Leiter: A's present major test for Yankees

Resurrected Kazmir, red-hot Donaldson lead Oakland into series at the Stadium
06/03/2014 11:51 AM ET
By staff

Josh Donaldson is having a big year for the first-place Oakland Athletics.(AP)
The Yankees begin a three-game set against the first-place Oakland Athletics tonight at the Stadium (YES, 6 p.m.). YES Network analyst Al Leiter previews the series, breaking down what New York can expect to see when they take on the red-hot A's.

The A's Personality:  This is a team that's really fun to watch. Here's a team which has the best run differential in baseball. They have scored the most and have given up the least. They have a bullpen which gets it done. Josh Donaldson is one of the best players in the game and plays hard on both sides of the baseball. He is an MVP candidate player. They figure out a way to win. Kudos to Billy Beane. It's just a fun team to watch.

Here's a team, if you think about some of the players they've got -- Coco Crisp, Lowrie, Reddick, Moss -- they're players that really found a home in the Bay area. They have this "I'll show you" mentality. They keep getting knocked down -- with the stadium issues, etc. -- but they keep getting back up. Their enthusiasm is infectious. And another thing: the Coliseum is a great place to pitch, with all that foul territory. That has definitely helped them.

Scott Kazmir:  Kazmir, in particular, really stands out to me; talk about a resurrection of a career! His career was practically over. Has really done an excellent job, to the point where he is possibly looking at a spot on the All-Star Game roster. He is one of the best pitchers in the AL; it's a great story. Sonny Gray is an emerging, legit ace. Jesse Chavez is another nice story, Chavez is getting a chance to start because of injuries to Jarrod Parker and AJ Griffin. He is having a banner year. Very impressive.   

Tanaka's trends through the first third of the season:  Now that we are about a third of the way through the season, we have enough info on Tanaka to identify trends. He gets ahead with his fastball, and then dominates with his off-speed stuff, especially with his split-finger. He continues to throw a good enough fastball; he spots it, and gets ahead in the count. He is throwing it about 46% of the time. He only has 12 walks in 78 innings, and has the best WHIP in the American League.   

Batters are hitting .125 against his split-finger, but he can dominate with all of his pitches: fastball, split, and slider. He's averaging 91-92 mph with his fastball, but can crank it up to 94. That's very good, that he can temper his fastball based on who he is facing, the situation, etc. It's not as though he is throwing hardest early on in the game in order to impress. He's mature enough to pick his spots. If you are facing him, you want to get to him early, and you want to get his heater.

Tanaka, as teams face him multiple times:  The big question is, how do teams adjust to what he's doing? I don't know if he'll continue to dominate at this clip, because he will start facing some teams -- such as the AL East teams -- multiple times. For example, the Cubs responded very well the second time they faced him.   That will be interesting to see, when he faces the AL East teams again and again. Having said that, it has been impressive to see how he and McCann make in-game adjustments. It's a real pleasure to watch him pitch.  

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