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Tigers head to New York to face the Yankees, surprise contenders in 2015

Not many people expected much out of the New York Yankees this season, but they are currently in the thick of the playoff race.

Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

The 2015 season wasn't supposed to go like this for the New York Yankees. Picked by most to finish in the bottom half of the American League East this year, the Yankees have been one of baseball's biggest surprises so far. They enter play on Friday with a 36-30 record, just one game behind the even more surprising Tampa Bay Rays for the division lead.

While these are not the Bronx Bombers of yesteryear, the Yankees have cobbled together one of the better offenses in the American League. They rank fourth in runs scored, fourth in home runs, and third in isolated power (ISO). They have also been one of baseball's most prolific home teams, winning 18 of their 29 games at Yankee Stadium this season. Their lefty-laden lineup is hitting a robust .265/.335/.462 at home this season, a far cry better than the .239/.305/.379 batting line they have on the road.

The Yankees have also been prolific at locking down games with a stellar bullpen, one that ranks fourth in the AL with a 3.26 ERA. Led by the two-headed monster of Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller (who is currently on the disabled list), the Yankees' bullpen leads the league with 236 strikeouts. Miller and Betances have accounted for over 40 percent of those punchouts, with lefthander Chasen Shreve contributing 28 more in 27 2/3 innings.

Then there's the starting pitching. The Yankees' rotation has a 4.27 ERA on the year, fifth-highest in the American League. Two of their regular starters, CC Sabathia and Nathan Eovaldi, have ERAs over five. Their peripheral numbers look better and the staff has been stung by a .320 BABIP, but they have struggled to keep the Yankees in games at times. They rank 11th in the AL with 379 innings pitched, putting more strain on their bullpen, which has the second-highest workload in the league.

SB Nation blog: Pinstripe Alley

Game 1: Friday, 7:05 p.m., Fox Sports Detroit, MLB Network

Pitching Matchup: RHP Justin Verlander (0-0, 3.60 ERA) vs. RHP Adam Warren (4-4, 3.78 ERA)

Verlander 1 5.0 3.60 3.60 1.80 1.00 6.10 6.48 -0.1
Warren 12 69.0 5.61 3.26 1.04 1.25 4.54 4.69 0.5

The Tigers saw Adam Warren earlier this season in a game most Detroit fans would like to forget. Warren waited nearly an hour to take the mound in the bottom of the first, as Tigers starter David Price was knocked around for six runs in the top of the inning while snow swirled around the diamond. The Tigers responded by tagging Warren with four runs in the first, but would get no more afterward. Warren worked 5 2/3 innings, allowing five hits while striking out three and walking four.

This type of performance was standard for Warren earlier in the year, but he has turned things around lately. After his ERA climbed to 4.78 on May 3, the 27-year-old righthander has held opponents to a 3.16 ERA in his last seven starts. He has worked into the seventh inning in five of those seven games, and has limited opposing batters to just 36 hits in 42 2/3 innings. His low strikeout rate and slightly elevated home run rate don't bode well for the advanced metrics -- he has a 4.69 FIP during that stretch, for instance -- and he has a .246 BABIP, so expect a bit of regression at some point.

Game 2: Saturday, 7:15 p.m., Fox Sports Detroit, MLB Network

Pitching Matchup: RHP Alfredo Simon (7-3, 2.58 ERA) vs. RHP Nathan Eovaldi (5-2, 5.12 ERA)

Simon 12 76.2 6.57 2.82 0.59 1.16 3.47 4.22 1.3

When the Yankees acquired Nathan Eovaldi from the Miami Marlins this winter, the belief was that their coaching staff, led by pitching coach Larry Rothschild, could mold the 25-year-old flamethrower into a decent mid-rotation starter. That hasn't happened yet. Eovaldi's ERA is elevated by a brutal outing in his last start -- he gave up eight runs on nine hits in two-thirds of an inning against his former club -- he still has not taken the step forward many were hoping for when he arrived in New York.

Eovaldi's strikeout rate, already well below league average at 16.6 percent last season, has dipped to 15.7 percent this year. This isn't great for most pitchers, but it is downright mystifying for a player like Eovaldi, whose four-seam fastball is averaging 96.4 miles per hour this season according to Brooks Baseball. A jump in home run rate hasn't helped Eovaldi's numbers much, but he has induced a higher percentage of ground balls this season. If he can add a few more swings and misses, the Yankees may finally get the starter they were hoping for.

Game 3: Sunday, 1:05 p.m., Fox Sports Detroit, MLB Network

Pitching Matchup: RHP Anibal Sanchez (5-7, 4.65 ERA) vs. RHP Masahiro Tanaka (4-2, 2.49 ERA)

Sanchez 14 91.0 8.21 2.47 1.29 1.18 3.99 3.66 1.0
Tanaka 7 43.1 9.35 1.45 0.83 0.88 2.71 2.76 1.2

Masahiro Tanaka pitched 6 1/3 dynamite innings against the Tigers on April 23, resulting in a 2-1 Yankees victory. It was the only no-decision of Tanaka's season, but that is partly because he has only made seven starts. Tanaka was shelved for nearly six weeks after that start with the same forearm tightness he has experienced throughout his Yankees career. Per usual, he has not skipped a beat. In his three starts since coming off the disabled list, Tanaka has allowed a 1.71 ERA. He has 21 strikeouts and zero walks in 21 innings of work. Remarkably, the Yankees found a way to lose one of those games.

Hitter to fear: Mark Teixeira (.252/.364/.570 in 258 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Stephen Drew (.169/.238/.353 in 224 plate appearances)

After struggling to score runs last season, the Yankees have had one of the deeper lineups in baseball this season. Five of the 10 players on their roster with 100 plate appearances or more have an OPS of .750 or better, led by the surprising resurgence of Mark Teixeira. After playing in just 138 games in the previous two seasons, Teixeira is hitting .252/.364/.570 in 258 plate appearances this season. His .318 ISO leads the American League, and his 18 home runs are tied with Mike Trout for second in the league. Alex Rodriguez is right behind Teixeira with an .888 OPS, and much will be made of his pursuit of the 3,000th hit of his career this weekend.


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