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New York Yankees vs. Cincinnati Reds: Series Preview

How will the Bombers fare against a Cincy squad that just completed a three-game sweep of the Rays?

Oakland Athletics v New York Yankees Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

The Yankees return home after an action-packed four games at Fenway facing three interleague games against the Reds. They will look to bounce back from two straight disappointing losses against the Red Sox that relegated the Bombers to a 5-5 road trip. And though the Reds seemed more interested in competing for the offseason teardown trophy than fielding a competitive roster, by no means should this team be taken lightly — they enter the Bronx coming off a three-game sweep of the Rays. Let’s take a look at the starting pitching matchups for this midweek series.

Tuesday: Gerrit Cole vs. Graham Ashcraft, 7:05 P.M. EDT

What I’m about to say will probably be unpopular. Outside of Rafael Devers owning his soul, Gerrit Cole had some of his best stuff of the season Thursday night against the Red Sox. His fastball velocity and command was as sharp as I’ve seen this year while the slider induced a high volume of whiffs.

Of course, that’s not how baseball works. You don’t just get to erase things you don’t like to create a dataset that fits a preformed narrative. That being said, I am also a big supporter of weighing process over results. If he can replicate the process from the game against Boston, he will give himself a good shot at reaping a positive outcome. In 17 starts, Cole is 8-2 with a 3.26 ERA (115 ERA+), 3.61 FIP, and 124 strikeouts in 99.1 innings.

Cole will face Reds rookie righty Graham Ashcraft. Drafted in the sixth round of the 2019 MLB Draft out of UAB, Ashcraft made his MLB debut this year on May 22nd against the Blue Jays. His main weapon is the cutter, thrown over 50 percent of the time and with the third-highest average velocity (97.5 mph) of any cutter in baseball. He uses a mid-80s slider as his go-to put away pitch and a high-90s sinker to induce groundballs.

Despite throwing so hard, Ashcraft does an excellent job at limiting hard contact, sitting in the 94th percentile in average exit velocity, 85th percentile in barrel rate, and 80th percentile in hard hit rate. He limits free passes (96th percentile walk rate), but also won’t strike you out (fifth percentile strikeout rate, second percentile whiff rate). In nine starts, Ashcraft is 4-2 with a 4.35 ERA (106 ERA+), 4.03 FIP, and 29 strikeouts in 49.2 innings.

Wednesday: Luis Severino vs. Mike Minor, 7:05 P.M. EDT

Luis Severino will look to continue his strong start to the season coming off six scoreless innings against the Pirates. Though the strikeouts have been a touch down in his last two starts, the run suppression has remained impressive. Much of this success owes to his redesigned slider and his increased confidence to throw it for strikes. It grades as one of the best in the game in whiff rate (41.7 percent), called strike plus whiff rate (40.1 percent), and Statcast Run Value (-6 runs). In 15 starts, Severino is 5-3 with a 3.11 ERA (121 ERA+), 3.53 FIP, and 94 strikeouts in 84 innings.

Sevy will face veteran lefty Mike Minor, acquired in March from the Royals for Amir Garrett. He missed the first two months of the season after injuring his shoulder in spring training and has been the worst qualified starter in baseball since his season debut. An extreme flyball pitcher, Minor has given up the highest rate of home runs (2.84 HR/9) of any starter since the start of June. His fastball struggles to touch 90, though his changeup did grade out as the eighth-best pitch in baseball in 2019 by Statcast’s Run Value metric at -25 runs. In seven starts, Minor is 1-6 with a 6.63 ERA (70 ERA+), 6.79 FIP, and 32 strikeouts in 38 innings.

Thursday: Nestor Cortes vs. Luis Castillo, 7:05 P.M. EDT

Nestor Cortes gets the ball in the series finale as he looks to recapture the form that had many projecting him as the AL All-Star Game starter. The long ball in particular has plagued the Yankees’ southpaw in recent outings, surrendering nine in his last 28.2 innings pitched after giving up just four in his first 60 innings of the season. That said, he has yet to give up more than four runs in a start, and the pitch velocity has remained stable if not gone up a tick — an encouraging sign when it comes to fatigue given Cortes has already passed a career-high in starts and is one outing away from passing a career-high in innings. In 16 starts, Cortes is 7-3 with a 2.74 ERA (137 ERA+), 3.61 FIP, and 95 strikeouts in 88.2 innings.

It won’t be an easy task for Cortes, as he is set to face off against the ace of the Cincinnati staff, Luis Castillo. Castillo promises to be one of the most sought-after names on the market as the trade deadline approaches, and there is a roughly zero percent chance he will still be wearing a Reds jersey come August 3rd. The Yankees have been linked to the 29-year-old righty in each of the last three seasons, to the point that his start at the Stadium feels like an audition of sorts. He is a unique blend of strikeouts and groundballs, and is the only qualified starting pitcher in baseball with at least a 25 percent strikeout rate and 50 percent groundball rate since the start of 2019. In 12 starts, Castillo is 3-4 with a 2.92 ERA (158 ERA+), 3.03 FIP, and 74 strikeouts in 71 innings.