The Yankees have played some very good baseball of late, but thanks to the cutthroat nature of this year’s AL East, they still have a lot of work to do. A 96-win pace is only good enough for third in the division, with New York still six games behind Tampa, and a three games behind Baltimore.
The brutal state of play in the AL East makes interdivisional matchups that much more vital. As the Orioles come to the Bronx for a crucial three-game set, expect a tight series with something approaching playoff intensity. It might only be late-May, but the Yankees are already playing important baseball, a proposition that’s equal parts exciting as it is scary.
Baltimore enters riding high on the heels of a three-game sweep of Toronto, and in truth, the Orioles have simply not slumped once in 2023, playing consistently good baseball wire-to-wire. They’re a team built on a quality lineup that sports a couple star-level players, and a bullpen that’s paced the league.
Cedric Mullins and Adley Rutschman are the biggest threats on the card, sporting 143 and 134 wRC+ figures respectively. Former top Yankees prospect Jorge Mateo has morphed into a key contributor, with his outstanding baserunning and defense offsetting a below-average bat. Austin Hays and Anthony Santander provide solid thump in the middle of the order, while Gunnar Henderson has shown flashes of brilliance as he adjusts to the bigs.
On the pitching side, Baltimore’s bullpen has been dominant, leading the league in fWAR. Their starting pitching is a bit sketchier, though, an area the team mostly neglected to address in the offseason. On that note, let’s take a look at the pitching matchups for this series.
Tuesday: Gerrit Cole vs. Kyle Bradish (7:05 p.m. EST)
Game one sees a clear advantage for New York. After a couple of shaky starts against the Rays, Cole bounced back in Toronto last week, firing six shutout with six strikeouts and two walks. His case as the best pitcher in baseball currently working remains strong.
He’ll be opposed by an interesting player, if not necessarily a great one. Bradish’s repertoire hints at a potentially strong starter; he’ll sit 94-95 mph with his four-seam fastball, and he possesses two quality breakers, a slider and curve, that have both generated results at the big-league level:
But Bradish’s command can come and go, particularly when it comes to his heater. The right-hander fills up the middle of the zone with the fastball, which is often greeted with hard contact:
Bradish has solid numbers on the year, with a 3.90 ERA in 32.1 innings, but his career figures (4.68 ERA, 4.40 FIP), are more pedestrian, and probably more reflective of the pitcher he is right now. The Yankee lineup on a good night should have a decent handle on a pitcher like Bradish.
Wednesday: Nestor Cortes vs. Tyler Wells (7:05 p.m. EST)
Nestor Cortes had a solid rebound start against the Jays, tossing six innings of two-run ball to end one of the rougher stretches of his Yankee career. Hopefully, that means the lefty will have put his struggles behind him, as the Yankees need him to buoy the rotation behind Cole. There are some promising signs overall, as very few pitchers have underperformed their expected numbers, per Statcast, more than Cortes. But Cortes has also had a harder time generated whiffs and chases this year, suggesting that perhaps opposing hitters are slowly adjusting to his brand of deception. With luck, he’ll be back to his tricky ways against Baltimore.
The righty Tyler Wells makes for an intriguing matchup. He sits 93 mph on his four-seamer, but he spins the pitch well, which makes it a potent weapon when located up in the zone:
Wells also sports a quality changeup and slider, to go along with the occasional curve and cutter. It’s a solid arsenal, one that makes the 28-year-old one of the more underrated starters in baseball. Wells brings a 2.94 ERA into this matchup, and in 212.2 career innings, he’s held opposing hitters to a .274 wOBA (for reference, Isiah Kiner-Falefa’s 2022 wOBA was .285).
Thursday: Clarke Schmidt vs. Kyle Gibson (7:05 p.m. EST)
In a way, Clarke Schmidt has pitched better of late, as he’s allowed two runs in three of his last four starts. Those three starts, however, came against the vaunted trio of Cleveland, Oakland, and Cincinnati, and the fourth start in that span, against the Rays, was a 4.2-inning, seven-run blow-up. It’s still hard to put any trust in Schmidt, who’s not as bad as his 6.00 ERA would indicate, but not good enough to inspire any real confidence when he takes the mound.
Veteran Kyle Gibson makes this a fairly uninspiring pitching matchup all around. The 35-year-old was the “big” offseason addition the Baltimore front office made to bolster the pitching staff, and to his credit, Gibson has given the Orioles what they hoped for: dependable, league-average production. Gibson sports an exactly average 100 ERA+, and his capably eaten 59 innings over his ten starts.
But at this stage in his career, Gibson is the kind of pitcher the Yankees need to feast on. He doesn’t throw hard, possesses maybe one above average pitch (a solid, fading changeup), and hasn’t missed bats at an above average rate in four years. Even if there’s nothing wrong with Gibson as a back-end starter, the Yankees will hope to crush him in the finale of this series.