Although the winning was short-lived after ending a seven-game losing streak earlier in the week, the Yankees will look to rebuild their division lead during a series with the Rangers. Texas, winners of the AL West in both 2015 and 2016, enter the series in the midst of a fairly disappointing season thus far, as they've been hovering around .500 for some time.
The Rangers issues this year have been straightforward. They have the sixth-worst offense in baseball on a league and park adjusted basis, and they have the sixth-worst FIP mark on a league and park adjusted basis. In other words, they've been bad at hitting and bad at pitching, and unlike in past years, they haven't had incredible performances in the clutch to make up for some underwhelming overall numbers.
The Yankees, even after their awful recent stretch, have the third-best run differential in the league. They haven't looked like a team of that caliber lately, but a home series against this Rangers team should still be an opportunity to make up some lost ground. Let's take a look at the matchups:
Game 1: Masahiro Tanaka vs. Yu Darvish
A few months ago, this would have looked like an excellent showdown between aces, each of whom would be hitting the free agent market after the year. Instead, only one of these pitchers fits that profile. Darvish is still at the peak of his powers, while the Yankees are wondering what to do with Tanaka.
Darvish returned successfully from Tommy John surgery halfway through last season, and since then, he has tossed 194 innings with a 134 ERA+, with 231 strikeouts compared to 67 walks. He is simply one of the more fearsome arms in the game, as he still combines consistent 95 mph heat with a deep arsenal that features seven or eight distinct offerings. With his contract expiring after 2017, his name has been caught up in trade rumors as the Rangers have struggled, though given his status as a rental, it seems unlikely the Yankees would get involved.
Tanaka remains a mystery. He was expected to take his place alongside Darvish and Jake Arrieta as the most sought after free agent arms this offseason, but with a 6.34 ERA and 5.65 FIP on the year, it's become increasingly unlikely that Tanaka exercises his opt out after the year. A quarter of the fly balls he's yielded this year have gone for homers, an unsustainable but nonetheless garish rate. Tanaka can still miss bats, and he's shown he can be effective when he keeps the ball in the park, but it's anyone's guess if he'll contain the gopher balls going forward.
Game 2: Luis Cessa vs. Austin Bibens-Dirkx
Quite the come-down from game one's big name matchup. Cessa will get another start in the place of the injured CC Sabathia after putting in a fairly uninspiring performance last time against the Athletics, in which he was knocked for four runs in just four innings. The Yankees could do worse in terms of pitching depth than Cessa, but they also could do better: Cessa owns a career 4.64 ERA in the majors, and a 4.58 ERA in Triple-A. Competence is probably the most that can be hoped for from Cessa as he takes his turn in the rotation.
Bibens-Dirkx, contrary to popular belief, is a real name that belongs to a real major league pitcher. Remarkably, he only just made his debut in the bigs this season at age-32 after spending a full decade in the minor leagues. He's held his own so far, with a 109 ERA+ in 29 innings, though his 18-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio leaves something to be desired. Overall, he's a journeyman righty with a 90 mph fastball and no dominant secondaries, and someone the Yankees should pounce upon.
Game 3: Michael Pineda vs. Nick Martinez
Here we really start to see one of the Rangers' weaknesses: with Cole Hamels injured, they have virtually no depth in the rotation behind Darvish, and are left turning to shaky options like Bibens-Dirx and, on Sunday, Martinez.
That might seem a little harsh to the 26-year-old Martinez, whose career 96 ERA+ is within the realm of respectability. But he has struck out fewer than five batters per nine for his career, and has walked over three per nine as well. His career 5.26 FIP is probably closer to his true talent, as FanGraphs' Steamer projections forecast him for a 5.30 ERA going forward. He throws three different kinds of fastballs per Brooks Baseball, with none profiling as a particularly good pitch, to go along with a fungible curve and changeup.
Pineda will oppose Martinez, coming off an outing against the Angels where he managed six solid innings despite a rough start. We're now 70 games into a season in which Pineda's run prevention numbers (128 ERA+) actually match his sparkling peripherals (84 strikeouts vs. 19 walks). Anyone who's watched him the past two years will remain wary of the other shoe dropping, but that he's managed to get this far with results like this is, at the very least, a nice sign.
This is a series against an inferior opponent that the Yankees should be favored to win. If they take care of business, they might be able to put some breathing room again between them and the Red Sox, and start to put the memories of last week's nightmare west coast trip to rest.