It’s going to be a long season for the New York Yankees if this keeps up. They’re 1-4 to start the 2015 campaign, although the baseball odds have them as slight favorites for Sunday’s game against the Boston Red Sox.
Jason's 2015 moneyline record as of Apr. 10: 3-3, minus-0.55 units
It’s never a dull moment when the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees get together. They needed 19 innings before Boston (+100 away) won Friday’s series-opener 6-5; hours later, the Red Sox (+104) made it two in a row with a much easier 8-4 victory. Boston goes for the sweep Sunday night at 8:00 p.m. Eastern on ESPN, with the MLB odds shaded toward the Yankees at –118 as we go to press.
That might be a touch optimistic for the Bronx Bombers. Sunday’s starter is Masahiro Tanaka, who may have gone from Best Pitcher of All-Time to washed-up has-been in the space of one year. Tanaka’s trying to pitch through a partially torn UCL without undergoing surgery, and it’s not looking good so far: He was touched for five runs in New York’s season-opening 6-1 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays (+115 away). Is there any reason to add the Yankees to our MLB picks until Tanaka proves himself capable again?
It’s a shame, really. Tanaka came over from Japan last year after pitching a “perfect” season for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in 2013, going 30-0 including the playoffs. Then Tanaka went 6-0 as a Yankee in his first eight starts before finally suffering a loss. He even made the AL All-Star team as a reserve, becoming the first Yankees rookie to win 12 games going into the Mid-Summer Classic.
And then his arm fell off. Okay, it wasn’t quite that bad, but Tanaka started feeling pain in his right elbow, and he started losing. Eventually the torn UCL was discovered, and instead of surgery, Tanaka opted for rest and a platelet-rich plasma injection. He got in two more starts at the tail end of the season; the first one against Toronto was all right, but in the second, Tanaka gave up seven runs to the Red Sox (+123 at home) in a 10-4 loss.
There’s no question that Tanaka is a different pitcher post-injury. The velocity on his fastball and splitter is down, and he’s throwing more sinkers and sliders. The Jays did most of their damage last week against Tanaka’s fastball. His other pitches still have some movement, and Toronto does have a potent batting lineup, so maybe Tanaka will do a little better Sunday night against Boston. But the baseball odds don’t appear to be worth the risk.
Hands of Clay
The Red Sox, off to a quick 4-1 start this year, respond with their own enigmatic pitcher. Clay Buchholz looked fantastic on Opening Day, throwing seven shutout innings against the Philadelphia Phillies (–104 at home) and fanning nine batters in an 8-0 victory. Like Tanaka, Buchholz was an instant hit in the majors, throwing a no-hitter in his second career start back in 2007. And much like Tanaka, Buchholz soon went on the disabled list, this time with shoulder fatigue. Too much, too soon.
It’s been up and down for Buchholz ever since – mostly down in 2014, when he posted a nasty 5.34 ERA while Boston dropped 9.52 units on a team record of 11-17. But look more closely at those stats: Buchholz had a reasonable 4.01 FIP, and was victimized by a .315 BABIP while stranding just 62.1 percent of baserunners. There’s plenty of room for some positive regression there.
We’re focussing on Boston hitters with Tanaka on the mound and the Yankees bullpen drained by Friday’s marathon. Sample sizes are small, but current Sox batters had a combined .944 OPS against Tanaka last year, thanks in large part to his ill-fated season finale. 1B Mike Napoli was 3-for-6 with two home runs, and could be available in your league – he’s 69% owned at Yahoo.
MLB Free Pick: Take the Red Sox -104 at BetOnline