Series Preview: Orioles @ Yankees (7/18-7/21)

After salvaging the final game of a three-game set against Boston, the Yankees host the Baltimore Orioles for a four-game series. New York, which went into the All-Star Break with an even record of 44-44, now sits a game below at 45-46 after dropping two of three to start the second half. The O’s, on the other hand, sit at 53-37, good enough for first place in the American League East. They took two of three from the Tampa Bay Rays in their most recent series, and they haven’t lost a series since being swept by the Seattle Mariners on July 1-4. These two teams have already met six times this season, with Baltimore winning four of the six. These games will most likely prove to be pivotal to the Yankees’ season, especially with the trade deadline fast approaching. If the Yankees’ performance in four-game series this year is indicative of future performance, we can expect them to do pretty well. Of the six four-gamers they’ve played this year, they’ve won five, with a 2-2 split against the Texas Rangers and sweeps against the Angels and A’s. Of course, the Orioles are a better team than Los Angeles and Oakland, but then again, so are the Cleveland Indians, who the Yankees took three of four from to end the first half. It’ll be interesting to see how this series goes.

Game One: Monday 7/18, 7:05 PM ET
Ivan Nova (6-5, 5.18 ERA) vs. Kevin Gausman (1-6, 4.15 ERA)
Immediately following his promotion into the rotation, Nova looked excellent--for a few starts, at least. His ERA has ballooned to 5.18, and the Yankees have lost four of their last five games in which he pitches. Gausman hasn’t been great either; however, he faced the Yankees in early June and shut them down to the tune of one run over six innings in a 3-1 Baltimore victory. Nova’s last performance against Baltimore resulted in a Yankee win, but he pitched poorly, giving up five runs over six innings. If both pitchers continue their recent form, this one could get ugly fast.

Game Two: Tuesday 7/19, 7:05 PM ET
Nathan Eovaldi (7-6, 5.11 ERA) vs. Vance Worley (2-0, 2.87 ERA)
In his first start after being recalled from the bullpen, Nathan Eovaldi faces off against Vance Worley, who is making only his third start of the year. Eovaldi actually pitched remarkably well out of the ‘pen, making three appearances totaling 7.2 innings and giving up no runs on only three hits, while Worley has appeared nineteen times out of the bullpen for Baltimore this year, often taking on the role of the bullpen inning-eater. With the Orioles rotation struggling to produce quality starts, they have turned to Worley, who started a couple of games at the beginning of the season, not pitching especially well either time. There’s no discounting Worley’s body of work this year, though; he’s been impressive overall, as evident in his sub-3.00 ERA. Eovaldi and Worley will both look to translate their success out of the bullpen into quality starts for their respective teams.
Photo Credit | Norm Hall | Getty Images
Game Three: Wednesday 7/20, 7:05 PM ET
Michael Pineda (3-9, 5.56 ERA) vs. Yovani Gallardo (3-1, 5.77 ERA)
Watching Pineda has been a strange experience for Yankee fans this year. Sometimes, he comes out and blows us away (as well as opposing batters), but sometimes, he gets absolutely lit up. His start last week against the Red Sox unfortunately fell into the latter category, as he was rocked for three home runs in a 5-3 loss. There’s no question, though, that we’ve seen what he can do, and if he’s pitching well (especially with his slider), he can shut down even the best of lineups (re: 12 strikeouts against the Texas Rangers). Gallardo, on the other hand, has been pretty consistent, which isn’t necessarily a good thing. In his ten starts this year, he has given up multiple runs in all but one outing, and the lone one-run performance came against the lowly Minnesota Twins. Gallardo’s ERA in the month of July is 5.79, and he hasn’t had a start that lasted longer than five innings in the month. Unless Pineda comes out and gets crushed, I can’t see the Orioles winning this one.

Game Four: Thursday 7/21, 1:05 PM ET
CC Sabathia (5-7, 3.94 ERA) vs. Chris Tillman (13-2, 3.29 ERA)
As of June 16th, following an excellent performance against the Twins, CC Sabathia’s ERA sat at an astounding 2.20. There was talk of him being an All-Star, and he probably would have been deserving of it if he had continued to pitch that well. Instead, he has pitched poorly in each of his last five starts, giving up at least four runs in each outing. Chris Tillman, on the other hand, has been on a roll as of late. So far in July, Tillman has pitched to a 1.29 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP, getting them three wins in three close games. Tillman has faced the Yanks twice this year--he shut them down the first time, but in the second time around, they hit three homers off of him and scored five runs (although they would end up losing due to an equally poor start from Nathan Eovaldi). It almost seems as if we’re seeing a completely different CC than what we saw earlier this year, but this wouldn’t be a bad time for him to turn it around--Sabathia has pitched twice against the O’s this year and has yet to surrender a run to them.
Photo Credit: Julie Jacobson | AP
Three Yankee Players to Watch

1. Brett Gardner
Gardner is the definition of a streaky player, and it looks like he might be starting a hot streak. He went 4-8 over the last two games, including a home run, so he’s definitely swinging the bat well. If he can maintain his production out of the leadoff spot, I suspect he will stay there long-term with Jacoby Ellsbury hitting behind him. If Gardner continues to bat leadoff and continues to hit well, it could prove to be a game-changer for the Yankees; a good leadoff hitter really can change the entire dynamic of a lineup. I look for Gardner to stay hot and play well against Baltimore.

2. Didi Gregorius
There seems to be a pretty distinct correlation between Gregorius’ performance and the Yankees’ success. When Gregorius hits, the Yanks do well. When he doesn’t? Not so much. Gregorius has been the success story of the season, hitting just below .300 with 11 homers and 41 RBI. He had a poor series against the Sox overall, although he did go 2-3 in the series finale with a run scored. If Didi can get hot against the Orioles, it will be a whole new ballgame for the Yankee lineup. If he can’t, it could be a long series.
Photo Credit: Jake Roth | USA TODAY Sports
3. CC Sabathia
Sabathia needs to turn it around as soon as possible if the Yankees are to contend for a playoff spot. His form through mid-June was excellent, but has really tailed off since. CC has had great success against the Oriole lineup so far this year; hopefully he can use this start as a turning point and get back on a roll.

Three Oriole Players to Watch

1. Jonathan Schoop
Schoop has been the Gregorius story for Baltimore this year; he has already matched his best statlines from previous years with 15 home runs and 53 RBI so far. In addition, he’s hitting .302, which is far and away the best mark of his career. Schoop has also been hot as of late, hitting safely in eleven of his last twelve games. Look for him to be a factor. If he isn’t, that’s a good sign for the Yankees.

2. Manny Machado
Machado is a fun player to watch, no matter what team you support. He can hit, he can field, and he can do both exceptionally well. Machado actually started off the second half with a weak series at the plate, going one-for-ten in three games against the Rays. The Orioles will look for him to turn it around and return to his usually Manny Machado ways. The Yanks will look to keep him cold.

3. JJ Hardy
Hardy, on the other hand, started off the second half with a bang. He went 4-12 with a home run in Baltimore’s series victory over the Rays, and is hitting .349 in the month of July. His two-run homer in the second game of the Tampa Bay series lifted them to a 2-1 victory. Of course, the Orioles have a lineup stacked with players who we need to look out for, but Hardy has been on a tear as of late.

Keys to Victory
1. Produce against the Orioles’ bullpen
With the exception of ace Chris Tillman, none of the Oriole starters have much of an aptitude for pitching late into games, even when they aren’t pitching terribly. Furthermore, their bullpen is a bit shaky, with the exception of closer Zach Britton and set-up man Brad Brach. As such, the Yankees will most likely see several other bullpen pitchers, most of whom are very hittable. So while it’s important to take early leads, getting to the Orioles late could prove to be the difference-maker in this series.

2. Good starting pitching
Obvious? Yes. Necessary? Even more so. Each of the starting pitchers that the Yanks have going in this series have looked excellent at times this year, but each has struggled with consistency. If these four players--Nova, Eovaldi, Pineda, and Sabathia--can put forth some better performances than what we’ve seen from them lately, this series is a whole lot more winnable.

3. Production from the bottom of the lineup
Production from the top of the lineup is vital, but good hitting from the sixth to ninth spots is equally important. If the bottom of the lineup starts hitting, it tends to have a domino effect on the rest of the hitters. Look for Gregorius, Castro, or Headley to get hot; if they do, it looks promising for the Yanks.

Frankly, I have a hard time predicting the Yankees to win a series against a good team. However, the Yankees’ success in four-game series, coupled with the ineffectiveness of the Orioles’ pitching, push me to predict that the Yankees will take three of four from Baltimore. I see the rotation turning it around and really starting to pitch well and the lineup doing enough to get wins. The Yanks and O’s haven’t met for the last time this year--they still have three more series to play--but I see these games as a turning point for the Bombers as they (maybe) make a playoff push.

Article by: Peter Marshall
Follow me on twitter @PMarshall2138
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