  Vote in the poll and sound off in the comments below!

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