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New York Yankees vs. Toronto Blue Jays: Series Preview

It’s a clash of the AL East mashers as the Yankees welcome the Blue Jays to the Bronx for a four-game set.

Toronto Blue Jays v. New York Yankees Photo by Rob Tringali/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Coming off a series win against the rival Red Sox in the inaugural days of the 2022 season, the Yankees have no time to catch their breath. A potent Blue Jays offense that just mashed seven home runs in three games against the Rangers rolls into town. Let’s take a look at the starting pitching matchups that we expect to see in this important early-season series.

Monday: Jameson Taillon vs. Alek Manoah, 7:05 PM ET

Taillon makes his first start of the year, which is a welcome sight given the doubt that lingered from his offseason surgery. Fans worried that his recovery from a torn ankle tendon would render him unavailable for the start of the season. He was solid in his first season in pinstripes after arriving in an offseason trade from the Pirates. Taillon went 8-6 in 29 starts with a 4.30 ERA and 140 strikeouts in 144.1 innings, which is made all the more impressive considering it was his first time pitching since May 2019 after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

He draws Manoah as his opponent on the mound. The right-hander was brilliant in his MLB debut against the Yankees last year — six shutout innings giving up two hits and two walks while striking out seven. The Yankees got the better of him in their second meeting, tagging Manoah for three runs in 5.2 innings. In 20 starts, he went 9-2 with a 3.22 ERA and 127 strikeouts in 111.2 innings.

Tuesday: Nestor Cortes vs. Yusei Kikuchi, 7:05 PM ET

Cortes gets the nod for the second game of the series. The former non-roster invitee was a revelation for the Yankees last season. A lot of the narrative focuses around his different arm angles and messing with timing, but let’s not forget just how good his stuff actually was. His fastball featured the 28th-most rise of any four-seamer in baseball last year, so even though it sat at 91 mph, it played a few ticks up from that. In 22 appearances (14 starts), Cortes went 2-3 with a 2.90 ERA and 103 strikeouts in 93 innings.

He will square off with new a face in Toronto, Yusei Kikuchi. The 2021 All-Star signed a three-year, $36 million contract with the Jays over the winter after the Mariners declined their team option following his first three seasons in Seattle. He saw an uptick on his fastball velocity, but he gives up some of the most hard contact of any pitcher in baseball. Kikuchi was a mixed bag in his two appearances against New York — the first giving up five runs on eight hits in five innings but also throwing five shutout innings in the second. In 29 starts in 2021, Kikuchi went 7-9 with a 4.41 ERA and 163 strikeouts in 157 innings.

Wednesday: Gerrit Cole vs. José Berríos, 7:05 PM ET

Cole will take the mound for his second start of the season, and boy would he like a redo on his first outing. Cole gave up three runs in the first inning, struggling mightily with his fastball command. In fairness, he righted the ship while giving up just one hit across his next three innings before being pulled after 68 pitches — right in line with cautious plan the Yankees have for their starter the first turn through the rotation. Cole finished 2021 at 16-8 in 30 starts, with a 3.23 ERA and 243 strikeouts in 181.1 innings, with a late-season hamstring injury likely costing him the AL Cy Young Award.

Berríos was the Blue Jays’ big trade deadline acquisition last season, with top prospects Austin Martin and Simeon Woods Richardson heading to Minnesota in return. Following the season, they inked him to a seven-year, $131 million extension, which seemed like a bargain considering he was the 14th-most valuable pitcher in baseball between 2017 and 2021. Like Cole, he looked shaky on Opening Day, giving up four runs in the first before getting yanked having only gotten a single out. However, his track record speaks for itself, as in 32 starts last season, Berríos went 12-9 with a 3.52 ERA and 204 strikeouts in 192 innings.

Thursday: Luis Severino vs. Kevin Gausman, 7:05 PM ET

Severino is set to make his second start of the season in the Thursday night series finale. He looked marvelous in his first start in over 900 days, with the two-run home run given up to Verdugo his lone mistake on the night. The fastball velocity and command was there, the changeup was moving all over the place, and he even busted out a new weapon: the cutter. Sevy went three innings giving up two runs with five strikeouts on 65 pitches, and it will be interesting to see where they set his pitch limit in his second start.

Robbie Ray was the beneficiary of Cole’s late-season slump, but the 2021 AL Cy Young Award winner now plies his trade in Seattle. Toronto always knew that would be a possibility, so they secured his replacement, Kevin Gausman, on a five-year, $110 million deal prior to the lockout. Gausman is a sixth-place NL Cy Young finisher in his own right, thanks in large part to his splitter, which Statcast graded as tied for the second-best pitch in baseball last season by their Run Value metric (-23 runs). He is plenty familiar with the Yankees from his Oriole days and was actually quite successful, with a 3.77 ERA and 97:34 strikeout to walk ratio in 24 games. Like Berríos, he had a rocky first start of the season, giving up three runs in five innings. However, the larger body of work — 14-6 in 33 starts in 2021 with a 2.81 ERA and 227 strikeouts in 192 innings — speaks to the top-end pitcher he’s become since leaving Baltimore.