Yankees Weekly Preview: AL East lead up for grabs

Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

After a sweep of the division leading Blue Jays last week, the Yankees head to Toronto just one and a half games back of the leaders in prime position to supplant them atop the standings.

While the Yankees week didn't exactly end on a bright note (how can Tanaka lose?!?!), they did still sweep the Toronto Blue Jays and now sit just 1.5 games back in the division at 39-35.  This week, they'll face the Blue Jays yet again (this time in the Great White North) before heading back to the Bronx for a weekend home stand against archrival Boston.

The Blue Jays and Red Sox

Blue Jays: 1st in AL East (42-35), 3rd in runs scored, 2nd in OPS (.765), tied for 1st in wRC+ (112), 24th in ERA (4.15), 26th in FIP (4.09), 28th in xFIP (4.28)

Red Sox: 4th in AL East (35-41) 24th in runs scored, 22nd in OPS (.687), 24th in wRC+ (88), 11th in ERA (3.60) 8th in FIP (3.60), 11th in xFIP (3.67)

Quick hits

Unsung Jays taking flight: We all known how well Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista can hit, but they've been getting a lot of help from lesser known members of Toronto's lineup, namely Adam Lind and Juan Francisco.  Lind is hitting .338/.414/.511 with a 157 wRC+ this season, all well above his career averages.  Francisco has hit for a bit less average, but a lot more power, notching a triple slash of .245/.326/.555 with a 141 wRC+ and 12 homers on the year.  They'll probably come back to Earth as the season wears on, but right now, their production has given the Jays one of the best offenses in the league.

Lester and Lackey carrying Sox rotation: While the Red Sox have not followed up their World Series win with a stellar start to 2014, that certainly can't be blamed on their top two arms, Jon Lester and John Lackey.  Lester and Lackey sport nearly 6.0 fWAR combined (2.9 for Lester and 2.7 for Lackey), and have done their parts to keep the Sox within striking distance.  Lester has managed a 2.83 FIP while racking up the K's (ninth in the majors in strikeouts), while Lackey has compiled a 2.90 FIP due to his great control (1.65 BB/9) and his ability to limit the long ball (8.0% HR/FB).  These two will present major obstacles when the Sox roll into the Bronx this weekend.

Napoli rolling since return: Since returning to the lineup on June 8th, Mike Napoli has given the Red Sox a much needed offensive boost, as he's accumulated a .275/.339/.412 triple slash with a 109 wRC+ in that span.  He's been on a tear for much of the season, sporting a 123 wRC+ and a .793 OPS for 2014.  Overall, Napoli has been one of the few offensive bright spots for Boston - Grady Sizmore and Jackie Bradley Jr. have both been awful (each has a wRC+ under 70), Daniel Nava's hitting ability has fallen off a cliff (65 wRC+) and Dustin Pedroia has been just average (99 wRC+).

Yankees weekly notes

Jeter heating up at the plate: While Derek Jeter has struggled for much of this season, he's finally shown some life at the plate over the past two weeks, hitting .321/.351/.377 with a 101 wRC+ over that time period.  He's still only hitting .271 with an 81 wRC+ on the year, but hopefully the past fourteen days have been a sign that Jeter is finally coming to life.

Battle of bullpens in the Bronx: The Yankees and the Red Sox have two of the best bullpens in the league based on fWAR, with the Sox first and the Yankees a close second.  The Yankees pen has been so good mainly because of three men: Dellin Betances (1.8 fWAR), Adam Warren (1.0), and David Robertson (0.9).  All three are in the top 20 for relievers (as are Koji Uehara and Andrew Miller for the Sox), and Betances leads the pack.  While the Yankees pen is only 11th in the league in FIP (mainly due to some ugly innings from the likes of Matt Daley and Alfredo Aceves), they're striking out just about everyone (David Robertson has a 16.05 K/9, and Dellin Betances a casual 15.00).  With Shawn Kelley now back in the mix, the bullpen should continue to be a major strength.

Prediction: 4-2 (2-1 vs. Toronto, 2-1 vs. Boston)

The Yankees have a great chance to take the division lead this week.  David Phelps and Chase Whitley have been better of late, and if those two pitchers can keep it up, and Hiroki Kuroda can keep up his solid pitching over June (3.33 FIP this month) then the Yankees will have a shot to bring out the brooms against the Blue Jays yet again.  While they will face the Red Sox's best two pitchers when they return to New York, Boston has been pretty bad on the road (just 15-22).  Look for Chase Whitley to give the Yankees a good shot to take two out of three (shockingly, I'm picking Nuno to lose and Tanaka to win).

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

Pitching matchups

Monday, June 23:  Chase Whitley (3-0, 2.56 ERA, 3.95 xFIP) vs. Marcus Stroman (3-2, 5.14 ERA, 3.70 xFIP)

Tuesday, June 24: David Phelps (3-4, 4.13 ERA, 4.20 xFIP) vs. Mark Buehrle (10-4, 2.32 ERA, 4.22 xFIP)

Wednesday, June 25: Hiroki Kuroda (4-5, 4.23 ERA, 3.76 xFIP) vs. Drew Hutchinson (5-5, 3.86 ERA, 4.03 xFIP)

Thursday, June 26: Off

Friday, June 27: Vidal Nuno (1-3, 5.90 ERA, 4.30 xFIP) vs. Rubby De La Rosa (2-2, 2.84 ERA, 2.92 xFIP)

Saturday, June 28: Masahiro Tanaka (11-2, 2.11 ERA, 2.31 xFIP) vs. Jon Lester (8-7, 3.14 ERA, 3.18 xFIP)

Sunday, June 29: Whitley vs. John Lackey (8-4, 2.96 ERA, 3.16 xFIP)

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