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Yankees Weekly Preview: Tanaka Time times two!

The offense is struggling and the losses are mounting, so the Yankees need to go on a run. With visits to Seattle and Oakland looming, they will have their plates full, but two Tanaka starts should go a long way to making this a winning week.

Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, the Yankees lost five of seven, including three in a row at one point, to fall to .500 at 31-31.  New York now sits in third in the AL East, six games back from the surprising Toronto Blue Jays.  This week, the Yankees will finish up their series against the Royals before three games in Seattle and then three games in Oakland against an A's team that got a bit lucky in their last series with the Yankees.  Hopefully New York can make them pay this week, although Oakland's terrific balance of solid pitching with a killer offense will make it difficult.  We'll just focus on the Mariners and A's below - the Yankees should be able to handle Jason Vargas and the Royals on Monday, but with Vidal Nuno on the mound and the way the offense has been sputtering lately (26th in runs scored over the past two weeks), I'm not nearly as confident as I'd like to be.

The Mariners and Athletics

Mariners: 3rd in AL West (33-29), 16th in runs scored, 27th in OPS (.670), 26th in wRC+ (85), 8th in ERA (3.51), 15th in FIP (3.88), 17th in xFIP (3.84)

Athletics: 1st in AL West (39-24), 1st in runs scored, 4th in OPS (.754), 2nd in wRC+ (114), 1st in ERA (2.95) 7th in FIP (3.57), 11th in xFIP (3.67)

Quick Hits

Gray gets his crack at the Yankees: The Yankees missed Sonny Gray last week when these teams played, but he will get his shot at the Bronx Bombers when the Yanks head to Oakland.  Gray is Oakland's ace, and he's certainly pitched like it this year, posting a 2.83 ERA and a 3.53 xFIP while striking out 7.53 hitters per nine innings and limiting opposing lineups to just 0.63 HR/9 and a .218 batting average against him.  While his walks are up a bit so far this season (3.24 BB/9 compared to 3.06 over his career), he's still one of the best pitchers on one of the best staffs in the league. 

Cano cruising in Seattle: Oh, Robby, how we miss you. While Robinson Cano was a bit slow out of the gates in 2014, he's righted the ship since then and is hitting .332/.370/.420 for a 119 wRC+ this season.  The one thing he isn't doing well is hit for power, as his .088 ISO is much lower than his career .191 number.  While some drop off was to be expected moving to Safeco Field, this is probably larger than anyone really thought, as Cano has hit only two homers on the season so far.  Luckily, he's gotten some help from Kyle Seager (124 wRC+) and Cole Gillespie, who's raked his way into the everyday lineup with a 137 wRC+ over the past 21 games.

Iwakuma strong since return: Ever since getting off of the DL in May, Hisashi Iwakuma has generally picked up where he left off last year, posting a 2.66 ERA and 2.88 xFIP.  He's demonstrated remarkable control this season, issuing just 0.71 BB/9, which is well below his career mark of 2.02 and has helped offset his lower K/9 numbers (6.39 in 2014 compared to 7.32 for his career).  While he had a couple bad games to end May (he gave up nine runs over 13 innings in two starts), he pitched seven scoreless his last time out against Atlanta.  Luckily the Yankees won't have to face King Felix this time around, but Iawkuma will prove a serious challenge in his own right.

Yankees notes for the week

Two episodes of Tanaka Time: The Yankees desperately need to bounce back this week and get a few games above .500, and having Tanaka pitch twice will certainly help.  Tanaka's been everything we could've hoped for and more, posting a 2.46 xFIP while striking out a ton of hitters (9.78 K/9), demonstrating great command (1.38 BB/9) and limiting opposing lineups to just a .215 batting average.  Over his past three starts, he's been practically unhittable, giving up just two earned runs in 20.2 innings while striking out almost 25% of opposing hitters and posting a 0.92 WHIP.  He's lived up to the (considerable) hype so far, and the Yankees really need him to keep it up this week.

Gardner struggling recently: While Gardner had a great May (116 wRC+), he's struggled mightily as of late.  Over the past two weeks, Gardner has hit just .232/.267/.321 for a 58 wRC+, and of course, he struck out to end Sunday's game with the tying run just ninety feet away.  Gardner will certainly bounce back, but combining his recent struggles with those of Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, and Carlos Beltran (who only has one hit in four games back), it's no wonder why the Yankees offense has been so dreadful lately.

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

It looks to be another somewhat lackluster week for the Yankees, as playing at Seattle and Oakland will not do any wonders to spark the Yankee offense.  At least Tanaka is matched up against Iwakuma, or else the Yankees very well could be looking at losing the series against the Mariners.  If Tanaka can start the series off with a win, the Yankees should be able to get to Chris Young, who, while he possesses a pretty ERA and record, has gotten quite lucky this year, as his FIP (5.37) and xFIP (5.88) clearly show.  The Yankees should be capable of taking two of three from the Mariners, although I'm not confident they will.  The A's will once again be a problem, especially with their top three arms going this weekend.  I'm betting on Tanaka (because duh), but other than that, it's going to be tough in Oakland. 

Pitching matchups

Monday: Vidal Nuno (1-2, 5.33 ERA, 4.27 xFIP) vs. Jason Vargas (5-2, 3.28 ERA, 4.11 xFIP)

Tuesday: Masahiro Tanaka (9-1, 2.02 ERA, 2.46 xFIP) vs. Hisashi Iwakuma (4-2, 2.66 ERA, 2.88 xFIP)

Wednesday: Chase Whitley (1-0 2.42 ERA, 3.73 xFIP) vs. Chris Young (5-3, 3.42 ERA, 5.88 xFIP)

Thursday: David Phelps (1-4, 4.88 ERA, 4.28 xFIP) vs. Roenis Elias (5-4, 3.64 ERA, 3.80 xFIP)

Friday: Hiroki Kuroda (4-3, 4.27 ERA, 3.71 xFIP) vs. Sonny Gray (6-2, 2.83 ERA, 3.53 xFIP)

Saturday: Vidal Nuno vs. Scott Kazmir (6-2, 2.40 ERA, 3.45 xFIP)

Sunday: Masahiro Tanaka vs. Jesse Chavez (5-3, 3.04 ERA, 3.34 xFIP)

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