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New York Yankees vs. Boston Red Sox: Series Preview

The Yankees host their rivals with a chance to put a dent in their playoff hopes.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at New York Yankees Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

We’re not even 20 games into the season, and the Yankees come into this series with their archrivals with a chance to stomp on the Red Sox. Boston has already slipped in the AL East standings, and with their record at 6-13, they’re in real danger of missing the expanded 16-team playoff tournament. The Yankees will host the Red Sox for four games at Yankee Stadium, and a series win would put another dent in Boston’s flagging hopes.

Friday: Gerrit Cole vs. Colten Brewer

The Yankees are still waiting to see the A-Plus version of Cole. Their ace has performed very well through four starts, but hasn’t quite put everything together yet in one start. He’s occasionally battled faulty fastball command, has been victimized for a few key home runs., and hasn’t yet generated his typical level of swings and misses. Of course, Cole is the kind of pitcher who could probably go the whole season without his best stuff and still win 20 games and post a ERA around 3.00.

It appears the Red Sox will counter with a sort of bullpen game, with Brewer making his first career start. Brewer has allowed four runs in 10 innings of relief thus far this year. The 27-year-old right-hander can get solid velocity on his heater, and sports a decent curveball as well. He lacks experience, however, and isn’t likely to go much more than an inning tonight.

Saturday: James Paxton vs. Nathan Eovaldi

Paxton flashed some big positive signs in his last start against Tampa Bay. The left-hander dominated the Rays through six innings, striking out 11 batters while allowing just two baserunners. Things unraveled in the seventh, when he allowed two home runs to surrender a 3-0 lead, but on the whole, Paxton had to be happy with his performance.

The Yankees would be thrilled if Paxton saw another velocity bump in this start. Paxton was sitting 92-93 mph on his fastball against the Rays, a noticeable tick up from his first two outings, but still two ticks down from his career norms. A step forward to 94 mph could be a boon to both Paxton and the Yankees.

On other side we’ll see old friend Nathan Eovaldi. Eovaldi has been just about Boston’s best starter this season, which mostly encapsulates the state of the rotation over there. To his credit, Eovaldi is striking out more than a batter per inning, and has allowed three or fewer runs in three of his four starts. We’ll see if the Yankees let Eovaldi get away with pounding the zone with his hard but straight heater.

Sunday: J.A. Happ vs. TBD

After a couple of miserable starts to open the season, the Yankees skipped Happ’s next scheduled appearance in the rotation. It’s hard to blame them; Happ looked like he had little control his last time out against the Phillies, issuing six free passes in just three innings. Happ doesn’t have overpowering stuff, and simply cannot afford to completely lose the zone if he wants to give the Yankees a chance to win.

The Red Sox may not offer a great opportunity for Happ to turn things around. Though hitters like J.D. Martinez and Andrew Benintendi have struggled to open the year, they still do pose a real challenge to a lefty starter, as does Xander Bogaerts. The Boston lineup overall has battered left-handers to the tune of a .346 wOBA this year.

The Red Sox haven’t listed a starter for Sunday night, though it could line up to be Zack Godley. New York’s bats would be happy to see Godley again. Sandwiched between a pair of starts in which Godley managed four shutout innings, Godley got crushed in the Bronx, as the Yankees tagged the right-hander for five runs on six hits and two homers in 3.1 innings. Godley relies primarily on a cutter that sits at 89 mph. That doesn’t sound like a great recipe against the Bronx Bombers.

Monday: Jordan Montgomery vs. Martin Perez

Similar to Paxton, Montgomery had what looked like an excellent start going his last time out, shutting out the Braves through five frames. Atlanta struck back in the sixth, and Montgomery had to settle for a three-run, six-inning outing. The left-hander has now looked solid, if unspectacular, in two of his three starts this season.

The Yankees would likely be pleased if Montgomery can reliably give them those kinds of quality six-inning starts. Montgomery has fulfilled some of the promise he flashed ahead of the season, carrying over his improved velocity and sitting at about 93 mph on his fastball. It’s early, but Montgomery does look capable settling in as a legitimate mid-rotation arm with his newfound fastball speed and his continued proclivity for staying in the zone.

Like Eovaldi, Perez has an argument as the best Boston starter thus far, which again tells you all you need to know about Boston’s staff, considering Perez’s 5.49 ERA over the last two years. Perez has yet to reach six full innings in a start this season, but also hasn’t allowed more than two runs in has three most recent outings.

Perez relies on a cutter/changeup/sinker combination, an interesting mix that doesn’t include a breaking ball. He sits 88 mph with the cutter, though, and about 91 mph with the sinker. He will certainly not be able to overpower the Yankees lineup.

(Editor’s Note: This post has been updated to reflect Boston announcing Colten Brewer as Friday night’s starter).