The Yankees are due for a big series at home against a team expected to finish near the bottom of the American League standings, and the Royals present an opportunity to finally pounce on a team that won’t sniff a playoff spot in 2019.
After dropping a home series to the likes of the Orioles, Tigers and White Sox (and beating the Red Sox!), the Bombers welcome Kansas City on Thursday night. The Royals enter in dead last among an AL Central division full of middling teams. In short, the Yankees need to take advantage and start gaining some ground on the first place...Rays.
One potential storyline for the series is the baserunning of the Royals, who currently lead the league in stolen bases, but are in the middle of the pack in stolen base percentage. Will they run all over the arms of Austin Romine and Kyle Higashioka? Let’s hope not.
Here are the pitching matchups for the four game set:
Game One: Homer Bailey vs. Domingo German
Bailey is in his first season with the Royals after coming over from Cincinnati, and has a 5.29 ERA over three starts with his new club. His 21 strikeouts over 17 innings is certainly something. In his lone game against the Yankees in his career, the Bombers handled him, scoring seven runs on ten hits back in July of 2017. Clint Frazier and Brett Gardner each had multi-hit games against Bailey in that outing.
The Yanks counter with German, who has been nothing short of fantastic so far this season. He’s allowed just two earned runs through 13 innings so far, while striking out 14. He has never faced the Royals, which could bode well given German’s elite swing-and-miss stuff. However, the Royals don’t strike out a lot (they have the fifth-lowest strikeout total in the league), so we’ll see if German can limit them to soft contact in this one.
Game Two: Jakob Junis vs. CC Sabathia
I’ll just say this: Junis better LIVE on that outside corner when facing Aaron Judge! It was Junis that hit Judge on the wrist last summer and sidelined him for months, but of course, it was completely unintentional, so the threats that followed were uncalled for. Perhaps a proper payback can be a dinger from Judge, who is already 2-for-7 with one home run off Junis for his career. Junis has allowed 28 runs in 22 innings this season, if you were curious how he was doing so far.
Sabathia will look to carry his phenomenal first outing of the season into Friday’s contest, after pitching five scoreless frames on Saturday against the White Sox. He won’t have to worry about Salvador Perez, who is out with an injury and had three homers in 17 at-bats against Sabathia. The big lefty should tread carefully against Whit Merrifield, who is 5-for-11 with a double against Sabathia.
Game Three: Heath Fillmyer vs. Masahiro Tanaka
The Yankees saw Fillmyer once last year, and scored three runs in five innings over the righty from New Jersey. The Bombers pounced for two runs in the first inning of that game and won 5-4, but the only Yankee not on the IL with a hit in his career against Fillmyer is Gardner. Fillmyer has allowed eight runs over eight innings so far this season.
The Yankees will call on Tanaka and pray that he got his now-expected hiccup out of the way in his last start against the White Sox, when his home run bugaboos came back to haunt him thanks to a grand slam by Tim Anderson. Tanaka was superb in two starts prior to that outing, and is obviously capable of either outcome. He’ll have to keep his splitter down against Lucas Duda, who is 3-for-9 with two home runs in his career against Tanaka.
Game Four: Jorge Lopez vs. James Paxton
Lopez allowed four runs on eight hits through six innings on Tuesday night against the White Sox, but also struck out 10 batters along the way. His 25.2 whiff percentage is currently a career-high, so we’ll see if the Yankees can make contact against a pitcher this current roster has not seen before.
Paxton represents the anti-Tanaka this week, coming off what was unquestionably his best start of the season after a shaky outing in his prior start. Big Maple shut down the Red Sox through eight innings and struck out 12. Hopefully he can keep that momentum going against the Royals, whose current roster has just a .486 OPS against the lefty in his career. The most successful Kansas City hitter against Paxton is Perez, who is on the shelf for the foreseeable future.