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New York Yankees vs. Baltimore Orioles: Néstor Cortes Jr. vs. John Means

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The Yankees open up a three game weekend set against the Orioles tonight in the Bronx.

MLB: Minnesota Twins at New York Yankees Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees begin a crucial three-game series against the Baltimore Orioles tonight in the Bronx. The series, in general, is crucial, and tonight’s game, in particular, is crucial (more on that in a minute), because they all are for the Yankees at this point.

Despite a 51-game span of .706 baseball that included a 35-11 stretch and a 13-game winning streak, they’re actually further behind Tampa Bay than when that span started (6.5 games behind). Perhaps more importantly, the Yankees are closer to being out of the playoff picture than they are to first place, with leads of 1.5 games and 3.5 games over Boston and Oakland respectively in the Wild Card race. If you were thinking that tonight’s game against the woeful Orioles is a soft landing spot, it might not be as easy as you might expect.

Néstor Cortes Jr. will take the mound for the Yankees tonight. Cortes has been great for the Yankees this season; there’s no secret about that. He’s shown an incredible ability to avoid hard contact, ranking in the 90th percentile or better in barrel percentage, xSLG, and xwOBA across MLB. This has helped him avoid heavy damage and big innings, and has made him incredibly consistent – even when he’s been bad, he’s not that bad. In his worst start in 2021, he still got through 5.2 innings allowing only a manageable four earned runs.

It should go without saying that the Orioles’ offense isn’t very good at scoring runs, but it isn’t the reason that they’re Exhibit A for why some fans believe MLB needs to adopt the European soccer model of relegation (that would be primarily due to their pitching staff). In fact, the Orioles have plated an average of 6.2 runs per game on the board over their last nine games. As silly as it may sound to say “don’t take a team with a .311 winning percentage lightly,” because it’s really hard not to – Cortes needs to pitch well tonight.

Speaking of matters not to be taken lightly, the Orioles will send 28-year-old lefty John Means to the mound to face the Yankees. The former 11th-round pick has put together a solid three-season stretch for Baltimore — among AL pitchers with a minimum of 300 IP since 2019, only Gerrit Cole, Shane Bieber, Lance Lynn, and Chris Bassitt have posted a better ERA+ than Means. The Yankees shouldn’t have to wait around for strikes from Means, as he ranks in the 97th percentile in walk rate in MLB. Just about half of his pitches have been four-seamers that he likes to keep up and in to both righties and lefties, and close to 30 percent of his remaining pitches have been changeups that he’s kept down and away to righties, down and in to lefties.

Means will be facing a Yankees lineup that recently reverted from “long-awaited offensive juggernaut” to once again struggling for runs (as they did throughout most of the season’s first half). They’ve managed to score only 18 runs in their last 5 games, and have gone 1-4 over that stretch. Aaron Boone must agree with me on at least a mild sense of urgency tonight, as Giancarlo Stanton gets the start in right field and Luke Voit will be the designated hitter. The Bombers also hope to get a boost from Gleyber Torres who is back from the IL and will be starting at shortstop tonight.

How to watch

Location: Yankee Stadium, Bronx NY, NY.

First pitch: 7:05 p.m. ET

TV broadcast: YES, MASN

Radio broadcast: WFAN 660/101.9 FM, WADO 1280

Online stream: MLB.tv

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