Series Preview: New York Yankees @ Toronto Blue Jays (6/1–6/4)
After another series loss against the Baltimore Orioles in Baltimore, the Yankees will travel north of the border to face the Toronto Blue Jays in the Rogers Centre. The Yankees come into the series still in first place at 30-20 and the Blue Jays are 26-27, which seems bad, but they had a very good May and have won eight of their last ten games. The American League East is becoming a closer division, and the Yankees need to come out of this series with at least a split, if they want to keep pace in their surprise season. The Blue Jays have a ton of momentum, and if the Yankees don’t approach this series with caution and high intensity, they could be in trouble. Here are the matchups and game times:
CC Sabathia (5-2 4.42 ERA) vs Marco Estrada (4-2 3.15 ERA)
TV: YES, MLB Network, SNET-1
Game one will feature two veteran pitchers. The Yankees will send CC Sabathia to the mound who in his up and down season is currently coming off of three very good starts where he has not allowed more than two earned runs and even struck out a season high nine Oakland A’s last week. CC has had some success against the hitters in the Blue Jays lineup, but they have a ton of right handed power, so CC will need to avoid giving up the long ball. Troy Tulowitzki has hit .364 in his career against Sabathia, but his fellow slugger Jose Bautista sports a mere .143 batting average with eleven strikeouts.
Marco Estrada will pitch for Toronto. Estrada has found a home in Toronto and has been arguably their most reliable pitcher in recent seasons. Estrada will not overpower hitters, but will mix speeds and throw his changeup often to induce weak contact. His weakness is the fact that he is a fly ball pitcher, which could play in the Yankees favor, as they are one of baseball’s best home run hitting teams this season. Starlin Castro and Gary Sanchez have career averages above .400 against Estrada.
Michael Pineda (5-2 3.32 ERA) vs Francisco Liriano (2-2 6.35 ERA)
TV: YES, MLB Network, SNET-1
The Yankees have an edge in the pitching matchup in game two as Michael Pineda will take the mound against Francisco Liriano. Pineda has finally found the consistency that the Yankees have been wanting ever since he was acquired for Jesus Montero. He has not allowed double digit hits nor allowed more than three runs in any of his last six starts. Blue Jays hitters are also hitting a combined .199 in their careers against Pineda.
Liriano will be making his first start since May 10, when he squares off against Pineda in game two. Liriano had not pitched well before he landed on the disabled list in early May. He has a 6.35 ERA and an insanely high WHIP of 1.91. When a pitcher allows almost two baserunners an inning, that is bad news for his team. Liriano’s Achilles heel is the fact that he walks a ton of batters and that inflates his pitch count early. While there is no denying Liriano has the potential to be a serviceable starter, this is a game where the Yankees need to take advantage of his poor start and come out of the gates firing. They need to be selective and force him to pitch to the hitters’ zones. Brett Gardner, Matt Holliday, and Gary Sanchez have all had success against him in the past.
GAME THREE (Saturday, June 3 | First Pitch: 1:07 PM ET)
Jordan Montgomery (2-4 4.11 ERA) vs Joe Biagini (1-3 3.64 ERA)
TV: YES, MLB Network, SNET-1
Game three will see the Yankees sending Jordan Montgomery to the mound. Montgomery pitched extremely well two starts ago against Kansas City, but some poor luck and good at-bats resulted in Montgomery not making it past the fifth inning for the first time in May. Montgomery has had some control issues, which hinder his outings more often than not. The key in this game for Montgomery is to attack the zone and not be over intimidated by the Blue Jays offense. He needs to keep the ball in the ballpark and mix his pitches wisely.
Swingman Joe Biagini will start for Toronto. Biagini was used primarily out of the bullpen in the beginning of his Major League career, but injuries to most of the Jays rotation has given him the opportunity to be stretched out as a starter. While his numbers are not dominant, his 3.64 ERA is serviceable and he has given them many opportunities to win ball games. He pitched 95 pitches in his last outing, so he should be stretched out to pitch deeper into games, but the bullpen has been a factor in almost all his starts this season, as he has not pitched past the sixth inning in any of his starts. Both teams have had little experience against the two starters, so it should make for an interesting afternoon for the respective offenses.
GAME FOUR (Sunday, June 4 | First Pitch: 1:07 PM ET)
Luis Severino (4-2 2.93 ERA) vs Marcus Stroman (6-2 3.28 ERA)
TV: YES, MLB Network, SNET-1
In what will likely be the best pitching matchup of the series, game four will feature two young, exciting pitchers. Luis Severino will pitch for the Yankees. Severino has arguably been the Yankees best pitcher this season and is the only starter in this series with a sub 3.00 ERA. His 2015 form is coming back, and he truly looks like he could be an ace on this pitching staff. The Blue Jays, however, have owned him, and their current hitters own a combined .962 OPS against Sevy. If Severino wants to prove to the baseball world that he should be feared by all teams, this is a crucial outing for him.
Marcus Stroman is coming off a very strong start against the Reds and for the most part was phenomenal in all of May. His worst start actually came against the Yankees in the Bronx, when he allowed five runs in three innings. He had to leave that game with pain in his armpit area but rebounded in his next start against the Indians. He has pitched historically well against the Yankees, but if they use the similar attack early in the count approach that they used on May 3, then they could put some runs up quickly on the young righty.
Players to watch
Refsynder’s days as a Yankee could be coming to an end. Jacoby Ellsbury is set to come back soon as he is progressing well, and Ref will certainly be sent down as the corresponding move once Ells is activated. The predicament is that Refsynder is almost out of options, so if he is sent down he must stay on the Yankees roster for the remainder of the season, if they choose to call him up again this season. If they do not, he will have to put on waivers and could be snagged by another team. Nevertheless, Ref is on the team now and has played decently in his minimal at-bats. After a multi-hit game yesterday, Ref could see more at-bats at first base over the dismal Chris Carter. He will need to do his best to prove to the Yanks that he deserves a spot in their future plans.
Brett Gardner has been on a tear since May started as he has hit more home runs in May alone, than he did all of last season. While some fans are quick to scream “Steroids!”, Gardner has made noticeable changes to his approach. He is being more aggressive on pitches in the strike zone early in the count and is not taking lazy swings at off speed pitches out of the zone like he did in April. His bat speed has been phenomenal and to go along with it he is running well and playing good defense. Gardner got snubbed on the first All-Star voting ballot update, as he was out of the top ten for outfielders. Expect him to continue hitting well and play with a chip on his shoulder all series.
CC Sabathia has had people say this season that he has been reborn as a pitcher of finesse and at times had people say that he should be taken out of the rotation. His last three starts have been in favor of the first predicament, and this start should be a true test for Sabathia’s season. He is out to prove that he just had a rough patch at the end of April and that he can provide quality starts in order to give the Yankees a chance to win.
Josh Donaldson and Troy Tulowitzki
Part of the reason the Blue Jays have had early season struggles is the fact that Donaldson and Tulo have missed extended periods of time with injury. It is pretty challenging to compete in Major League Baseball, when two perennial All-Stars are on the shelf with injuries. Both players have already had big hits since they have returned and should be key contributors to the Blue Jays success this weekend.
Joey Bats got off to a dismal start to the 2017 campaign, but has been on a tear in the month of May. He is hitting .320 with nine homers, three of which have been in the past week. It was only a matter of time until the bat flip king started playing how he typically does. Bautista has hit fifteen long balls in the past three seasons against the Bronx Bombers, which is second most among all teams he has played against. Yankees starting pitching, outside of Masahiro Tanaka, has been strong as of late, but they are susceptible to the home run, so Bautista needs to be pitched to with extra care.
Even though the Blue Jays have not met expectations so far, this season, this series should contain some fantastic baseball games and be a strong indicator of whether the Yankees are contenders or pretenders. Expect emotional play and do not be surprised if these games have a playoff like atmosphere to them as the Blue Jays are trying their hardest to silence the early season critics.
Article by: Ryan ThomsFollow @BronxBomberBall