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New York Yankees vs. Atlanta Braves: Series Preview

The Yankees look to get their season moving again with a series in Atlanta.

Atlanta Braves v New York Yankees Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

It may feel like it’s been a while since the Yankees last took the field, and that’s because it has been. The team’s three-game series with the Mets was postponed, leaving the Yankees with an unexpected four-day gap between contests. They will be amply rested for a two-game set down in Atlanta with the Braves.

The Braves entered the season as NL East co-favorites with the defending champion Nationals. While Washington has failed to live up to the billing, the Braves have gotten off to a solid start, sitting at 16-12. The team sports a combined 107 wRC+, led by the superlative Ronald Acuna and Freddie Freeman. Their pitching is pretty thin after the loss of Mike Soroka and implosion of Mike Foltynewicz, but excellent relief work has kept them afloat.

Here’s a look at the projected starting matchups:

Tuesday: Gerrit Cole vs. TBD

After the Yankees’ first coronavirus-related hiatus earlier in the year, the team decided to push Cole’s start up to make sure he was making as many regular turns as possible. They’ll do so again here. Hard to argue with putting your ace out there every time you can.

Cole’s most recent starts have been interesting. He was fired up when Aaron Boone removed him 109 pitches deep into his latest start with two on and two out in the seventh. His last two starts also may have been his best so far, as he’s combined for 13.2 innings, just three runs, and 18 strikeouts against only one walk.

After perhaps a few small issues with fastball command at the beginning of the year, Cole seems to be in complete control of his craft right now. He enters each start liable to shut out the other team over six-plus innings, strike out double-digit batters, or both. His only real problem right now might just be his propensity for allowing homers this year, but as Tom outlined over the weekend, the occasional solo shot is probably just par for the course for a power pitcher like Cole who’s going to challenge hitters consistently.

The Braves haven’t announced their starter for Tuesday’s game, and the team had a couple of off-days in the middle of last week, so there isn’t anyone lined up to take the start. The most likely options appear to be Josh Tomlin, Touki Toussaint, Robbie Erlin, or even a bullpen game.

Tomlin has had the best season of the aforementioned trio, revitalizing his career at age-35 with 18.1 innings with a 3.93 ERA and a K/9 rate of 11.3. Toussaint was a well-regarded prospect, but has failed to put it together thus far in the majors. The 24-year-old has a 7.89 ERA in 21.2 innings this year, and a 5.65 ERA in 92.1 career innings in the bigs. The left-handed Erlin has made just two starts this year, and has a 5.14 ERA in 14 innings.

Wednesday: Masahiro Tanaka vs. Max Fried

After a promising first few starts of the year, Tanaka got roughed up his last time out, yielding six runs in four innings against the Rays. He was simply too hittable, coming into the zone and getting punished by Tampa’s bats for eight hits and two home runs

The Braves don’t offer much respite. Atlanta as a whole has the league’s third-best wOBA against right-handers at .355, and ranked sixth by the same measure in 2019. Tanaka did continue to show decent velocity in his start against the Rays, and his trusty slider and splitter racked up their usual handful of whiffs. If Tanaka can locate his fastball a bit better and cut back on the hard contact, he should have a more successful outing against Atlanta.

On the other side, Fried has been the savior of a shaky rotation. With Soroka out for the year, Foltynewicz demoted and Cole Hamels injured, Fried has stepped in as the staff ace, maintaining a 1.32 ERA through six starts. Entering his age-26 season, Fried was coming off a quality 2019 in which he kept a 4.02 ERA in 165.2 innings, but he’s shown signs of truly breaking out so far in 2020.

The left-hander combines plus velocity with crushing breaking pitches. Fried sits 93-94 mph with his primary four-seamer, which he uses about half the time. He uses his slider and curve interchangeably as his top second pitch. Both generate excellent results. Here’s a glimpse of his curve befuddling Andrew McCutchen:

And here’s his slider making short work of Brandon Lowe:

Fried is about the only big card the Braves can play, and the Yankees will get a crack at him. Behind Fried, AJ Minter, Shane Green, and Mark Melancon have performed well as part of a quality relief corps. With any luck, the Yankees’ makeshift lineup will do enough against a Braves team that will likely throw many of its best arms at them.