The Yankees pulled out two much-needed wins in Cleveland this weekend to halt a four game losing streak and keep them three games out of first place in the AL East. Before they begin a crucial ten-game stretch where they meet the Red Sox for two series, they will have to meet another divisional rival in the Toronto Blue Jays for a three game series.
The last place Blue Jays lost in walk-off fashion to the Astros in their last game, and are 5-5 in their last ten games. It has been a year of disappointment for the Blue Jays as they sit over ten games off the divisional pace and seven games under .500. They have a winning record at home, but that seems to be the only thing going for them this season. Still, their lineup possesses some problems for Yankee pitching, so the starting rotation will need to be effective.
Speaking of starting pitching, here are your pitching matchups for the series:
Game One: CC Sabathia vs J.A. Happ
Sabathia has faced the Blue Jays three times this season, with varied results. Between two starts in which he was knocked around badly, he threw over six innings of one-run ball in a 12-2 Yankees win. He struggled a bit in his last start against the Tigers and gave up a pair of home runs, but still carries a solid 3.81 ERA in what has been a strong season for the lefty.
Sabathia has had success against the Blue Jays’ biggest bats, as Jose Bautista holds a .234 slugging percentage in 47 career at-bats, while Josh Donaldson isn’t much better, with a .286 slugging percentage in 35 career at-bats. He will have to be careful with Kendrys Morales, who has a .940 OPS in his career against Sabathia.
Happ holds an ERA under four as well, and was very strong in his only start against the Yanks this year, giving up one run in six innings while striking out six. Chase Headley has been enjoying a solid month at the plate, and has a .323 career batting average against Happ with a couple of home runs. Unfortunately for the Yanks, many of their top hitters against Happ (Matt Holliday and Aaron Hicks) are currently on the DL.
Game Two: Masahiro Tanaka vs Cesar Valdez
After a brilliant start against the Rays in which he recorded a career-high 14 strikeouts, Tanaka looked like he was going to continue his roller coaster season when he ran into trouble in the first inning of his last start against the Tigers. However, Tanaka settled down nicely and turned in another quality outing as he continues his trend towards being a consistently effective pitcher (hopefully).
Tanaka has had success against Toronto, as the team has a career batting average under .200. Donaldson, Morales and Justin Smoak all have career slugging percentages under .300 against Tanaka, but he will have to try and keep Steve Pearce in the park, as he has taken Tanaka deep twice in 15 at-bats.
Valdez hasn’t been in a starting role for the entire season, but has started in each of his last three appearances. After a promising start against his former A’s team, Valdez has been crushed for 12 earned runs in his last 5 1⁄3 innings. The Yankees haven’t seen Valdez yet, but hope they can continue his trend that has spanned over his last two starts.
Game Three: Sonny Gray vs Marco Estrada
Hopefully the defense shows up for Gray this time, in what will be his second start as a Yankee. Aside from a painful first inning in which the defense completely failed him, Gray was very good in his first career start against a tough Indians lineup. He has been terrific in his last seven starts and holds an ERA of 3.41 this season.
Gray has a strong track record against the Blue Jays, although Bautista is 6-for-15 with a home run against him. Aside from Bautista, Darwin Barney is the only other member of the Blue Jays to have taken Gray deep.
Estrada went through a terrible stretch in July, but seems to have settled down in his last three starts. He gave up three earned runs on two home runs against the hard-hitting Astros in his last start while striking out seven. Look for the Baby Bombers in Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez to have an impact on the series finale, as both have a career OPS over 1.000 against Estrada. Sanchez may have the more impressive history, with a mere four home runs in 11 at-bats against Estrada. I’d say that’s decent.