The Yankees and Blue Jays began the week last night by kicking off an important three-game series. The Tampa Bay Rays will be dangerous, and there’s no overlooking the Boston Red Sox despite the struggles of that bullpen, but there’s a pretty good argument to be made that if the Yankees are to win the AL East in 2022, they’ll have to go through the team up north. Toronto is coming off a series win against the always-dangerous Houston Astros, and the Yankees... well, what else can we say about the Yankees? The team has swept its last three opponents, and is riding a 10-game winning streak entering play on Tuesday.
This series and the way it has lined up should showcase an advantage that the Yankees have over the Blue Jays at the moment: rotation depth. What seemed to many as a weakness for the Yankees is quickly proving to be a strength, and it that may play a role in who ends up on top of the division come October.
In this particular matchup, there’s no Gerrit Cole and no Luis Severino for the Yankees, and no Kevin Gausman or José Berrios for the Jays. Instead, a pivotal series between two division rivals and World Series contenders without the high-profile names will present its own unique challenges. The pitching matchups:
Mon. 5/2: Jordan Montgomery vs Ross Stripling
Tue. 5/3: Jameson Taillon vs Alek Manoah
Wed. 5/4: Nestor Cortes vs Yusei Kikuchi
First and foremost, for all of those who had questions about the top end of the Toronto rotation following the exit of Cy Young award winner Robbie Ray, the simple reality is that his replacement, Kevin Gausman, has been and is up to the task. José Berríos had an awful first start, but is also settling in at reliable José Berríos territory.
Luis Severino is the most talented pitcher on the Yankee staff after Cole, but the expectation — at least the most reasonable one — was never that he would contribute like a typical No. 2 in 2022. The Yankees carry one legitimate ace in Cole, and a great blend of four above-average starters to complement him. There’s no steep drop-off at the end. This means that for the most part, the Yankees will carry a solid group heading into any series, including this one.
Who holds the edge?
It’s pretty clear that in Alek Manoah, the Blue Jays have one of the better young pitchers in the game, and undoubtedly the best starter that will take the hill in this particular series, but going a little bit beyond that, the advantage is on the Yankees side.
Jordan Montgomery (as exemplified last night), Nestor Cortes, and Jameson Taillon have all in different ways proven themselves to be capable, above-average starters. The Yankees rotation may not have the flashy front-end duos that, say, the Brewers and Mets can boast, but it doesn’t have any glaring holes as of right now.
The Blue Jays face some tough questions following their top three of Gausman, Berríos, and Manoah. Stripling has been fine over six appearances, but his best role has always been as a swingman-type, switching over from the rotation to the ‘pen as needed. As such, he’s never thrown more than 122 innings in a single season. He also comes with performance concerns, having run a 5.14 ERA over the last two years combined.
Yusei Kikuchi got a pretty hefty contract from the Blue Jays for $36MM over three years, but there’s a reason why the Mariners opted to let the lefty move on. Kikuchi has flashed and even managed a major velo bump following this rookie season, going from 92.5 mph to 95+ since, and although it’s helped his heater avoid the damage it saw as a rookie, the overall results haven’t come for Kikuchi. He’s allowed 12 runs across 14.2 innings this year, after managing a 4.93 ERA in three seasons with Seattle.
It would not be a surprise if the Jays have two different starters filling out the backend of their rotation in the second half, and on the other side, the Yankees seem rather stable one through five. That could be something to take advantage of, not only in this series but throughout this division race. The Yankees have a depth advantage over their rivals, one they will hopefully press by winning this series, and by avoiding cold streaks through the year, on the strength of always sending a quality starter to the mound. Toronto will not be able to do the same, unless they bring in some sort of reinforcements.
One series in May is still just one series in May, but it highlights an important difference between the two clubs. We’ll see in time if this balance in the rotation can tip the scales in the Yankees’ favor.