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New York Yankees vs. Oakland Athletics: Series preview

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The Yankees head out west in a potential playoff preview

Seattle Mariners v Oakland Athletics Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

The Yankees took the 2018 Wild Card Game against the Athletics at Yankees Stadium, and this year, there’s at least a decent chance these two teams will meet again in a one-game playoff. The Yankees own the first Wild Card slot, with the A’s just two games out of the second spot. They’ll meet this weekend in a four-game set by the Bay that could have major postseason implications.

It’s always tough to play in Oakland — the Yankees have gone 1-9 there since 2017, and if I were managing the squad, would re-institute an N95 mask policy just because I don’t trust that facility.

Thursday - Jameson Taillon vs. James Kaprielian (9:40pm Eastern)

Taillon’s sort of had a tale of three seasons in 2021. He started the season just dreadful in April and May, before rattling off 9 great starts in his next 10, including two wins over Boston and strong starts against Houston and these same Athletics. His last two starts have been a bump in that road to redemption, with a 5.23 ERA in 10.1 innings against the White Sox and Twins.

Kaprielian, meanwhile, seems to have finally found his footing as an MLB starter. He averages less than five innings a start, but a 3.25 ERA is objectively good, and 4.16 FIP is exactly league average. He will struggle with the home run ball, giving up a lot of fly balls and some fairly loud contact, but his swing and miss stuff is legit.

Friday - Gerrit Cole vs. Sean Manaea (9:40pm Eastern)

We’re at that point of the season where excellence from Cole is par for the course. He will be one of the two or three finalists for the Cy Young award, and through all the movement of other pitchers in and out of the rotation, he’s been exactly the anchor the club needs. He didn’t give up a run in six innings against the Twins, and only one in 5.2 against the Angels in his previous start.

Manaea’s not having quite a Cy Young campaign, but he’s been very good in his own right, with a 3.77 ERA and 3.67 FIP. His strikeout rate has been pretty volatile year to year in his career, but a refocus on a two-seam/changeup combination have his punchouts back up this season.

Saturday - Néstor Cortes Jr. vs. Frankie Montas (4:07pm Eastern)

Well, if you think Gerrit Cole is going to be a Cy Young finalist, wait until you meet Néstor Cortes Jr. I feel like we keep waiting around for midnight to strike on this Cinderella story, but a lot of Cortes’ underlying metrics should still make you confident. He strikes out an above-average rate of hitters, doesn’t walk many, and while he does give up too many fly balls for my liking, they’re not hit that hard. I don’t think he’ll run a 2.56 ERA for the rest of the season, but I also don’t think he’s some scrub starter anymore.

I feel like I’m writing the same thing for every single Oakland pitcher. Frankie Montas is yet another solid-to-good-but-not-quite-great arm, striking out guys at a high rate, getting lots of ground balls, and not much hard contact. His splitter is the real weapon, with hitters whiffing more than half the time against it.

Sunday - Jordan Montgomery vs. Paul Blackburn

The Yankees really do send their best arms to the West Coast, with Monty having an incredibly underrated season slotting in as a strong mid-rotation starter on just about any rotation in baseball. He’s faced the Athletics twice before in his career, including one back in June where he threw 5.1 innings, giving up a single run.

Blackburn is really the black sheep of this rotation, and even he’s not been terrible. He’s a groundball specialist, never striking out more than 20 percent of the batters he sees, but throwing a cutter/sinker combo that engineers grounders nearly half of the time.