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New York Yankees vs. Toronto Blue Jays: Series Preview

Coming off their final scheduled rest day, the Yankees open a crucial series against the Blue Jays that could make or break their postseason plans

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at New York Yankees Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

What a difference a week can make! Just last Tuesday, the Yankees were in the midst of a 5-15 skid that threatened to put their playoff aspirations in jeopardy. The starting rotation was floundering, the bullpen looked lost, and the offense was dead in the water. Up stepped rookie phenom Deivi García to stop the bleeding, jumpstarting the Yankees’ current five-game winning streak.

The real test begins today, as the Yankees’ main division foe comes to town. The Blue Jays remain as the Bombers’ biggest roadblock to grabbing a decent seed for the postseason. The easiest path for the Yankees to achieve that is to finish as runner-up in the AL East. With Toronto holding a half-game lead for that spot and seven games remaining between the two clubs, every game has a must-win feel.

Tuesday: Deivi García vs. Taijuan Walker

What better pitcher to kick of this critical series than the very man who turned around the Yankees’ fortunes? Deivi García showed poise beyond his 21 years when he took the ball in the last outing between New York and Toronto. All the pressure of the team’s recent woes were placed on his young shoulders, and he did not flinch a bit. García dazzled in his seven innings of work, earning his first career win and providing the launching pad for this most recent string of victories.

There is so much to be impressed with when it comes to the rookie righty. His calm demeanor on the mound, his willingness to challenge batters in the zone, and his ability to make in-game adjustments all belie his young age. Overall, Deivi is 1-1 with a 3.06 ERA, 3.15 FIP, 0.906 WHIP, and 18 strikeouts in 17.2 innings, and I expect him to add to that already-impressive resume with a strong start in tonight’s game.

García’s opponent in the first game of the series looks to be Taijuan Walker. Walker was acquired by the Blue Jays around the deadline for a PTBNL, and has looked solid for the Toronto outfit. Since joining the team, Walker is 1-0 with a 1.15 ERA, 4.55 FIP, and 1.340 WHIP in three starts spanning 15.2 innings.

Walker turned in perhaps his worst outing as a Blue Jay against the Yankees when the boys from the Bronx lost two from three in Buffalo. Walker could scarcely find the zone in that game, surrendering five walks in four innings. However, the Yankees bats were still AWOL at that point and they ended up losing 2-1. Perhaps the Yankees will fair better at home against Walker, who enters tonight’s game at 3-2 with a 2.95 ERA, 4.83 FIP, and 1.172 WHIP in 42.2 innings.

Wednesday: Gerrit Cole vs. Tanner Roark

Gerrit Cole will try to carry over the momentum of his dominant outing against the Orioles as he gets the ball for game two of this series. Cole looked every bit the ace the Yankees had hoped they were acquiring, as he threw a two-hit complete game (seven inning) shutout in the first game of a doubleheader. He struck out batters with ease and appeared just as fresh throwing his 114th and final pitch as he did throwing his first.

That Cole could finally be rounding his season into shape is a massive boost to the Yankees. It took around this many games last season for Cole to hit his stride, after which he was about as close to invincible as is possible for a starting pitcher. The Bombers need him to be that unhittable ace down the stretch and into the playoffs if they are going to have any shot at a title this year. And that starts with a win in Wednesday night’s game, into which he carries a 5-3 record with a 3.20 ERA, 4.26 FIP, 1.017 WHIP, and 79 strikeouts in 59 innings.

Cole’s counterpart is the pitcher who helped bring the latest winning streak into life. Tanner Roark was the opposing pitcher of record when the Yankees finally snapped their 5-15 slide. He surrendered two runs on two hits and three walks in four innings in the Yankees’ 7-2 victory in Buffalo last week. On the season, he is 2-1 with a 5.60 ERA, 6.83 FIP, and 1.726 WHIP in 35.1 innings.

Thursday: Masahiro Tanaka vs. TBD

Masahiro Tanaka will wrap up the midweek series against the Blue Jays when he takes the mound Thursday evening. He is once again proving to be Mr. Dependable for the Yankees, and is putting up some of his best career numbers in pinstripes. For the year, Tanaka is 2-2 with a 3.16 ERA, 4.05 FIP, 1.027 WHIP, and 34 strikeouts in 37 innings.

What’s impressed me most is his ability to work through outings even when he doesn’t have his best stuff. Take his last start in the second game of the doubleheader against the Orioles. He “labored” through the first couple of innings, yet finished with the following line: 5.0 innings, three hits, one run, five strikeouts. If his B-stuff is still able return those results, sign me up!

Toronto have yet to announce their starter for the final game of the series. The most likely bet is a man many Yankees fans are familiar with. Robbie Ray was acquired at the deadline for Travis Bergen to reinforce an injury-depleted rotation. At the time, Ray led all of baseball in walks issued, with 31 in as many innings, however it appears a change of scenery was just what he needed. In three games for Toronto (two starts), Ray is 1-0 with a 4.38 ERA, 5.56 FIP, 1.622 WHIP, and 14 strikeouts in 12.1 innings while cutting his walk rate in half. His numbers for the season are still pretty unsightly, at 2-4 with a 6.85 ERA, 6.81 FIP, 1.892 WHIP, and 57 strikeouts in 43.1 innings.