Series Preview: New York Yankees @ Chicago Cubs (5/5-5/7)
Two of baseball’s most historic franchises will square off for a three-game interleague series starting on Friday. The first-place Yankees (17-9) were off yesterday, but recently won two out of three games to the last place Toronto Blue Jays. The Yankees starting pitching struggled all series and needs to pick it up versus a potent Chicago Cubs lineup. The pitching was bailed out by the scorching-hot offense that scored twenty runs against a struggling Blue Jays pitching staff. The reigning World Series champions, Chicago Cubs, are hosting the Yankees for the first time since 2011, a year they lost 91 games. The Chicago Cubs have not dominated the competition this year like they did in 2016, but currently sit atop the National League Central standings at a 16-12 record. They are fresh off a dramatic thirteen inning win against the Phillies solidifying their series win against Philadelphia. This is an extremely talented Cubs team, and the Yankees are looking to make a statement.
GAME ONE (Friday, May 5 | First Pitch: 2:20 PM ET)
Michael Pineda (3-1 3.14 ERA) vs Kyle Hendricks (2-1 4.18 ERA)
TV: YES, CSN-C, MLB Network
The first game of the series is set in the afternoon on Friday with an intriguing pitching matchup. The Cubs will trot out Kyle Hendricks, who had a historically low ERA last season (2.13). Hendricks has struggled this season, while allowing almost two home runs a game and averaging four walks per nine innings. His last start was encouraging as he allowed only three hits in six innings against Boston last Sunday. The Yankees lead the league in home runs and are known to have fantastic plate discipline, so Hendricks has his work cut out for him, if he fails to make adjustments. Matt Holliday owns Kyle Hendricks as he is hitting .467 lifetime against him with three home runs, however, it is likely he will not be in the lineup with the absence of the DH. Knowing Joe Girardi and his love for matchups, there is the slightest possibility Holliday sneaks in the outfield for this game, but do not count on it.
Michael Pineda will get the ball for the Yankees. Pineda is coming off an eight-strikeout performance against the Orioles, where he allowed two unearned runs. Pineda, however, was chased after only five and one-third of an inning, due to a high pitch count. Pineda needs to pitch efficiently in this start if he wants to have success. He has the potential to record a lot of strikeouts against the Cubs who are in the top five in the National League for total strikeouts. The Cubs are always loaded with power bats, who will make Pineda pay for his mistakes. This start could go either way for Pineda depending on how locked in he is on the mound. Ben Zobrist is the only hitter on the Cubs to have faced Pineda more than three times. He is 2-12 with a strikeout.
GAME TWO (Saturday, May 6 | First Pitch: 7:15 PM ET)
Jordan Montgomery (1-1 4.15 ERA) vs Brett Anderson (2-1 6.23 ERA)
In game two of the series the Cubs will pitch veteran left-hander Brett Anderson. Anderson is known for his injury-plagued career and is hoping that this season he has his chance to be a stable, healthy member of an MLB rotation. His results have been mixed thus far, having three starts of allowing an earned run or less and two starts where he allowed six or more runs. His biggest struggle so far, this season, is making it deep into games, as he has only reached the six-inning threshold once in his five starts. The Yankees’ right handed power hitters should see this as a favorable matchup. The projected lineup against Anderson has collectively hit 2-for-28 in their careers. Jacoby Ellsbury is 1-for-14.
Yankees’ rookie Jordan Montgomery will get the ball for the away team. Montgomery is coming off a start where he received the loss, but pitched well, letting a few key pitches determine his final line. Walks were an issue for Montgomery (four in five innings), who normally is notorious for pounding the zone. This will be his biggest test yet in terms of opposing lineups. He, like Anderson, has also yet to make it past the sixth inning. This has the potential to be a game decided by the bullpens with both starters not being known for the length thus far in 2017. No Cub has faced Montgomery before.
GAME THREE (Sunday, May 7 | First Pitch: 8:05 PM ET)
Luis Severino (2-2 3.86) vs Jon Lester (1-1 3.67 ERA)
Jon Lester will pitch against the Yankees on primetime television on Sunday, but will be facing a very different Yankees team than he was used to facing with Boston. Lester was a crucial member of the Red Sox and Yankees rivalry in the late 2000s and is no stranger to pitching on baseball’s biggest stage and succeeding. The Yankees do have the credentials on this year’s team to out duel Lester. The projected Yankees lineup for Sunday is hitting a combined .345 against Lester in their careers. The Yankees have also seen an increase in stolen bases this season and with Lester’s obvious issues with holding on runners, do not be surprised to see the Yankees run, a lot. The obvious guys to steal are Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury (whose status for the series is still in question), but guys like Chase Headley and Aaron Judge, who have displayed that they are willing to run, should also take advantage of Lester.
The Yankees will hand the ball to Luis Severino. Severino was quoted earlier last week that he hated pitching in Boston, because it made him feel uncomfortable and is a hard ballpark to pitch in due to the fans’ atmosphere. He silenced his own criticisms shutting down Boston in seven innings of work. While he struggled in his last start against Toronto, Severino has had plus-strikeout stuff all season and has flashed pure dominance in many of his starts this season. If Severino can control his pitches and not make mistakes early, he has the capability, like Michael Pineda, to shut down a strike-out prone Cubs team. No one on the Cubs has faced Severino before in the batter’s box. This game has the potential to be one of the best Sunday Night Baseball games all season with the pitching matchups and star studded lineups. This game is a must watch for any baseball fan.
Players to Watch: Yankees
This will be Castro’s first game at Wrigley Field since he was traded for literally nothing back in the 2015-2016 offseason. The Yankees got their starting second baseman for Adam Warren, who is back on the team after half a season in Chicago and the infamous Brendan Ryan, who was designated for assignment shortly after the transaction. Castro was expendable with the likes of Javier Baez and Addison Russell available to occupy the middle infield. Castro had one of his best offensive seasons of his career last season for New York and is off to scorching start in the early season hitting .362 with THIRTEEN multi-hit games. He is currently in All-Star form, and do not be surprised if he continues to hit well in Chicago with a little bit of added swagger.
Aroldis Chapman will be returning to Wrigley for the first time since pitching for the Cubs in the 2016 World Series. Chapman along with Adam Warren will be receiving their World Series Rings on Friday and look for Chapman to not give in against his former teammates. The Cubs gave up a ton of talent for Chapman, but many argue that without him they would not have broken their infamous curse. It will be interesting to see how the Cubs fans react if Chapman gets an opportunity to pitch. Seeing Chapman match up against the likes of Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant will be must see television.
When is Aaron Judge not a player to watch? He was announced as the American League Rookie of the Month and decided to show all of Yankee Stadium why he earned that award by hitting his MLB leading thirteenth home run. Aaron Judge is displaying power not seen since Alex Rodriguez’s prime from the right side. It could be argued, however, that he is the best player in general that has worn a Yankee uniform in a very long time. He currently leads the American League in home runs, runs, runs batted in, slugging percentage, and OPS. He has also made many highlight real worthy catches this season. Judge did not disappoint in his first series in Fenway Park, so expectations are high for the baby bomber in Chicago.
Austin Romine has been solid in the absence of Sanchez, but Yankees fans alike are eager to see how much better the monstrous offense can get with El Kraken’s bat. Gary Sanchez is expected to come off the disabled list in this series and his offense should not be worried about, as in his first at-bat, on the first pitch he saw in his AAA Scranton rehab assignment he hit a home run. Sanchez will add another intimidating presence in the Yankees lineup and pressure should be off his shoulder with everyone else hitting so well, which should allow him to gradually get back into his potential form.
Players to Watch: Cubs
The reigning National League MVP got off to a sluggish start in 2017 but has recently picked things up. He will arguably be one of the best offensive players that the Yankees have faced all season and should not be taken lightly by the young Yankee pitchers that are projected to face him. The Red Sox learned that the hard way as he hit two homeruns in their series at Fenway. Bryant is susceptible for to the strikeout, which may be the key for the Yankees to keep the damage to a minimum. Bryant leads the Cubs in every major offensive category, except in home runs, where he trails Anthony Rizzo by one. He went 4-for-5 on Thursday.
Kyle Schwarber is off to a rough start in 2017. The young left slugger is hitting below the Mendoza-line to start the season, but has hit four home runs. He has struck out a whopping thirty-none times to begin the season, which is eleven more than the second-place player on the team. In his pinch-hit at-bat on Thursday, he also struck out. Schwarber was sidelined for most of last season with a leg injury, but was miraculously able to have a few at-bats in the World Series after only playing in minimal fall league games. Whether his poor play has any connection to coming back early from a major injury or is just due to missing a whole season’s worth of at-bats, Schwarber definitely wants to turn his season around as soon as possible. Despite his struggles, the Yankees should not forget how dangerous he is at the plate.
As I mentioned before, Lester has plenty of experience pitching against the New York Yankees organization in his veteran career. He will not be facing many of the familiar faces he is used to pitching against, but should still have the same adrenaline he usually has, when he pitches against the Yanks. Expect him to display emotion on the mound and grind out at-bats against New York. The Yankees have to play to his weaknesses if they want to knock him out of the game.
This weekend series has the capability of being a "Judgement Weekend" (pun fully intended) filled with extremely entertaining baseball and intense moments. Whether it is Lester vs. Judge, Severino vs. Bryant, or Chapman versus Rizzo, this series will be full of can’t miss matchups that may not be seen again for a very longtime. This series has the potential to really propel one of these teams forward in the early going. With the talent on both of these teams, who knows, this could be a preview of a World Series matchup in the years to come.
Article by: Ryan ThomsFollow @_TheRealRT_