Note: Stats accurate as of end of play Saturday, 4/19.
This week's schedule and probable starters:
4/21/14 - Off
4/22/14 - @ Boston - Tanaka vs. Lester
4/23/14 - @ Boston - Pineda vs. Lackey
4/24/14 - @ Boston - Sabathia vs. Doubront
4/25/14 - vs. LA Angels - Kuroda vs. Wilson
4/26/14 - vs. LA Angels - Nuno? vs. Santiago
4/27/14 - vs. LA Angels - Tanaka vs. Richards
The opponents: Boston Red Sox and LA Angels
The Yankees will play two series this week, starting out at Boston on Tuesday and finishing with a three game stand at home against the Los Angeles Angels. The Yankees took three of four from Boston in their first series a week ago, getting strong pitching performances from Michael Pineda, Hiroki Kuroda, and Ivan Nova. Since then, the Red Sox have taken two of three from the White Sox and have split the two games they've played with the Baltimore Orioles at the time of writing. Their offense has struggled so far in the early going, ranking 25th in the league in runs scored and 24th in batting average. Their team ERA ranks in the top ten in the league, but, as they'll be facing Masahiro Tanaka and Pineda when the Yankees come to town, their offense will probably need to heat up to take a couple from the Yankees. This is the Red Sox we're talking about here, though; that offense will come around, more than likely sooner than later.
Speaking of offense, the LA Angels are second in the majors in runs scored in the early going of 2014, mostly due to their league leading 29 home runs. Mike Trout has been predictably terrific, hitting .307/.373/.613 with five home runs and 13 RBI, but Albert Pujols has rediscovered some of his old power, hitting .280/.349/.587 with six home runs and 14 RBI so far this year. While their pitching has struggled (seventh worse collective ERA in the league), their potent offense will make them a threat in any game.
Pitching Highlight: Tanaka vs. Lester
This will mark Tanaka's first appearance against the Red Sox, and is a must watch game for any Yankee fan. He's been even better than expected so far this year, posting an otherworldly 1.79 xFIP and striking out 11.45 batters per nine innings en route to a 2-0 record. It'll be great to see him (hopefully) befuddle the Red Sox lineup with his terrific variety of pitches and, of course, that ridiculous splitter.
Of course, the man opposing him will be no pushover. Jon Lester has gotten off to another good start - his xFIP is just 2.71, and while his record is 2-2, he pitched very well even in those two losses: one he lost 2-1, and the other he only gave up two earned runs (two unearned runs also scored) while getting no runs of offensive support. He's been striking out batters at a great clip as well (9.00 K/9), and he allowed just two runs over six and two-thirds innings in a winning effort the last time he faced the Yankees. Needless to say, it should be an exciting pitcher's duel in Fenway on Tuesday night.
Who's Hot and Who's Not:
Jacoby Ellsbury: The Yankees biggest offseason move in the field has not disappointed so far. Ellsbury has been on a tear to begin this season, hitting .338/.395/.441 with a wRC+ of 133. He leads the team in hits with 23, and is second on the team with 10 runs scored (behind Alfonso Soriano's 11). He's also displayed the terrific speed the Yankees expected, stealing eight bases in 10 tries while making some terrific plays in the outfield. While he has yet to hit a home run, he's been a force at the top of the lineup and on the base paths, and has so far been everything the Yankees hoped he would be.
Yangervis Solarte: Plangervis! While it seemed the Yankees were destined to pick Eduardo Nunez for the major league roster, even though he had been dreadful for the past couple of seasons and Solarte lit up Spring Training pitching, the Yankees picked Solarte to join the big league squad. And boy, does that look like an amazing decision so far. Solarte is hitting .351/.431/.526 with a 172 wRC+ so far this season, leading the team in OBP and looking extremely comfortable at the plate so far. Hopefully, with his versatility in the field, Joe Girardi can find a way to keep his bat in the lineup, as he's clearly earned a spot. As long as he keeps producing at something close to this level, the Yankees need to keep him in the order.
Ivan Nova: This is less about his performance and more about simple sadness at his injury. Nova pitched horribly Saturday, and it seems now that it was at least partly due to the partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his arm. He's been placed on the DL, and his injury will be a big blow to the Yankees rotation. Here's hoping either David Phelps or Vidal Nuno can at least be a decent fill-in at the back of the rotation. A rotation of Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Tanaka, Pineda, and Nuno/Phelps doesn't look too bad on paper, but still, with such high hopes for Nova after his strong finish in 2013, it's too bad that he'll be out for quite some time, and perhaps the rest of the season.
Kelly Johnson: Johnson has been somewhat productive so far this season, posting a mediocre triple slash of .226/.293/.491 and a decent wRC+ of 116. So far, he's really only been valuable for his occasional power, as he's hit three doubles, one triple, and three home runs, knocking in eight runs so far. However, over the past week, he's certainly struggled, hitting just .111 with two hits in 18 at bats, one run scored, and one RBI. It hasn't been pretty lately for Johnson, and since he'll probably be playing plenty of second base with Brian Roberts getting regular days off, hopefully he can turn it around sometime soon.
Final notes and prediction: 4-2 (2-1 against the Red Sox, 2-1 against the Angels).
While the Red Sox haven't been playing great to start the season, this first series against the Yankees at Fenway is bound to pump everyone up. While it's hard to bet against Pineda and Tanaka so far this year, I think the Red Sox will get to one of them (potentially Pineda since this is their second look at him). Still, look for the Yankees to take two of three, because I'll take Sabathia (even present day Sabathia) over Doubront any day.
Against the Angels, the Yankees superior pitching and solid offense should be able to take two out of three, especially at home. The question mark in the rotation might lead to trouble, although Hector Santiago has only managed a 5.17 xFIP so far this year. Still, the Angels offense is bound to break out for a game, and Kuroda has looked only okay so far this season, so the Yankees probably won't pick up a sweep.