After losing two out of three to the Toronto Blue Jays and enduring a tough series with the Red Sox in the Bronx, New York will have an easier go of it this week as they take on two cellar-dwelling American league squads, the Tampa Bay Rays and the Minnesota Twins.
The Rays and the Twins:
Rays: 5th in AL East (35-49), 25th in runs scored, 19th in OPS (.690), 12th in wRC+ (98), 17th in ERA (3.87), 11th in FIP (3.69), 14th in xFIP (3.72)
Twins: 5th in AL Central (37-43), 15th in runs scored, 18th in OPS (.691), 15th in wRC+ (95), 28th in ERA (4.41), 19th in FIP (3.88), 29th in xFIP (4.25)
Longoria heating up after slow start: While Evan Longoria is still not hitting up to the lofty standards he set over the past few seasons, he's gotten going over the past month, hitting .272/.353/.446 for a 132 wRC+ in June through the 28th. While he's still not up to his standard (133 wRC+ for his career versus 108 this year), Longoria has had to carry even more of the load this year. Wil Myers is still recovering from a wrist injury, David DeJesus now has a broken hand, and mainstays like Matt Joyce and Ben Zobrist struggled to offensive numbers below their career averages (prior to Sunday's blowout victory over the Orioles).
Price and Archer carrying decimated pitching staff: With a staff rocked by injury, it's no wonder the Tampa Bay Rays have struggled so much out of the gates in 2014. Still, David Price and Chris Archer - the only two arms left that Joe Maddon planned to have in his rotation at the start of spring training - are quietly putting together solid seasons that are much better than their losing records. Price currently sports a 3.00 FIP and what would be a career best 10.29 K/BB ratio, along with a 2.7 fWAR, which is 10th among pitchers. Chris Archer's 2.2 fWAR is good for 18th in the league, and his 2.96 FIP is nothing to scoff at. Much of his success this season has come from his incredible ability to limit homers in 2014, and while his 3.7 HR/FB% (3rd best in the majors) is unsustainable, Archer has only built on the success of his terrific rookie season last year.
Former Yankees finding success in the twin cities: Phil Hughes and Eduardo Nunez will face their old team this week, and, because of course, they're both doing quite well in Minnesota. While Nunez is currently dealing with a hamstring issue (he should be activated this week) he got off to a good start for the Twins, hitting .290/.319/.435 for a 110 wRC+ in 25 games. Hughes has found even more success, and has been one of the best pitchers in the majors in 2014 (5th in fWAR at 3.1). It hasn't just been the fewer home runs surrendered thanks to not pitching half his games at Yankee Stadium (5.5% HR/FB); he's also found terrific control this season, managing a 0.87 BB/9, way below his career average of 2.60.
Yankees notes for the week:
Ellsbury, Gardner raking over past month: The speedy outfielders have both been tearing up opposing pitching in June. Jacoby Ellsbury has hit .330/.394/.433 for a 132 wRC+, while Brett Gardner's been even better, hitting .296/.367/.500 for a 141 wRC+. Gardner has hit four of his seven homers in June, second most among Yankee hitters in the month (Mark Teixeira is first), and while the offense has struggled overall, these two have been doing about as much as anyone could ask of them.
Johnson heating up as the season nears midway point: Kelly Johnson has been getting the majority of starts at third when righties take the hill lately, and he's finally found some success at the plate after a brutal start to the season. Over the past month, Johnson has hit .263/.356/.421 with a 115 wRC+. While he's still not hitting for the power everyone expected him to, at least he's getting on base, and that's better than nothing (and more than some others are doing).
Prediction: 4-3 (1-2 vs. Tampa Bay, 3-1 vs. Minnesota)
The Rays have been playing a bit better of late (9-6 in their past 15 games), and going up against Archer and Price will be no small task for the Yankee lineup that has struggled mightily in June. Regarding the Twins, while they haven't been awful this year, their pitching (outside of Hughes) has been. With Hughes matched up against Tanaka, the Yankees should be in prime position to take three of four in Minnesota.
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Monday, June 30: David Phelps (3-4, 4.35 ERA, 4.08 xFIP) vs. Chris Archer (4-5, 3.29 ERA, 3.59 xFIP)
Tuesday, July 1: Hiroki Kuroda (5-5, 4.23 ERA, 3.81 xFIP) vs. David Price (6-7, 3.63 ERA, 2.54 xFIP)
Thursday, July 3: Masahiro Tanaka (11-3, 2.10 ERA, 2.46 xFIP) vs. Phil Hughes (8-4, 3.58 ERA, 3.31 xFIP)
Saturday, July 5: David Phelps vs. Yohan Pino (0-1, 6.30 ERA, 3.95 xFIP)
Sunday, July 6: Hiroki Kuroda vs. Ricky Nolasco (4-6, 5.74 ERA, 4.08 xFIP)