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Yankees vs. Rangers: Series Preview

Another day, another important series as the Yankees take on a Wild Card contender in the Rangers.

MLB: Texas Rangers at New York Yankees Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees are set to begin another big series with real playoff implications. They will travel to Texas for a three-game set with the Rangers, who are just one of the many teams chasing the Yankees for one of the two AL Wild card spots.

That the Rangers have remained in the race this late into the season is something of a surprise. The team wasn’t setting the world on fire in the first half, and responded by trading staff ace and impending free agent Yu Darvish to the Dodgers. Trading a top starter isn’t typical of a contender, but nonetheless the Rangers have hovered above .500 for the past several weeks and stayed in the mix for the Wild Card.

Unfortunately for the Rangers, they’re also out their best position player. Adrian Beltre suffered a hamstring injury last week and may be done for the season. Texas has a number of quality hitters to pick up the slack, among them Elvis Andrus (118 wRC+ on the year), Joey Gallo (129), Carlos Gomez (108), and Shin-Soo Choo (109), but none of them are on Beltre’s level as a player.

Game 1: Masahiro Tanaka vs. Martin Perez

Tanaka has completely turned his season after floundering for the first couple months. He has run a 2.77 ERA over his past 12 starts, holding opponents to a .605 OPS, thanks in large part to a renewed focus on his best pitches, his splitter and slider, and a lessened reliance on his heaters.

Perez is a bit of a tough nut to crack. The lefty has had a strange career, flashing potential when he posted a 3.62 ERA in 2013 as a 22-year-old, but fading from the spotlight in missing most of the next two seasons with injury. Perez has gotten back on track health-wise, totaling 60 starts since the beginning of 2016.

Yet his ERA was a middling 4.39 last year, and is at 4.87 in 2017. His peripherals are puzzling, as he’s struck out only 5.1 batters per nine, and walked 3.2, since 2016, but has managed to limit dingers even as home run rates have risen. He’s still only 26 and has plenty of time to turn into something, but it’s difficult to really pin down what he is even right now.

Game 2: Luis Severino vs. Andrew Cashner

Anyone who has remained skeptical of Severino and expected him to regress at some point this year has been sorely disappointed. He has kept on chugging, dominating game after game, and now ranks 4th among all pitchers in fWAR, and 4th among AL pitchers in rWAR. It’s worth remembering that just a year ago, Severino owned an ERA north of six, and wasn’t even regarded as someone that would stick in the rotation, before turning himself into a fringe Cy Young contender.

Severino will face nominally the Rangers’ best pitcher with Darvish gone. Cashner actually ranks just behind Severino at 5th in AL pitcher rWAR at 4.3, a shocking development for a pitcher that had to settle a one-year, $10 million pillow contract to rebuild his value this year.

Cashner obviously didn’t garner much interest on the market last offseason due to his scattershot performance in 2016, when he maintatined a 5.25 ERA across 132 innings while pitching for the Marlins and Padres. This year has been a different story, as he’s posted a 3.29 ERA in 139.2 innings while pitching in a much more hitter-friendly home park. However, Cashner’s strikeout-to-walk ratio is a fairly hideous 74-to-51, leaving to question how much of his resurgence has been a mirage.

Game 3: CC Sabathia vs. AJ Griffin

Sabathia has had an eventful past few weeks. He thought a knee injury could force him to retire last month, he got involved a war of words with the Red Sox and former Yankee Eduardo Nunez, and, for the most part, pitched pretty well.

He is coming off a rough start, though, yielding three homers and five runs in a start in Baltimore. Sabathia had allowed just one homer across his past three starts combined, allowing four runs over 19 innings. Sabathia’s had a strong season on the whole, with a 3.91 ERA in 126.2 innings, so he’ll be looking to leave that meltdown against the Orioles as an aberration.

The Rangers’ rotation is pretty thin behind Cole Hamels, and the back end of the staff is unenviable. Thus, they’ll turn to AJ Griffin on Sunday. Griffin, a 29-year-old right-hander, missed the entirety of the 2014 and 2015 seasons, and has a 5.07 ERA since the start of 2016. Walks and dingers are his primary issues, as he’s issued 26 free passes and given up 17 homers in 69 innings this year.

Coming off a series victory in Baltimore, the Yankees will need to keep winning series to keep pace in the AL East. It's not easy going against playoff contenders every night, but at least every game offers the chance to dent the hopes of a rival contender, including these three against Texas.