Last week was...not ideal for the Yankees. They finally made up that cursed series with the Phillies, but only went 2-2. Then, Tropicana Field became a house of horrors as the Yankees lost three of four to Tampa Bay, including two in the Rays’ last licks. After losing five of their last six ballgames, the Yankees have come back down to earth and the injuries have started to hit, but hope is still high.
Their next opponent will be the Atlanta Braves, who come to town for a quick two-game series. The Braves are off to a solid 11-7 start, yet are still second in their division behind the Miami Marlins, who are improbably 7-3 in their abbreviated season. Their dynamic offense is powered by Freddie Freeman, Ronald Acuña Jr. and Marcell Ozuna, and you’d have to think Ozzie Albies will get going soon. The pitching, however, is thin, especially with the loss of ace Mike Soroka for the season with a ruptured Achilles.
Tuesday: Jordan Montgomery vs. Touki Toussaint
Jordan Montgomery will make his third start of the season on Tuesday, according to Yankees manager Aaron Boone. This would have been J.A. Happ’s spot, but he is being skipped. Montgomery’s first start was terrific – he kept the Red Sox off-balance all night through 5.2 innings of one-run ball. Against Philadelphia last week though, he struggled, allowing six hits in four innings. The two big blows that resulted in five runs both came in two-strike situations, so Montgomery will have to rely on his variety of weapons to put away the Braves and avoid prolonging at-bats.
The Braves will go with Touki Toussaint to face the Bombers on Tuesday. Toussaint is a former top prospect who has excellent strikeout stuff (97 career strikeouts in only 84 innings over three years), but he walks way too many batters to have had success so far (career 5.5 BB/9 and 5.14 ERA). He replaced Mike Foltynewicz in the rotation and struck out a career-best nine batters in his last start, so if he can control those free passes, the Yankees might have a tough task.
Wednesday: Masahiro Tanaka vs. TBD
Bumping up Montgomery and skipping Happ means that Masahiro Tanaka will get the ball on Wednesday for the Yankees. He will still be pitching on normal rest, and was the lone bright spot vs. Tampa Bay in the Yankees’ frustrating Friday loss. Tanaka pitched five innings of shutout, one-hit baseball, with five strikeouts. He has been using his fastball far more often than usual, and to great success. Tanaka’s craftiness always makes him an interesting watch, and we’ll have to see how far Boone will push Tanaka after pulling him after 51 and 59 pitches in his first two starts. Tanaka has pitched vs. the Braves once before, picking up a win with seven innings of three-run baseball back in 2015.
The Braves also haven’t made Wednesday’s starter official, and chances are it will be a bullpen game. The Braves haven’t effectively replaced Soroka in the rotation, and no one on their current roster would be facing the Yankees on regular rest if they went on Wednesday. The Braves will have to call up a starter from their alternate site or be forced into a bullpen game against the Yankees. We could see a “Johnny Wholestaff” performance from Josh Tomlin, Robbie Erlin and Tyler Matzek, among others.