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New York Yankees vs. Philadelphia Phillies: Series Preview

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The Yankees home opener will come as part of a four-game home-and-home with the Phillies.

MLB: Exhibition-Philadelphia Phillies at New York Yankees Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

After opening the season with a series win against the defending champs, the Yankees were scheduled to waste no time in getting back at it tonight versus the Phillies. However, news broke this morning that seven more Marlins players tested positive for coronavirus. The Marlins home opener versus the Orioles was postponed, and with the Phillies and Marlins having clashed yesterday, tonight’s Yankees-Phillies game has been postponed as well.

As crazy as it seems, MLB has not announced any plans to postpone or cancel any other games. Far as we know, the league will attempt to roll forward with this series if the Phillies’ coronavirus tests come back negative.

We’ll run down the potential pitching matchups as if Monday’s game was postponed and the rest of the series was played as normal. It’s anyone’s guess if that will come to pass.

Tuesday: J.A. Happ vs. Jake Arrieta

To kick things off, we have two veteran starters looking to open their seasons on the right foot. Happ will take the ball after an offseason during which his name swirled in trade rumors, but the Yankees’ decision to hold on to him looks salient in the face of inevitable injuries.

Of course, part of the reason the Yankees appeared ready to move Happ last winter was the 37-year-old’s unimpressive 2019 performance. Happ’s ERA+ of 90 was his lowest figure since 2012, as 34 long balls torpedoed any chance Happ had of repeating his excellent 2018 stretch run with New York.

Happ looked solid way back in spring training, and he’ll face a Phillies lineup long on big names like Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Didi Gregorius, Andrew McCutchen, and Rhys Hoskins but short on consistent production in recent years. Quality early outings could ensure Happ’s spot in the rotation going forward.

On other side, Arrieta is also looking to bounce back from a down year. Arrieta struggled with injuries in 2019 and ended up with a 97 ERA+ in 135.2 innings, his worst marks in either category since 2013.

As with any 34-year-old starter, much of Arrieta’s decline can likely be tied to velocity loss. From Brooks Baseball:

Arrieta still possesses potent secondary pitches in his changeup and curve. It wouldn’t be out of the question for the erstwhile ace to recapture some former glory, but he looks more like a mid-rotation starter at this point in his career.

Wednesday: Gerrit Cole vs. Zach Eflin

This gives us the biggest mismatch of the series, as Yankees ace Gerrit Cole will face off with the Phillies’ fifth starter. Cole will try to move to 2-0 after picking up a “complete game” win in the Yankees’ rain-soaked opener.

Cole’s command might be what to watch for in his second start with the Bombers. The right-hander looked like he missed a few spots early on against the Nationals, perhaps due to opening night jitters, eventually settling down for an effective five-inning debut. Cole was precisely where we expected him to be velocity-wise in the opener, averaging about 97 mph per Statcast and touching 99, almost the exact figures he hit in his first start of 2019.

The 26-year-old Eflin is coming off a respectable season, one that saw him maintain a 109 ERA+ across 163.1 innings. The right-hander profiles as a five-pitch pitcher, relying primarily on a four-seamer, two-seamer, and slider, but also working in a change and a curve at least five-percent of the time. He sat at about 94 mph on his heater last year, while his slider has historically produced the best results in terms of weak contact and whiffs.

Thursday: Jordan Montgomery vs. Aaron Nola

Montgomery is slated to come up after the Yankees pushed back his first start in favor of an extra relief arm to begin the season. He’ll have his hands full against the Phillies’ ace.

As I wrote in Montgomery’s season preview, the 27-year-old’s performance back in the spring inspired a bit of hope this could be a breakout season. Montgomery’s track record and pitch profile suggested a mid-rotation arm, but when he showed up to camp flashing 94 mph, as opposed to the 91 mph he’d previously shown, the lefty hinted at the potential for more.

Montgomery looked sharp in camp after the restart, and again flashed the ability to push his heater closer to he mid-90s. The hope is for Montgomery to combine improved velocity with the strong control and deep repertoire that enabled him to post a 116 ERA+ across his first two seasons. This start in the Yankees’ home opener is his first real test.

Nola’s reputation is a bit split, as those who remember his 2018 may see him as one of baseball’s best, while the rest of his track record looks more like that of a good number-two. Nola finished third in Cy Young voting in 2018, but saw his ERA+ fall from 173 to 116 last year, as Nola struggled with both the long ball and walks in 2019.

The 27-year-old right-hander dominated with strong command of a 93-mph fastball two years ago, but hitters found more success against the heater last year. In his first start of 2020, Nola’s velocity was down to 91.5 mph, a concerning sign as he yielded four runs in 5.1 innings against the lowly Marlins. It’s early, but if Nola’s pumping low-90s again against this Yankees lineup, he could be in for another hard night.

Game Four?

This would be James Paxton’s turn in the rotation if the game were played, with the left-hander having started on Saturday. Paxton’s first start was obviously very rough, as he only recorded three outs and surrendered three runs before Aaron Boone pulled him in the second inning.

The most obviously concerning aspect of Paxton’s debut was his relatively poor velocity, as he sat 91 mph for most of his brief appearance. That’s the last thing the Yankees need to see from Paxton, who averaged over 95 mph on heater last season. Hopefully, Paxton’s diminished speed stems from some sort of fixable mechanical flaw, rather than an injury.