Series Preview: New York Yankees @ Minnesota Twins

The Yankees head to Minnesota this week for a three game series, as it’s the first time these teams have faced off this season. These two also face off in New York in the last two weeks of the season. This series is big in the AL Wild Card race, as the 47-43 Yankees are currently 1.5 games ahead of the Twins for the second spot in the race. The Yanks are also only 0.5 games behind their division foe the Rays for the first spot and 3.5 games back of the Red Sox.

Game One (Monday, 7/17): Bryan Mitchell (1-1, 5.06 ERA) vs. Adalberto Mejia (4-4, 4.43 ERA)
First Pitch - 8:10 PM ET
Mitchell has really been quite disappointing this season in his 16 innings of work. He really started off taking advantage of the limited opportunities, but he had a horrible two game stretch against the Orioles in late April in which he allowed nine hits and seven runs over 2.2 innings (23.63 ERA). Ever since these two blunders, he’s made just three appearances since the start of May. In those three, he’s allowed three runs, just one of which was earned, in 4.2 innings (1.93 ERA) including picking up a save a few weeks ago against the Astros. He’s leading off this series with the start, in large part because of the pitching fiasco this weekend with the 16-inning game followed up by a doubleheader with the Red Sox.

Mejia remains in the rotation after really being an average pitcher all year long, but has still been the third best in a horrendous rotation. Other than Ervin Santana, who has been fantastic and made the AL All Star team, veterans Kyle Gibson and Phil Hughes have been horrible. Mejia won the fifth rotation spot in Spring Training after dominating to a 1.88 ERA in 14.1 innings with 14 strikeouts. His impressive spring has yet to translate, as he has struggled to a 4.43 ERA in 65 innings of work. His WHIP is at 1.48, but he’s pitched much better as of late to the tune of a 2.59 ERA over his last four starts. Mejia will have problems with a deep Yankees lineup and expect this game to likely be a high-scoring affair.

Game Two (Tuesday, 7/18): Luis Cessa (0-3, 4.18 ERA) vs. Bartolo Colon (2-8, 8.14 ERA)
First Pitch - 8:10 PM ET
With the injury to Michael Pineda, a spot in the rotation has opened up and Luis Cessa is one of the candidates to be the fifth starter along with Mitchell, Caleb Smith, and potentially top prospect Chance Adams. His first four games of the season were not very good at all, as 11 runs scored against him in 17 innings (5.82 ERA). More of a spot starter than a long term option, Cessa’s last two appearances, both as a reliever, have been very good where he’s not allowed a run in 6.2 innings. If Cessa excels against Minnesota, he will earn the chance to be in the rotation for the rest of the season.

The back end of the Twins rotation has been so bad that they signed 44 year-old Bartolo Colon who has been the worst pitcher in baseball by far this season. In 63 innings of work with the Braves, Colon pitched to a 2-8 record, including a 8.14 ERA and 1.78 WHIP. If those numbers qualified, he would by far beat the worst ERA in baseball of 6.39 to the name of Kevin Gausman and would be narrowly behind the worst WHIPs in baseball of Gausman and Wade Miley. Colon’s only hope in Minnesota is the large, hitter’s ballpark that they play in. Once again, expect this to be a high-scoring game likely.

Game Three (Wednesday, 7/19): Jordan Montgomery (6-4, 3.78 ERA) vs. Jose Berrios (8-3, 3.70 ERA)
First Pitch - 1:10 PM ET
Unlike the other two, this looks to be a very exciting pitcher’s duel potentially. Montgomery has quietly had an excellent rookie season for the Yankees, establishing himself in their future plans. If it weren't for teammate Aaron Judge, Montgomery may be the frontrunner for AL Rookie of the Year. The lefty has pitched 95.1 innings this year, while racking up 90 K’s and a 3.78 ERA that ranks 14th in the AL. With the inconsistencies of the rotation, Montgomery has been the second best, most consistent starter for the Yanks. If there is one thing that he could work on, it'd be the length he gives the Bronx Bombers. Heading into the AS break and one since, Montgomery’s last three outings lasted just 5.1, 4.1, and 4 innings. He’ll need to be on his ‘A’ game against one of the league’s rising young studs.

Photo Credit: Michael Dwyer/AP

Jose Berrios is finally putting it all together after years of being an untouchable prospect in the Twins farm system. The 23 year-old really struggled heading into the break and has carried it over. He’s not had a quality start since June 21 against the White Sox and has allowed at least four runs in his last four starts. Over the four starts that have accumulated 19 innings, he’s allowed 28 hits, seven walks, and 20 runs, 14 of which were earned (6.63 ERA). He’s coming off a brutal start against the Astros in which he couldn't make it out of the second inning and he gets to follow that up against another one of the league’s best offenses in the Yankees.

Players to watch for the Yankees:
Aaron Judge:
This may seem a bit obvious that the best player in the AL this year is a player to watch, but he especially is because of his recent struggles. Judge headed into the All Star Game festivities in a minor slump and then carried it over into the opening series with the Red Sox. Judge went one-for-18 in that series with three walks, while not registering an RBI and striking out six times. He has now not hit for an RBI in his last six games and Sunday’s doubleheader finale in which he was hitless in four ABs ended his 42 game streak of reaching base safely. His average has fallen to .313, which is now fifth in the AL and is now seven RBIs behind the leader Nelson Cruz. Some believe his struggles stem from the Home Run Derby, but whatever the struggles are from Judge needs a turnaround in this series and he showed signs Sunday when he was robbed of a 414 foot homer in the eighth inning.

Photo Credit: Michael Dwyer/AP
Ji-Man Choi/Garrett Cooper:
The Yankees first base position has been so bad this year that even the front office acknowledged this past weekend that the bar is set pretty low. These two are currently the two first basemen on the Major League roster and certainly can’t be worse than Chris Carter, but if they want a shot beyond a few weeks with the Yankees, they’ll need to prove they’re worthy. With Greg Bird and Tyler Austin suffering from all sorts of injuries this season, these two don’t really have any competition. The only other option at first for the Yanks would be an external option, such as A’s All Star first baseman Yonder Alonso, but if one of these two step up it would help tremendously. Since being acquired from the Brewers for lefty reliever Tyler Webb, Cooper hasn’t provided much in his limited time. He picked up his first MLB hit on Sunday, a double to left at Fenway off David Price, but is just .100 in ten ABs thus far with five strikeouts. Choi has actually been somewhat productive in his 15 ABs, as he has two homers and five RBIs.

Players to watch for the Twins:
Miguel Sano:
After being one of the top prospects in all of baseball, Sano is finally starting to live up to the hype he came to the Twins with. Unlike the other stud prospect that came up with him a few years ago, Byron Buxton, Sano has really started to excel and earned a trip to his first career All Star Game, while also making it to the finals in the Home Run Derby before being beaten out by fellow Yankee Judge. Heading into the series, Sano’s 21 homers are tied-for-seventh in the AL and he’s tied-for-fifth in RBIs with 62. Sano also boasts a respectable slash line of .270/.368/.524 in 311 ABs.

Photo Credit: Lynne Sladky/AP

Brian Dozier:
Dozier has somewhat struggled this year, but it was the same way at this time last year. He went on to have a ridiculous second half of the season in which he hit 27 homers. For the season, he totaled an incredible 42 homers and 99 RBIs, following up a 2015 season in which he had 28 homers and 77 RBIs while earning All Star honors at the midseason point. A career .246 hitter, Dozier is right on par with his career averages. His slash line this season is at .247/.332/.438 is slightly better than his career averages of .246/.322/.442. Dozier has continued his reign as the best power hitting second baseman in baseball and despite the unencouraging average, he is still one of the more underrated players in baseball.

Robbie Grossman:
The switch-hitting outfielder’s stats look average, if not worse, on paper. After three seasons with the Astros and now in his second with the Twins, Grossman had a solid 2016 season in which he hit .280 with 11 homers and 37 RBIs. Really considered as more of a fourth outfielder option, Grossman is hitting just .257 this season in 74 games with six homers and 28 RBIs. These numbers are certainly uninspiring, but the 27 year-old reaches base at a tremendously high rate, especially considering his pedestrian average and power numbers. He had an OBP of .386 and currently stands at .381 so far in 2017, which ranks fifth in the AL. This is ahead of some of the AL’s top names such as All Stars George Springer, Jose Ramirez, Starlin Castro, and Mookie Betts.

This is a pivotal series for both as a sweep for either could be the difference-maker in the Wild Card race. It’ll be interesting to see how the home-run-reliant Yankees offense does in such a pitcher’s ballpark in Target Field. Look for the Yankees to get back on track and win their first series in what feels like forever.

Article by: Spencer Schultz
Follow me on Twitter @SpenceSchultz63
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