Series Preview: Texas Rangers vs. New York Yankees (6/27-6/30)

After a disappointing 7-1 loss to the Twins in Sunday’s series finale, the Yankees took another step in both the AL East and the AL Wild Card standings. The Yankees couldn't take advantage of playing two below average teams in the Colorado Rockies and the Minnesota Twins for the last week and a half, and now they will face a challenging test as they welcome the Texas Rangers, who are leading the AL West, into Yankee Stadium. Earlier this season when these two teams faced off, the Rangers took two out of three in Arlington.

Game 1 (Monday, June 27 at 7:05 PM ET): Chi Chi Gonzalez (3-6, 5.04 ERA in AAA this season) vs. Ivan Nova (5-5, 5.18 ERA)
Monday will mark Chi Chi Gonzalez’s first appearance in the Majors this season. After 14 appearances (ten starts) in the regular season in 2015 where he pitched to a 4-6 record and a 3.90 ERA, Gonzalez started 2016 in Triple-A Round Rock, where he’s made 14 starts and been quite average. He’s also been inconsistent; in his first four starts, he pitched to a 4.09 ERA; however, his ERA rose all the way to 6.63 after an outing on May 13 where he gave up nine earned runs in 2.2 innings. Gonzalez has settled down, but still has a disappointing 5.14 ERA in his last two starts. Opposing hitters are batting .285 off him and he’s allowed 87 hits in 80.1 innings this year.

Meanwhile, Ivan Nova has had a tough June. In four starts, Nova has allowed 31 hits in 21.1 innings, and his 18 earned runs this month equates to a 7.59 ERA. He’s given up at least one homer in nine straight starts and he has not completed seven innings in any start this season. In Nova’s last two starts, both against the Rockies, he’s allowed 17 hits and ten earned runs in nine innings. Nova must turn it around, or he could be replaced by one of the starters down in Triple-A Scranton: Luis Severino, Chad Green, or Luis Cessa.

Game 2 (Tuesday, June 28 at 7:05 PM ET): Cole Hamels (8-1, 2.79 ERA) vs. CC Sabathia (5-4, 2.71 ERA)
After a solid 2015 campaign where he split time between the Phillies and the Rangers, Cole Hamels has continued to excel in 2016. In his last five starts (all in June), Hamels has given up just seven combined runs in 34.2 innings (1.82 ERA). He’s also struck out 28 batters in his last five starts, but his command has been wild at times, as he’s walked 37 batters in 96.2 innings this year. In fact, Hamels has walked at least two batters in 14 of his 15 starts this season. Another weak spot for Hamels is that he’s already given up 15 homers this season, which is tied for 13th most in the American League. However, he is one of the top pitchers in the Rangers staff, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone if he spins a gem on Tuesday.

Photo Credit: Associated Press/Jeff Roberson

In his last start, CC Sabathia struggled for essentially the first time all season. In 4.1 innings, Sabathia gave up seven hits and five earned runs. However, the Yankees hope that this was just a bump in the road, as he’s been very good throughout the year. In seven starts between May 4 and June 16, Sabathia gave up two or more earned runs just once. Though Sabathia has done a good job this season limiting opposing hitters to a .229 average with runners in scoring position, batters are hitting .277 against him with runners on and .278 with RISP and two outs, so that is something to look out for on Tuesday. Lastly, Sabathia has an odd time struggling against batters in the bottom third of the order, as batters in the 7-9 spot are hitting .272 off him, while those in the 1-6 spot are only .230.

Game 3 (Wednesday, June 29 at 7:05 PM ET): Nick Martinez (1-1, 5.54 ERA) vs. Masahiro Tanaka (5-2, 3.01 ERA)
Martinez, who has spent the majority of this season at Triple-A Round Rock, has made just two starts in the Majors this season. In his last two starts on June 18 and June 24, Martinez allowed a combined seven earned runs on 12 hits in 10.1 innings, so he is certainly not pitching lights-out by any standard. At Triple-A, Martinez has neither impressed nor regressed. In 11 starts, he’s allowed 32 earned runs in 64 innings (4.50 ERA), on 73 hits and 11 walks. Opposing hitters are batting .292 off of Martinez at AAA, and .308 in the Majors against him (13.0 total innings). Nothing spectacular, so the Yankees need to take advantage here.

Masahiro Tanaka, one of the top-two pitchers in the Yankees rotation, has pitched very well as of late. After a tough stretch in mid-May where he allowed ten earned runs in 12 innings, Tanaka has rebounded to deliver a 2.48 ERA in his last seven starts. He’s given up more than three earned runs just once in this stretch, and quite frankly, has really deserved more wins this year. He won just once in his first six starts, and allowed two runs or less in all of those outings. Thankfully, he’s won his last two starts, and his 75 strikeouts this year is second on the Yankees pitching staff.

Game 4 (Thursday, June 30 at 1:05 PM ET): A.J. Griffin (3-0, 3.08 ERA) vs. Michael Pineda (3-7, 5.51 ERA)
Griffin is the lone starting pitcher in this series who faced the Yankees earlier this year. Griffin was excellent in his April 26 start against New York, where he gave up just one earned run on four hits in 8.0 innings. After landing on the DL with shoulder stiffness, he returned to the Rangers on June 25, where he allowed two earned runs on four hits in 4.1 innings. It was a very inefficient outing, as Griffin used 91 pitches and got just 13 outs. However, opposing batters in the Majors are hitting just .200 this season off Griffin, so he certainly has the potential to shut the Yankees offense down. In his three rehab appearances at Double-A Frisco, Griffin allowed four earned runs on 12 hits in 10.1 innings.

Pineda has finally settled down, and his numbers are finally improving. In his last five starts (all in June), Pineda has given up just 25 hits in 30 innings, while pitching to a 3.00 ERA. He’s struck out 37 batters in these five starts, and his 96 strikeouts ranks 8th in the American League. Pineda has struck out at least eight batters in 4 of his last 5 starts, and he’s allowed three runs or less in all five starts. He’s struggled in day games this season, where in seven starts, he has a 6.19 ERA in 36.2 innings. Pineda hopes to continue his resurgence on Thursday.

Players to watch on the Yankees:
1. Mark Teixeira - Despite having just one hit since coming off the disabled list, that one hit was something Teixeira hadn’t done since April 13, and it was a home run. After 74 days and 147 painful at-bats, Teixeira finally sent a Teix message, and his fourth homer of the year will certainly provide himself with some confidence. He needs to turn it around if the Yankees offense, as a whole, want to step on the gas pedal and start scaring opposing pitchers.

Photo Credit: Associated Press/Kathy Willens

2. Carlos Beltran - 19 HRs. 53 RBIs. Do I need to say anything else? In his contract year, and at the age of 39, the right fielder out of Manati, Puerto Rico, has absolutely surprised everyone, fans and players alike, with his resurgent year. Not only is he hitting for power, Beltran is batting .287 and has a team-high 74 hits. Something to watch for is that he is also leading the Yankees with 54 strikeouts, but his contribution to this team is really something else. If Beltran continues to stay hot, his odds of making the AL All-Star team will continue to rise.

3. Brian McCann - After severely struggling in the early days of June, McCann has turned it around in his last seven days. Over this span, McCann has hit .438, including two homers and seven hits in just 16 at-bats. Keep in mind, McCann still has an awful .222 batting average, but he has looked better at the plate as of late. Something to keep an eye on is where McCann bats in this series. In 81 at-bats batting fifth, McCann is .309, but he’s only hitting .125 in the cleanup position.

Players to watch on the Rangers:
1. Ian Desmond - After signing just a one-year deal with the Rangers, Desmond has hit extremely well throughout the entire 2016 campaign. Sporting a .323 batting average, Desmond has continued his hot streak, hitting .378 in June, along with six homers and 17 RBIs this month. After playing several years with Washington as their shortstop, Desmond has transitioned quite well into the outfield, where he has split time between center and left. He’s been a hot hitter since the start of May and Yankees pitchers will need to be careful with him.

Photo Credit: Getty Images/Stephen Brashear

2. Elvis Andrus - In his eighth season with the Rangers (he’s only 27, by the way), Andrus has performed quite consistently on offense this year. After starting out hot in April with a .329 batting average and .361 on-base percentage, he regressed a bit in May, but has improved as of late. Andrus is also hitting .350 with runners in scoring position and .343 with RISP and two outs. Perhaps he should become the “Hitting with RISP instructor” for the Yankees.

3. Nomar Mazara - The 21-year old out of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, has impressed many in his rookie season with Texas. After getting off to a hot start in April with a .333 batting average, he’s cooled down but continues to be an exciting prospect to watch. He hasn’t had a cold streak yet, and if he can continue to perform consistently, his name may come up in trade talks come July.

Picture Credit: USA Today Sports

Realistically, the Yankees will split this series against the Rangers. Cole Hamels has pitched far too well to regress against such an inconsistent offense in the Yankees, and the Rangers are playing far too well to lose this series. Although the Yankees are facing three relatively unknown pitchers in Chi Chi Gonzalez, Nick Martinez, and A.J. Griffin, I don’t see the Yankees completely struggling against these three, even though they typically make very average pitchers look like Cy Young winners. With every game essentially a must-win for the Yankees, which is quite sad with the season so early on, I see the Yankees taking Games 1 and 3, while Griffin and Hamels will be the predominant factor in the Rangers wins on Tuesday and Thursday. I like what I’m seeing out of Sabathia, Tanaka, and Pineda enough to keep it a low-scoring affair in the last three games, but the Ivan Nova-Chi Chi Gonzalez matchup on Monday could be quite the day for both offenses.

Note: Statistics are accurate as of June 26, 2016 at 5:32 PM EDT.

Article by: Bryan Peng
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