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Yankees vs. Orioles: Series Preview

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Aaron Judge’s favorite target comes to town.

MLB: Spring Training-Baltimore Orioles at New York Yankees Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

Last season, the team with the highest HR/FB%, at a whopping 22.4%, was the Baltimore Orioles. Based on this below graph from FanGraphs’ Jeff Sullivan, this trend should be especially troubling to Baltimore’s pitching staff:

Based on what we saw yesterday, and the day prior, this match-up against the Orioles works favorably for the Yankees, especially for Aaron Judge, who had 11 home runs and a 1.637 OPS against the Orioles in 85 plate appearances. Anyway, here are the projected starters, who I’m sure won’t allow a single home run now that I’m mentioning this.

Game 1: Masahiro Tanaka vs. Andrew Cashner

Tanaka tossed a dazzler that I just wrote about, and the prolific use of his slider and splitter with command made him successful, so look for that early on. Cashner, on the other hand, does not have the rosiest outlook. He allowed four earned runs in five innings during his last start, and he’s coming off a season where he finally put up some good numbers (a 3.40 ERA in 166.2 innings), but the peripherals aren’t great: his 4.61 FIP and .266 BABIP implies some over-performance, as does his 4.64 K/9. If you’re striking out fewer batters, and you’re well outside the norm of your HR/FB%, I’d be terrified of negative regression against a daunting home run hitting lineup.

Game 2: CC Sabathia vs. Kevin Gausman

Sabathia is right back on the track he was on last postseason, allowing just one earned run over five innings. He has been working on a 3.45 ERA since the All-Star Break of last year—a 7.26 K/9 and 2.97 BB/9 in that span—so the hope is that he continues the trend. The Orioles’ lineup is likely to have a few right-handed hitters that might give him headaches. Gausman is a more-than-worthy adversary. He had a 106 ERA- last season and allowed six runs over four innings in his last start, but there’s a lot to like; with a 95 mph fastball and a solid slider, the key is always command. His home run tendencies could come back to bite him, so we’ll see.

Game 3: Sonny Gray vs. Chris Tillman

Gray lasted just four innings in his start of the season, and while his fastball command was all over the map, his off-speed had fantastic bite, and if he continues to hit his spots, he’ll hope to live up to the 84 ERA- he put up down the stretch for the Bombers. For Tillman, it’s just frankly remarkable that he’s still on the team; the likes of Brian Roberts, Melvin Mora, and Aubrey Huff played during his first season in 2009. He’s coming off a four-inning start of his own, and a 2017 campaign where he saw a shoulder issue sideline him for half of it. All things being equal he’s one of their best starters, but if his shoulder continues to harm his mechanics then he could be incredibly vulnerable.

Game 4: Jordan Montgomery vs. Mike Wright Jr.

It’s odd to see fifth starters named so early, yet here Montgomery stands. He had an 88 ERA- last season, and while the stuff isn’t overpowering and I can’t imagine him winning any awards, he’s a set-it-and-forget-it back-end starter that will eat up quality innings with consistent results. I can’t imagine that being any different here, and at home no less. Wright Jr. has been with the organization since 2011, selected in the third-round and 94th overall. He’s thrown 149.1 major league innings, and I would imagine he’s just a spot starter until Alex Cobb joins the club next week. He has allowed 27 home runs and has a 5.85 ERA in his career, so... the onus is on the Yankees to take advantage.