Did everyone enjoy a much-needed break from Yankees baseball yesterday? The Bombers are just one game over .500 at 33-32, sit in fourth place in the AL East, and are four games out of the second wild card. For what might be the first time all season, Aaron Boone finally said he’s “very concerned” about the Yankees’ season. The sky is falling in Yankee-land.
Meanwhile, things are looking up for the Blue Jays. Toronto has gone 6-3 vs. New York this year, including taking two out of three games in a series three weeks ago. The vagabond Blue Jays are now playing out of Sahlen Field in Buffalo, a hitter-friendly park, albeit not quite the bandbox that was TD Ballpark in Dunedin. They’re 6-5 in the month of June, but have leapfrogged ahead of the Yankees in the playoff race. This series is a big one for both clubs.
On offense, it’s all about Vladimir Guerrero Jr. He leads the league with 21 home runs and a positively ridiculous 1.137 OPS. Marcus Semien and Bo Bichette have done a nice job setting the table, Randal Grichuk always gives the Yankees a hard time, and Teoscar Hernandez and Cavan Biggio are also tough outs. The Yankees need their pitching in form if they want to navigate this Toronto lineup.
Tuesday: Jordan Montgomery vs. Hyun Jin Ryu
The Yankees will turn to Jordan Montgomery in game one of this series. Montgomery has been solid this season to the tune of a 3.99 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, and 9.0 K/9. He gave up three runs in 4.2 innings vs. Toronto last time while only striking out one. The 28-year-old lefty will need to keep the Blue Jays off-balance with his array of sinkers, changeups and curveballs.
Tuesday is Hyun Jin Ryu’s turn in the rotation, something the Yankees were fortunate to avoid the last time these teams faced off. Ryu has been an innings-eater for the Blue Jays this year, but his 3.34 ERA and 8.0 K/9 are slight declines from last season. The 34-year-old southpaw has only given up two runs to the Yankees this year across 12 innings while striking out 12. His fastball velocity and spin are in the bottom five percent across MLB, but his pinpoint control (top five percent walk rate) and tricky pitch mix make him tough to square up.
Wednesday: Gerrit Cole vs. Ross Stripling
Gerrit Cole will get the ball for New York in game two, coming off a bounce-back start in Minnesota in which he won the battle against ex-Blue Jay Josh Donaldson. All eyes will be on Cole’s spin rate, which was slightly below its season average in Minnesota, but nothing too extreme. On the season, Cole has a 2.31 ERA, has the league’s best walk rate, and is striking out 12.5 batters per nine innings. Simply dominant.
Ross Stripling found himself back in the Blue Jays’ rotation after pitching seven scoreless innings of relief vs. Tampa Bay on May 24. Since then, he’s made three starts and won two of them. Stripling hasn’t been as good since leaving Los Angeles, and the Yankees have had success against him – he’s 0-3 with a 5.40 ERA and 1.43 WHIP lifetime against New York.
Thursday: Michael King vs. TBD
Michael King will get another go as the Yankees’ fill-in starter this week. He’s been better this season than last, although he wasn’t so sharp in his last start in Minnesota. On the season, he’s fared much better in relief than as a starter, but the Yankees need him, especially with Luis Severino suffering a setback in his first rehab start. As long as he keeps his sinker down, he can give the Yankees four or five innings against a tough Blue Jays lineup.
Toronto’s starter is still up in the air for this one, after Steven Matz was placed on the COVID-IL. His test was inconclusive and he is symptom-free, so there is a chance he could still pitch on Thursday. If not, the Blue Jays will likely have to go with a bullpen game or call up a spot starter. Perhaps Nate Pearson could get a call from Triple-A Trenton for another chance at the big league level.