Every series is an important one for the Yankees from here on out, but these three games against Tigers are crucial. The race for the second AL wildcard spot is essentially a battle between the Mariners and Tigers with the Yankees lurking behind. If the Bombers are going to climb back into the race — like, for real — winning this series in Detroit is a must. The Yankees took three of four from the Tigers in Yankee Stadium three weeks ago.
What Have They Done Lately?
The Tigers were off yesterday, and before that they split a four-game series with the Twins despite allowing 42 runs in the series. They are 70-59 with a +30 run differential overall, leaving them 1.5 games back of the Royals in the AL Central, a half-game back of the Mariners for the second AL wildcard spot, and two games up on the Yankees.
Manager Brad Ausmus’ club averages 4.65 runs per game with a team 108 wRC+, so they have been comfortably above-average overall at the plate this year. They did trade away OF Austin Jackson a few weeks ago though, plus 1B Miguel Cabrera (139 wRC+) is day-to-day with an ankle injury. Miggy has been very durable throughout his career and he’s played through a ton of injuries — he played through a torn groin in the postseason last year — so for him to miss a few days with an ankle injury, it must be pretty bad.
Castellanos. (Leon Halip/Getty)
Castellanos. (Leon Halip/Getty)
Even when healthy, Cabrera has only been the second most productive hitter in Detroit’s lineup behind DH Victor Martinez (156 wRC+), who has already hit a career-high 25 homers. OF J.D Martinez (149 wRC+) overhauled his swing after signing with the Tigers and has been very productive in about a half-season’s worth of plate appearances. 2B Ian Kinsler (108 wRC+) and OF Torii Hunter (111 wRC+) have been solid overall. OF Rajai Davis (102 wRC+) ranks sixth in baseball with 31 steals despite having roughly 100 fewer plate appearances than the five guys ahead of him.
The rest of the regular lineup includes 3B Nick Castellanos (98 wRC+), SS Eugenio Suarez (100 wRC+), and C Alex Avila (99 wRC+). C Bryan Holaday (57 wRC+) backs up Avila. The rest of the bench is filled out by IF Andrew Romine (50 wRC+), OF Ezequiel Carrera (64 wRC+), and UTIL Don Kelly (72 wRC+). Projected starters SS Jose Iglesias and OF Andy Dirks have not played at all this year due to leg and back/hamstring injuries.
Tuesday: RHP Brandon McCarthy (vs. DET) vs. RHP Rick Porcello (vs. NYY)
Porcello, 25, is in the middle of his best big league season, pitching to a 3.10 ERA (3.58 FIP) in 25 starts (and one relief appearance) and 165.1 innings. He doesn’t miss many bats (5.44 K/9 and 15.2 K%) — never has and probably never will — but he does limit walks (1.74 BB/9 and 4.9 BB%), keep the ball in the park (0.71 HR/9 and 8.8 HR/FB%), and get grounders (49.4%). Lefties (.298 wOBA) have hit Porcello a bit harder than righties (.285 wOBA), and he’s been more effective on the road (.279 wOBA) than at home (.310 wOBA). Low-90s two and four-seam fastballs are Porcello’s main weapons, and he’ll also use mid-80s sliders, low-80s changeups, and upper-70s curveballs to keep hitters off balance. He’s scaled back on his slider usage and emphasized his curveball in recent years. The Yankees scored one run in seven innings against Porcello earlier this month.
Wednesday: RHP Shane Greene (vs. DET) vs. RHP David Price (vs. NYY)
Again. Again with Price. The Yankees just can’t escape this guy. The 29-year-old Price has a 3.00 ERA (2.93 FIP) in 27 starts and 201.1 innings split between the Rays and Tigers so far this year. He strikeout (9.88 K/9 and 28.5 K%) and walk (1.30 BB/9 and 3.6 BB%) numbers are elite while his homer (1.03 HR/9 and 11.1 HR/FB%) and grounder (41.1%) rates are closer to average. Price has actually be tougher on righties (.271 wOBA) than lefties (.292 wOBA), though neither has had much success. As always, Price is a fastball machine, throwing his low-to-mid-90s two and four-seamer and mid-80s cutter more than 70% of the time combined. Mid-80s changeups and upper-70s curveballs round out his repertoire. The Yankees have already seen Price four friggin’ times this year: six runs in five innings in April, two runs in seven innings in May, one unearned run in seven innings in July, and three runs in 8.2 innings earlier this month. Sick of this guy.
It’s worth noting the Tigers will be the first team to face Greene twice since he’s joined the rotation. (He was supposed to face the Orioles a second time a few weeks ago, but the rotation plans changed following a rainout.) Going through the league the second time is always a big test for a young pitcher.
Thursday: RHP Hiroki Kuroda (vs. DET) vs. TBA
The Tigers have not yet officially announced their starter for the series finale, but all signs point to it being Justin Verlander. Rookie lefty Robbie Ray, the other obvious starter candidate, was just sent to Triple-A and can not be called up until next week due to the ten-day rule, barring injury. The 31-year-old Verlander is having a really rough year, pitching to a 4.82 ERA (4.03 FIP) in 26 starts and 164.1 innings. His strikeout rate (6.79 K/9 and 17.2 K%) is way down, though his walk (3.18 BB/9 and 8.0 BB%), homer (0.88 HR/9 and 7.5 BB%), and ground ball (40.5%) numbers are all in line with his career norms. Righties (.384 wOBA) have hit a ton harder than lefties (.305 wOBA). Verlander’s fastball still sits in the low-to-mid-90s — he just missed a start with shoulder inflammation and was sitting 88-90 early in Saturday’s outing, for what it’s worth — though he doesn’t reach back for 100-101 anymore. The triple-digit heat is gone and probably for good. Mid-80s sliders and changeups as well as an upper-70s curve round out his repertoire. The Yankees scored two runs in seven innings off Verlander a few weeks ago.
The Tigers were off yesterday, so their bullpen is relatively fresh. Closer RHP Joe Nathan (4.14 FIP) has been a disaster (5.36 ERA), and backup plan RHP Joakim Soria (2.08 FIP) is currently on the disabled list with an oblique injury. That leaves ex-Yankee RHP Joba Chamberlain (3.04 FIP) in a setup role. RHP Al Alburquerque (4.08 FIP) is basically the seventh inning guy.
Ausmus’ makeshift bullpen also includes LHP Phil Coke (4.30 FIP), LHP Blaine Hardy (3.10 FIP), RHP Jim Johnson (5.30 FIP), LHP Kyle Lobstein (4.20 FIP in limited time), and LHP Pat McCoy (4.24 FIP in limited time). With Ray being sent down, Lobstein is the other candidate to start Thursday should the Tigers opt to give Verlander an extra day of rest. Check out the status of Joe Girardi‘s bullpen at our Bullpen Workload page, then check out Bless You Boys and Tiger Tales for everything you need to know about the Tigers.