The last 10 days have just been miserable for the Yankees. They went 2-8, featuring sweeps at the hands of the Tigers and Red Sox. They averaged 2.5 runs per game during that putrid stretch and find themselves sitting fourth in the AL East, 6.5 games back of the Rays.
Luckily for the Yankees, they next face the Twins, the only team that has been a bigger disappointment. A team that was favored by many to take the AL Central, Minnesota is tied for last in the division with a 24-35 record.
The two underachievers have gone about their struggles in divergent manners. The Yankees juggernaut offense was supposed to buoy a pitching staff replete with question marks when in fact the opposite has been true — their surprisingly-dominant pitching is all that’s keeping the sinking offense afloat. Meanwhile in Minnesota, the sluggers have slugged for the most part, but it is not enough to bail out their AL-cellar-dwelling pitching staff.
Normally you might say a series against a scuffling opponent would be the perfect opportunity to awaken the Yankees from their doldrums — particularly given their regular and postseason dominance over the Twins the last 15 years — but nothing can be assumed the way the Yankees are playing right now. The Yankees rotation will need to be near-perfect against a potent lineup if they are to keep their low-scoring offense in the contest, so let’s look at the starting pitching matchups that include reunions against two old friends:
Tuesday: Jordan Montgomery vs. Michael Pineda
Jordan Montgomery has been the model of inconsistency in the Yankees starting rotation so far this season. In some starts he looks utterly dominant, while in others he’s eminently hittable. The Yankees will hope he can break his streak of alternating gems and clunkers, considering his last outing was of the good variety: 6.1 innings of three run (one earned) ball that pushed his season ERA below four. In 11 starts, the southpaw is 3-1 with a 3.92 ERA, 3.54 FIP, and 59 strikeouts in 59.2 innings.
He faces off against former teammate Michael Pineda. One of the most painful could-have-been ex-Yankee starters of the last decade, Pineda has rejuvenated his career nicely with the Twins now that he is fully recovered from a litany of injury issues and a 60-game suspension that limited him to just 900.1 innings in ten years. He has been the Twins’ second-best starter in 2021, sitting at 3-3 with a 3.40 ERA, 4.34 ERA, and 48 strikeouts in 47.2 innings.
Wednesday: Gerrit Cole vs. Randy Dobnak
The Yankees’ ace goes on Wednesday, and will try to shake off the stench of his five inning, five run stinker against the Rays. After a blistering first eight starts, Cole has looked decent to downright pedestrian over his last four, failing to exceed seven strikeouts in any outing while accumulating a 4.30 ERA. He is still unequivocally the best starter in the AL, carrying a 2.26 ERA, 1.90 FIP, and 104 strikeouts in 75.2 innings.
His opponent, recent rotation addition Randy Dobnak, is more likely to win a Goose Gossage lookalike contest than pitch like the former Yankees closer. His first seven appearances were out of the bullpen before starting in his last three outings, and neither option is going too well. You may remember Dobnak from Game Two of the 2019 ALDS, when he surrendered four runs in two innings of the Yankees’ 8-2 victory. The Yankees would surely welcome a repeat performance on Wednesday, as Dobnak makes his fourth start, sitting at a 6.19 ERA, 4.64 FIP, and 22 strikeouts in 32 innings.
Thursday: TBA v. J.A. Happ
The Yankees have yet to announce a starter for the final game of the series, although Michael King stands out as the likely candidate. He has shown some encouraging signs since Corey Kluber went down with injury. After giving up a three-run homer in his start against the Red Sox, he rebounded admirably, pitching four straight scoreless frames including an immaculate inning. On the other hand, he owns a 7.04 ERA in his two starts this season and has still proven incapable of successfully navigating multiple turns through a lineup.
Deivi García is another option, but forgive me for having no interest in going down that road. His 5.27 ERA in 42.2 big league innings and supremely shaky control in 2021 (5.8 BB/9 combined between Scranton and The Show) recommends a good deal more seasoning at Triple-A before he deserves another call-up. Both choices are admittedly unappealing, but in my mind King is the lesser of the two evils.
Whoever they nominate will come against former Yankees hate vessel J.A. Happ. The 38-year-old lefty’s season has been a tale of two halves. In his first five starts, he owned a 1.91 ERA, surrendered 0.64 home runs per nine, limited batters to a .171 BABIP, stranded 85.6 percent of baserunners, and induced a 39.3 percent groundball rate. In the five starts since, he holds a 10.17 ERA, gives up 2.35 home runs per nine, carries a .400 BABIP, strands 51.9 percent of baserunners, and gets a groundball 29.1 percent of the time. More of that please.