New York Yankees @ Oakland Athletics Series Preview

After traveling to Arizona and dropping 2 of 3 games to the Diamondbacks, the Yankees are set to continue their west coast road trip this weekend with a 4 game series with Oakland. Now just a half game behind Toronto in the cellar of the AL East, the Yankees will look to win this series and get out of last place in the division. Aside from the previous series, the Yankees have been playing pretty solid baseball of late, and this weekend is a great opportunity to continue their recent success.


GAME ONE (Thursday, May 19 | First pitch: 10:05 PM ET)
Ivan Nova (2-1, 3.70 ERA) vs. Kendall Graveman (1-5, 5.84 ERA)
With back to back solid starts, Nova looks to be a mainstay in the rotation again with Luis Severino's injury. He'll square off against a struggling Kendall Graveman in a game that is virtually a "must win" for the Yankees if they want to win the series. Although Sonny Gray is struggling, he has elite stuff, so if the Yankees fail to win game one, they could drop the first two games of the series.

GAME TWO (Friday, May 20 | First pitch: 9:35 PM ET)
CC Sabathia (2-2, 3.81 ERA) vs. Sonny Gray (3-4, 5.84 ERA)
CC Sabathia comes off the DL Friday night a showdown with Sonny Gray. As I previously mentioned, Gray is struggling mightily. But against a unimpressive Yankee offense, this game could get him back on track. I was able to watch Gray's start in Tampa and he got hit pretty hard, so I'm optimistic the Yankees can get to him, but don't be surprised if he spins a gem. On the flipside, Sabathia has been consistently solid for the Yankees. It'll be interesting to see how he pitches in his first game back, so I will temper my expectations, but I expect him to keep the Yankees in the game.

GAME THREE (Saturday, May 21 | First pitch: 4:05 PM ET)
Masahiro Tanaka (1-0, 3.51 ERA) vs. Sean Manaea (1-1, 7.91 ERA)
Masahiro Tanaka pitched to a 2.87 ERA in April, but has faltered in May where he is ERA is 4.50, and he has yet to have a decision in 3 starts. However, he's shown his ace stuff and has come through when the Yankees have needed him this year. He'll face off against the left-handed Sean Manaea. Manaea is struggling in his rookie season, so if the Yankees fail to win this game, it could be a tough series for the Bronx Bombers. Alex Rodriguez is going to try to return from the DL at some point this series, and this could be the game that he returns for.

GAME FOUR (Sunday, May 22 | First pitch: 4:05 PM ET)
Michael Pineda (1-5, 6.60 ERA) vs. Jesse Hahn (1-1, 3.38 ERA)
Jesse Hahn has been a reliable arm since coming off the DL for the A's, and Michael Pineda has been an absolute disaster. I keep thinking Pineda will turn it around, but as time goes on, I'm starting to think that Pineda has shown his true colors the last season and a half. Not only has Pineda been dreadful, he's been a head case on the mound constantly portraying horrendous body language. If he doesn't figure it out, he could be headed for a demotion of some sorts, likely to the bullpen. The Yankees have a short leash on him as it is, so this game could go south quickly for the Yankees. Hahn has had a pretty good career early on, his only issue being his health. He has good stuff for a middle of the rotation starter, so this game doesn't look too bright on the surface.

FOUR PLAYERS TO WATCH FROM EACH TEAM:
Yankees
1. Jacoby Ellsbury
After a dreadful start, Ellsbury is now hitting .306 across his last 15 games. He also has a modest 4 game hitting streak. A streaky hitter as it is, look out for Jacoby Ellsbury to take control of this series and enjoy a hot streak at the plate. The Yankees are going to be counting on Ellsbury to be a table setter and wreak havoc in this series, just like any other.

2. CC Sabathia
CC Sabathia is set to return from the DL Friday night. Surprisingly, Sabathia has been one of the more reliable pitchers in the rotation this year, so getting him back is much needed for the Yankees, especially with struggling Severino suffering an injury. Sabathia looks to continue his resurgent season in the making against Oakland in a game that could go either way.
Picture Credit: Jim McIsaac
3. Aroldis Chapman
Let's be honest, Aroldis Chapman is one of the most exciting players in all of baseball, so all eyes are on him when the Yankees come to town. The fireball closer has been lights out in all of his save opportunities since returning from his suspension, and if he's in the game, the Yankees have a great chance of slamming the door and winning the ballgame.

4. Alex Rodriguez
Joe Girardi has already said that Alex Rodriguez will not play on Thursday. However, he should return at some point during the series. He didn't get off to a hot start but was heating up before his untimely injury. He's a player to watch when he's at the plate, so be on the lookout for A-Rod cracking the lineup at some point this weekend.
Picture Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Athletics
1. Danny Valencia
I saw Danny Valencia hit 3 homers in Tropicana Field this past weekend when I visited Tampa and ended up going to the game. He hits in the 3-hole for the Athletics and he poses a real threat to Yankee pitchers. He hits to all fields and presents some versatility for the A's. The Yankees have to keep this potential breakout star in check to have success in this series.
Picture Credit: Ben Margot-AP
2. Sonny Gray
As I previously mentioned, Gray has been flat out bad this season for the Athletics. But, he's an ace so when he's on, Gray's one of the top pitchers in the league. Gray should be salivating over the opportunity to face an underwhelming Yankee offense which could get him back on track toward saving his season.
Picture Credit: Ezra Shaw-Getty Images
3. Ryan Madson
The Athletics closer has been a stud in the back end of the bullpen since taking over for Sean Doolittle with the closer duty. He's 11/12 on saves with a 1.93 ERA. He's looking like an All-Star in the season's early months

4. Khris Davis
After Danny Valencia's 3-run home run performance, Khris Davis one-upped him a 3 homer night including a walk off grand slam. It was a dynamic performance for a player who is catching fire. With 12 home runs, he's tied for the American League lead. He's been a boom or bust player thus far in 2016, so the Yankee pitchers have to keep him in the yard.

THREE KEYS TO A SERIES VICTORY

1. Get a lead going into the 7th inning
As always, the key to the Yankees winning the game is having their starters hand the ball over to the three headed monster of Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman. The BMC trio has been incredible together, so if the Yankees have a lead going into the 7th, the game is all but over.

2. Have solid outings from starting pitching
Along with the spotty offense, the starting pitching has been in question all season. The rotation is full of inconsistent guys who may have one good outing followed up by an outing where they are smacked around. The Yankee rotation has to improve and find some consistency to continue stringing together series wins. The team has had success winning 3 of the last 4 series', but after dropping the series to Arizona, they should be looking to take 3 out of 4 games from a subpar Oakland team.

3. Get contributions from everyone
This key probably sounds obvious, but I say this because there are players on the Yankees that are struggling mightily. In a 4-game series, it is not too much to ask for to get contributions from every player up and down the lineup in at least one of the games. Mark Teixeira hasn't had a productive at-bat in what feels like weeks, and Michael Pineda is yet to have a good outing in 2016. If Teixeira can have at least one good game this series, and Pineda actually pitches like a serviceable pitcher against a less than stellar Oakland A's lineup, the Yankees have a good chance to win the game. These are two specific players, but the Yankees must get contribution from everyone at some point.

Prediction:
I'm going to predict that this the Yankees split the series 2-2. All indications point toward them winning games 1 and 3. And they really have to win those if they want even a chance to take 3 out of 4. Sonny Gray should relish the opportunity to get back on track against an under performing Yankee lineup, and Michael Pineda has been a train wreck this season, so my mind won't allow me to predict the Yankees to win any game that he pitches in. Therefore, I think this series is split at 2 wins apiece.

Article by: Chad Raines
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