Series Preview: New York Yankees at Minnesota Twins (6/16-6/19)

After losing two games in Denver to the Colorado Rockies in the first half of an Interleague home-and-home series, the Yankees must get started on a winning streak to get themselves well over .500 before the All-Star break if they want the rest of the summer to be meaningful. Today marks the start of a four-game series against the Twins and the start of seven games against them in the next ten days. Minnesota is 20-45, which is the worst in the American League and second-to-last in the Majors.

Game 1 (Thursday, June 16 at 8:10 PM ET) - CC Sabathia (4-4, 2.28 ERA) vs. Kyle Gibson (0-4, 6.49 ERA)
Sabathia is absolutely dominating this year, and has a 0.71 ERA in his last 38 innings (six starts). He hasn’t allowed an earned run in his last two starts, and has held opponents to a .221 batting average against him. He’s allowed just 48 hits in 59.1 innings, although ideally, he could improve on his command, as he’s allowed 24 walks this season. Meanwhile, Kyle Gibson is making just his second start since returning from the disabled list, and he has struggled this season, pitching to a 6.10 ERA in four starts in April while healthy. The Yankees have to start the series off well by getting a good number of hits off Gibson.

Picture Credit: Associated Press/Patrick Semansky

Game 2 (Friday, June 17 at 8:10 PM ET) - Masahiro Tanaka (3-2, 3.08 ERA) vs. Pat Dean (1-2, 4.17 ERA)
After pitching very well in his first two starts in June, Tanaka regressed a bit in his last start against Detroit, allowing five earned runs and six hits in 6.1 innings. However, Tanaka’s command has improved, as he’s walked two or fewer batters in five consecutive starts. His strikeout numbers are a bit lower, as he’s only retired nine on strikeout in 19.1 innings. If Tanaka’s splitter is working, the Twins will have a hard time scoring on him. Pat Dean, meanwhile, made his best start this season in his last start against Boston. He allowed just three hits and one earned run in 6.1 innings, but he did walk four Red Sox batters. Something to keep an eye on for Dean is his command, as he’s struggled to pitch far into games, and has only completed seven innings once this season.

Game 3 (Saturday, June 18 at 2:10 PM ET) - Michael Pineda (3-7, 5.88 ERA) vs. Ricky Nolasco (3-4, 5.12 ERA)
After an embarrassing start to the season, Pineda has recovered and pitched well in June, holding a 2.89 ERA through three starts (18.2 innings). He’s coming off a loss against Detroit in his last start, but he pitched relatively well. In June, he’s allowed fewer hits than innings pitched, and has already struck out 20 batters. As long as he does not get himself into long at-bats, Pineda has the off-speed to succeed against this Twins offense. On the other hand, Nolasco is coming off a rocky start to June, where he’s allowed 24 hits and ten earned runs in 19.1 innings. Opponents are hitting .308 off him and average about 1.34 baserunners per inning. Both Pineda and Nolasco pitched to 7+ ERAs in May, and both pitchers are desperately looking to right the ship. Expect a large offensive output for one team in this game.

Game 4 (Sunday, June 19 at 2:10 PM ET) - Nathan Eovaldi (6-3, 4.90 ERA) vs. Ervin Santana (1-7, 5.10 ERA)
After looking like one of the better pitchers in the Yankees rotation through May, Eovaldi has regressed significantly in June. He has a 9.82 ERA in 14.2 innings, and has already allowed 26 hits and 16 earned runs. In fact, he only allowed 23 hits in 24.2 innings in April, so hitters have been teeing off on him. Eovaldi’s WHIP is sky-high at 2.05 in June, and he’s been more inconsistent than ever. After five straight starts to close out May where he allowed three earned runs or less (four of those starts were two earned runs or less), he’s allowed at least five earned runs in his last three starts. Santana has also had a rocky June, where he’s pitched to a 7.79 ERA in 17.1 innings (three starts). He’s allowed five earned runs in each of his three starts this month. This is a matchup where both pitchers are struggling, so expect one of the offenses to come out strong early.

Players to watch on the Yankees:
1. Ike Davis - With three of the four starters for the Twins expected to be RHPs, Davis should get the start on Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday. It looks like the newest Yankee will serve as a platoon player with Rob Refsnyder at first base. Davis had a RBI single in his very first Yankee at-bat on Tuesday, but has not done much on offense since. Getting a consistent offensive output from the first base position has not occurred this season, but hopefully Davis can do a good job while Parmelee and Teixeira recover.

Picture Credit: Associated Press/David Zalubowski

2. Didi Gregorius - Didi has hit .350 in the last seven days (six games), and has driven in six runs. Gregorius is the only offensive player on a groove as of late, and he’s also done a good job reaching base with a .458 OBP in his last six games. Since he hits in the latter half of the lineup, if he can provide offense from the six or seven-spot, that will hopefully open up the offense more and allow the Yankees to score more runs.

3. Middle relief pitchers - Although, as of this writing, it’s unclear as to who will be the group of middle relievers for the Twins series, it’s paramount that they pitch well. Because Chapman, Betances, and Miller cannot possibly pitch every single inning, those providing the bridge to No-Run DMC have to deliver. We’ve seen time and time again where the Yankees boot themselves out of a game when their middle relief completely fails. This cannot happen against the struggling Twins.

Players to watch on the Twins:
1. Eduardo Nunez - All that needs to be said is recently, when the Yankees face their former teammates, somehow those ex-Yankees have fared quite well. Boone Logan, Gregorio Petit, and Justin Wilson are a few names that come to mind. Nunez is no different. Although he’s hitting just .241 in his last seven days, he holds a .317 season batting average, and had a dominant April, hitting .373 in 59 at-bats. He’s cooled and is only hitting .258 so far in June, but he could easily right the ship against his former team.

Picture Credit: Associated Press/Orlin Wagner

2. Joe Mauer - Now the first baseman for the Twins, Mauer has hit .288 so far in June and has a decent season going. Although the power is lacking in his seven homers in 2016, he’s on a six-game hitting streak. In fact, the last time he did not reach base safely in a game was May 16 against Detroit. Yankees pitchers will still need to be aware of Mauer, as he is hitting .333 with RISPs this season.

Picture Credit: USA Today Sports/Brad Rempel

3. Byron Buxton - One of the biggest prospects in the Twins organization in previous years, Buxton hasn’t had a great year in his first full season in the Majors. Buxton is hitting just .212 this season, with one homer and seven RBIs. His 42:4 K to BB ratio is extremely concerning, and it’s something the Twins coaching staff has to be monitoring. Given his talent, he’s due for a breakout series, so he’s still a player that opposing pitchers need to be aware of. However, he has certainly not lived up to his potential as the player the Twins made him out to be. If anything, his arm is certainly up-to-par, as he threw out Mike Trout with a 99 MPH throw from center on Tuesday night against the Angels.

The Yankees must start winning now. This is literally the most ideal set of pitchers they could have faced, as none of them are very intimidating. However, this was also said for the two pitchers they faced in Colorado, so nothing can be taken for granted now. However, the Yankees should be expected to win Games 1, 3, and 4. I see Pat Dean having a decent start (given how the Yankees seem to struggle with unknown LHPs) and the Yankees not backing up Tanaka with adequate run support. New York should take three out of four games here, but in reality, the only way back into the AL East is to sweep the Twins.

With the Yankees, it’s now or never. This set of games, four at Minnesota, two vs. Colorado, and then three vs. Minnesota will basically decide their season. Go on a run here and win nine in a row or eight out of nine, and the season can still be saved. If not, it might be time to sell.

Article by: Bryan Peng
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