Yankees vs. Royals extensive series preview

The Yankees took a step in the right direction this weekend taking 2 out of 3 games against the Red Sox. After getting an intense win on Friday, and beating up on David Price on Saturday, the Yankees were shut down by knuckleballer Steven Wright on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball. Still, the Yankees took a major step in the right direction by winning the series. The Yankees will start a 4-game series with the Kansas City Royals which includes the highly anticipated return of Aroldis Chapman.

GAME ONE (Monday, May 9. First pitch-7:05 PM ET)
Ivan Nova (1-1 5.14 ERA) vs. Chris Young (1-4 5.76 ERA)
Game one will feature Ivan Nova against Chris Young. Nova will make his first start of the season and will look to compete in order to potentially stay in the rotation when CC Sabathia returns. Chris Young will oppose Nova as this is a game that is certainly winnable for the Yankees. As an offense that has struggled to find a rhythm, look for the team to open up the series in a big way in game one.
Photo Via Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports
GAME TWO (Tuesday, May 10. First pitch-7:05 PM ET)
Masahiro Tanaka (1-0 2.29 ERA) vs. Kris Medlen (1-3 6.39 ERA)
Masahiro Tanaka has been the massive hero that the Yankees paid for. He's pitched in some losing streak stopping games and has really been big from the team. On the flip side, Medlen is potentially one start away from being bounced out of the rotation. If the Yankees don't win this game, it might be a rough series for Yankee fans alike.

GAME THREE (Wednesday, May 11. First pitch-7:05 PM ET)
Michael Pineda (1-3 5.73 ERA) vs. Yordano Ventura (2-2 4.65 ERA)
Game three is a winnable, but dangerous game for the Yankees. Michael Pineda has been absolutely dreadful this year, but he's coming off a start in which he had a nice outing (8 hits, 2 earned runs in 6 innings). However, Yordano Ventura has been inconsistent, but has good enough stuff to shut the Yankees down.

GAME FOUR (Thursday, May 12. First pitch-7:05 PM ET)
Nathan Eovaldi (2-2 4.78 ERA) vs. Ian Kennedy (4-2 2.13 ERA)
After bailing the Betances-less and Miller-less bullpen out and giving the Yankees 8 innings on Saturday, Eovaldi will once again have to bring his "A" stuff against Ian Kennedy. Kennedy has been a stud this year for the Royals and will make a highly anticipated return to Yankee Stadium.

Four players to watch from each team:

Yankees
1. Aroldis Chapman
This is an obvious one. May 9th is Chapman's first night back with the team and surely he makes his season debut at some point in the series, even if it isn't in a high-leverage situation. Chapman solidifies the bullpen which has been pretty good so far, but is already showing signs of fatigue.
Photo Via NY Sports Day
2. Andrew Miller
Being the closer for all of 2015, and the first month of 2016, Miller will transition to the 8th inning role with the Yankees. Should Chapman be unavailable one night, Miller will have the ball in the 9th, but it will be interesting to see how Miller responds in his new role as the setup man. He's been a great teammate and completely supportive of moving to the 8th inning, as long as it is in the best interest of the team, so I don't expect any problems.
Photo Via NY Sports Hub
3. Aaron Hicks
Aaron Hicks had an up and down weekend. He hit what would end up being the game winning home run on Friday but also badly misplayed some balls that same night. He followed up his home run with another hit on Saturday, so we can hope that he is turning the corner offensively.

4. Ivan Nova
Nova makes his debut in the starting rotation. In a contract year, Nova should feel extra pressure to thrive as a starter. If he does, he may make it hard for Joe Girardi to remove him from the rotation when CC returns.

Royals
1. Ian Kennedy
Kennedy will return to the mound in the Bronx for the series finale. His time with the Yankees ended on a sour note for the once highly touted prospect who has performed like an ace so far in 2016. He's been incredibly effective for this Royals team who, like the Yankees, have been hurt by under-performing pitchers in their starting rotation.
Photo Via John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports
2. Eric Hosmer
Eric Hosmer always seems to be the X-factor for this team. He's a superstar and the Royals best player offensively. He's does a bit of everything hitting for average, power, and he also plays good defense and runs well for a first baseman. It is imperative that the Yankees contain his stardom to win the series.

3. Wade Davis
This series is unique. You will see all 4 of the best relievers in the league. And although Betances, Miller and Chapman are great, the best of the bunch may be Wade Davis. A failed starter just like Miller, Davis has been dynamite for the Royals. Just like the big 3 for the Yankees, when he's in the game, you can kiss your team's chance of coming back goodbye.
Photo Via The Kansas City Star
4. Alcides Escobar
Escobar is an aggressive leadoff hitter and he likes to do his damage early in the count, particularly on the first pitch. Yankee pitchers cannot have the approach to get ahead on a first pitch fastball or he will punish them.

Three series storylines:

1. The return of Aroldis Chapman
Following his suspension for violating the MLB's domestic violence policy, the Yankees fireball closer finally returns. He may not get thrown into high-leverage situations immediately, but we should look for him to own the closer role within the next few games.

2. The return of Ian Kennedy and Chien-Ming Wang to Yankee stadium
Ian Kennedy finally returns to the New York as an opposing pitcher and he has earned every bit of the $70 million that Kansas City have him this offseason. He will look to shut down the team which he began his career with. Additionally, Chien-Ming Wang will also return to New York. The former Yankee ace will likely make an appearance out of the Royals bullpen at some point.
Photo Via CBS Sports
3. Top bullpens squaring off
This series will showcase the top two bullpens in all of baseball. If either team has a league going into the 7th inning, the game is (essentially) over with the Royals having Joakim Soria, Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis while the Yankees have Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman.

Three keys to a Yankees series win:

1. Utilize the back end of the bullpen
With the return of Chapman, it is now a #SixInningGame if the Yankees have a lead. Potentially seeing Dellin Betances in the 7th inning is mind boggling, but it exemplifies the star power of the Yankee bullpen. All I'm asking for is that we see Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman in rapid succession in the 7th, 8th, and 9th at least one time this series, because that would be quite the site to see.

2. Keep Royals speedsters off base
The Royals like to wreak havoc on be base paths, particularly with Jarrod Dyson, Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain. If they get on, they could spell trouble for the Yankees.

3. Win the first two games of the series
With lackluster starting pitchers going for the Royals in the first two games, the Yankees absolutely have to jump out to a 2-0 series lead. If they can win the first two games, they'll be in a good spot to win one of the final two games and win the series.

Prediction:
Truth be told, I am expecting the Yankees to win 3 out of 4 of these games. The only game I see the Yankees losing is a game 4, but that depends on how the Yankees starting pitchers perform in this series. I have confidence in Nova to get comfortable in his realm of being a starting pitcher. I look for Masahiro Tanaka to continue his stellar season, and once again, Michael Pineda is "due" for a solid outing, although he was beat up by the Royals last season. Game 3 has the potential to be a rough game, and Ian Kennedy has the ability to shut the Yankees down. But all in all, I'm looking for another series win for the Yankees.

Article by: Chad Raines
Follow me on Twitter @Chad_Rain
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