Series Preview: Giants @ Yankees

This series possesses an interesting interleague matchup between the Yankees and San Francisco Giants. The Giants are currently battling for the best record in baseball, despite having been swept in the past two series against the Padres and Red Sox. Already having three World Series titles this decade, the Giants have continued their status as the best team in the 2010’s. On the other hand, the Yankees haven’t won one since 2009 and are likely not headed to this year’s postseason. Hovering around the .500 mark all season, the Yankees have come out of the All-Star break playing really good baseball. Despite the way they've played, they haven't gained much ground in the AL Wild Card race, still sitting 5.5 games behind the Blue Jays heading into Friday.

Game One (Friday, July 22 at 7:05 PM ET)
Masahiro Tanaka (7-2, 3.15 ERA) vs. Madison Bumgarner (10-5, 2.12 ERA)
Coming off a dominant start vs. Boston his last time out, Masahiro Tanaka now ranks seventh in the American League in ERA. Tanaka has experienced some rocky outings this season, but overall, he has pitched like a top-of-the-rotation starter. Ever since arriving from Japan with his hefty contract, Tanaka has had big expectations. Down the stretch, the Yankees will need Tanaka to pitch like an ace if they want any chance at making the playoffs. This pitching matchup will be a big stage for Tanaka, as he will need to be near perfect to out-pitch his counterpart Bumgarner.

Madison Bumgarner is one of the front-runners for NL Cy Young and possibly a candidate for NL MVP. He has been the best player for the Giants all season, ranking second in the MLB in ERA (2.12) and third in strikeouts (155). Known for his phenomenal 2014 postseason, “Mad Bum” has taken the next step this season as the Giants’ ace and has proved to be a top-five pitcher in today’s game.


Game Two (Saturday, July 23 at 4:05 PM ET)
Ivan Nova (7-5, 4,92 ERA) vs. Johnny Cueto (13-2, 2.64 ERA)
This season has continued Ivan Nova’s up-and-down career. Nova is coming off his second one-run performance in his past three starts and has pitched well of late. For the season, he has been clearly better at home, as batters have hit .250 against him, resulting in a decent 3.74 ERA. On the road, batters are hitting .307, skyrocketing him to a 6.25 ERA. The downside of Nova continues to be the lack of innings/distance he gives the Yankees’ bullpen and the fact that he only has two pitches. Despite these glaring weaknesses, he can be a solid pitcher at times. The Yanks need another solid start from Nova in order to get a win in the Bronx as he will have his hands full going toe-to-toe with Johnny Cueto.
Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac 
Last season was a bit of a struggle for Cueto as a Royal, as he wasn't as dominant as we are used to with him. Although he was inconsistent throughout his tenure in Kansas City last year, he came up with a dominant complete game in Game 2 of the World Series. Cueto has returned to his ace-form this season, coming off his $130 million contract his offseason. Always known for his funky delivery, the 2015 World Series champ has combined with Bumgarner to form arguably the best pitching duo in the majors. Cueto's 13-1 record and 2.47 ERA heading into the break led him to being named the National League's starter at this year's All-Star game in San Diego. Heading into the series against the Yankees’ average offense, he is ranked tenth in ERA and strikeouts in the NL and tied for first in wins. His addition to the Giants has helped them once again be considered one of the World Series favorites.

Game Three (Sunday, July 24 at 1:05 PM ET)
Nathan Eovaldi (8-6, 4.93 ERA) vs. Jeff Samardzija (9-5, 4.05 ERA)
Since being sent to the bullpen after his bad start against San Diego that saw his ERA jump to 5.54, Eovaldi has pitched 13 innings, while allowing just one run (0.69 ERA). This has included three relief appearances and one start. With scouts on hand recently to watch the Yankees, Eovaldi has gained interest from the Pirates and Cubs. His immense potential hasn’t yet translated, as he includes a high-90s fastball in his arsenal. Although he has a career best 7.10 K/9, Eovaldi still has trouble putting away hitters with his secondary pitches. To go along with these concerns, he has allowed an alarming 19 homers for the season and has a mediocre WHIP of 1.37.

Last season in the AL, Samardzija struggled mightily all season long with the White Sox, ending with a 11-13 record and an ERA of 4.96. His lone start last season against the Yankees lasted just 4.2 innings, as he allowed nine runs at Cellular Field. During the offseason though, the Giants decided to bring him back to the NL. He started off the season really well and had Giants fans thrilled about their offseason signing. Recently, he has fallen off quite a bit. Over his last five starts, dating back to mid-June, his ERA has been 7.16 and has risen to an overall ERA of 4.05. Despite these struggles, the 6’5” right-hander has still been a productive signing and a good number three starter for their rotation.


Three players to watch for the Yankees:
1. Chase Headley
Ever since his MVP-caliber season in 2012, Chase Headley has struggled to build off that season. All Yankee fans surely remember the horrendous start to the season that he had, as he didn’t record a single extra-base hit until May 12. Heading into that May 12 game against the Royals, Headley was batting just .178 with four RBIs. Since then, he has raised his average to .252 to go along with nine homers. His struggles on defense have also improved a bit, as he’s down to six errors so far this season. Despite still not living up to the lofty $52 million contract he signed, Headley has at least been a serviceable third baseman and his middle-of-the-lineup presence is crucial to the Yankees’ everyday success as an offense.


2. Starlin Castro
This offseason’s trade between Castro and Adam Warren hasn't shown a clear winner on either side, a common result from recent Yankee trades. Warren, sporting a 5.67 ERA in his 33.1 innings with Chicago, has been disappointing in his middle-relief work. Castro hasn't been anything spectacular, but has provided clutch hits for the Pinstripes. His 11 homers are tied for third on the team and he has hit .304 with six RBIs since the All-Star break. Overall, despite a  below-average 0.4 WAR, he has been one of the better Yankee hitters this season and is still relatively young at 26-years-old.
Photo Credit: Adam Hunger | USA TODAY Sports
3. Mark Teixeira
After a renaissance 2015 season that saw Mark Teixeira hit 31 homers, he has had difficulty getting anything going this season. In 232 ABs on the season, Teixeira is batting .185 with just eight homers. He hasn’t been much better lately either, as he’s just one for his last 15 heading into this weekend’s series. These last few months could be a deciding factor on how his offseason goes and he could be vying for playing time down the stretch. If he continues to struggle mightily, he will most likely not be back with the team next season, which would give Greg Bird the job as the Yankees’ starting first baseman in 2017.


Three players to watch for the Giants:
1. Brandon Crawford
After a 21 homer season last year, Crawford's power numbers have subsided in his age 29 season, but he’s still on pace for 15 this season. He is also still producing runs at a high rate, as he’s up to 61 for the season, which is tied for 10th in the NL. Along with being one of the best power-hitting, run-producing shortstops in all of baseball, he is one of the better fielders at his position as well. He is tied for third amongst starting shortstops in fielding percentage. His power could come in handy at Yankee Stadium this weekend.


2. Brandon Belt
A 2016 All-Star, Belt has always been an underrated first-baseman across the league. He has been a staple in their lineup since 2011 and was a part of two of the three World Series teams. Regularly batting third in their everyday lineup, his consistency has helped the Giants to first place in the NL West thus far. He has struggled lately though, as before his sixth inning single against the Red Sox on Wednesday, he had gone 0 for his last 19. His first half slash line of .302/,407/.521 showcases just how elite his plate discipline is and his ability to get on base for Posey and Crawford.


3. Ramiro Pena
Many people probably didn’t even realize this guy is still around. A backup infielder for the Yankees from 2009-2012, Ramiro spent a few years with the Braves and a year in San Diego’s farm system before coming to San Francisco. He has played a limited role for the Giants, but has proved valuable when getting the playing time. San Francisco has experienced multiple injuries to their infield this season, causing them to give Pena playing time. Recently, Bruce Bochy has noticed his positive play, rewarding him with five consecutive starts since the break. Despite a small sample size, he has hit .348 in 66 at-bats. The 31-year-old’s versatility has surprisingly helped the first-place Giants.


Three things to watch for:
1. Can the Yankees get to the Giants bullpen?
This will be the key of the series, as the Giants have had a very good rotation all season and will get to feature their top three in the Bronx. Leading the majors in complete games with eight, the Giants’ starting pitchers have given them length all season, as Cueto ranks first in the NL in innings pitched, Bumgarner second, and Samardzija eighth, respectively. The Achilles heal of the Giants pitching is their bullpen. They have ranked just 18th in baseball in bullpen ERA (4.00), so this is a time the Yankee offense could put up some runs and exploit the Giants’ pitching. They are also ranked dead last in bullpen strikeouts, with 224. Whether it’s through getting the starters’ pitch count up or scoring early runs on them, it’ll be crucial for the Yankees to get to the San Francisco bullpen.

2. Will the Yankees bullpen trio still be fully intact?
Every year, the trade deadline is an exciting time for fans, teams, and players. This season though, the Yankees have been rumored to most likely enter sell-mode, something they are not accustomed to. At the heat of trade talk surrounding the Yankees is Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman, with Dellin Betances not being discussed to the public's knowledge. This part of the bullpen has been the Yankees’ biggest strength all season, as Betances and Miller each made the All-Star team. Chapman’s 29-game suspension (it was shortened one game due to a rainout) hurt his chances, but he has been dominant since his return, recording 19 saves and 40 strikeouts in 28.1 IP. This trio has helped the Yankees bullpen rank first in strikeouts (341) and tied for second in opponent’s batting average (.215). Chapman, in the last year of his contract, has been connected with the Nationals, Cubs, and others, along with Miller. These two aren’t the only Yankee players in trade rumors though, as Carlos Beltran, Nathan Eovaldi, Ivan Nova, and Michael Pineda have all garnered interest from opposing teams.
Photo Credit: Charles Wenzelberg | Getty Images
3. Role of Chad Green
Recently ranked the 14th best prospect for the Yanks by our writers here at BBB, Green has had two polar opposite starts recently. His first was against San Diego and other than a homer by former Yankee Yangervis Solarte, Green pitched great. He went six innings, allowing just three hits and one run and also had eight strikeouts on the afternoon. His timely outing for New York gave them a 6-3 win. His next start, on July 8th, was bad from the start. In the first inning alone, he gave up three homers (back-to-back to start the game), already giving the Yanks offense a 4-0 deficit to work with. He ended the night allowing seven runs in 4.1 innings. Despite struggles in the big leagues so far, he was dominant in his time in Scranton this season with a 1.41 ERA. The sporadic start to his major league career has been expected by a young pitcher and it’ll be interesting to see how he performs, whether it’s out of the bullpen or a spot start.

Prediction
In this three-game series, the Yankees will struggle to manufacture runs, as they are facing one of the better trios in baseball, giving the Giants a pitching advantage in every game. Coming off two series wins against Cleveland and Baltimore, two teams in position to make the playoffs, the Yankees should exit this series with a more definitive answer on whether to buy or sell at this year’s trade deadline. Many believed this to be a make-or-break 10-game stretch for the Yankees, but there’s still not a clear answer on the team’s immediate future. Owner Hal Steinbrenner and team president Randy Levine still are hoping for the playoffs, while GM Brian Cashman is hoping for a sell off, but a series loss to the Giants could greatly dampen the chances for a playoff push. I expect the Yankees to lose two out of three against the 57-38 Giants, winning game two.

Article by: Spencer Schultz
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