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New York Yankees vs. Chicago Cubs: Gerrit Cole vs. Drew Smyly

Needing some momentum badly, the Yankees turn to their ace in the penultimate game of the first half.

MLB: Texas Rangers at New York Yankees Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

After a demoralizing few days, the Yankees limp into a Saturday matinee searching for something to build momentum. Last night, in a morale crusher, the lineup couldn’t crack ex-Yankee Jameson Taillon, who has struggled against pretty much everybody else. Same story with former Yankee Jordan Montgomery in St. Louis — the Yankees bats have made some non-spectacular pitchers look untouchable lately. Yankees’ fans intimate knowledge of Taillon and Montgomery’s imperfections makes these anemic offensive performances against them all the more frustrating.

Taillon spun a gem, credit where credit is due. At the end of a bleary, punchless nine innings in the series opener, the home scoreboard showed a conspicuous goose egg and an equally conspicuous “2” in the hit column. The two hits were both singles, one from Gleyber Torres and the other from Franchy Cordero. The large Friday night crowd, expecting a win or at least a run, didn’t hesitate to let the Yankees hear it as the hapless offense went down quietly in the late innings.

Eight days ago after the Oakland series, good vibes abounded and the depleted starting nine began to find some traction at the plate. The Yankees scored 21 runs combined in the two wins against the A’s, preceding the series loss in St. Louis. Two gritty wins against the O’s sprung hope again upon the return from Busch Stadium, but two losses in the back half and a series split later, the Bombers squandered a golden opportunity to gain ground in the playoff hunt. We’re essentially at the All-Star break, and those opportunities won’t keep coming forever. As is so frustratingly the case with this team in recent years, it’s one step forward, two steps back.

To separate the buds from the thorns, Carlos Rodón looked sharp in his Yankees debut, long awaited until halfway through the season. His nebulous back injury was legitimate cause for concern, but he executed well in his first start and all signs were positive. Rodón has gone through “dead arm” periods in his career that at times slashed his velocity; his arm looked very much alive last night.

Anthony Volpe is pencilled in at the sparkplug spot followed by a badly slumping heart of the order. DJ LeMahieu uncharacteristically hits in the seventh spot, which speaks to how much he’s struggling.

The Yankees spread the wealth among bullpen arms after Rodón’s sharp 5.1 innings — Ron Marinaccio, Clay Holmes, and Tommy Kahnle threw one inning apiece. All three are likely available tonight, but with Cole on the bump, hopefully the bullpen calculations won’t be too extensive. The Cubs send out veteran Drew Smyly, who has a 4.10 ERA and gives up a whole lot of hard contact. He’s allowed 10 runs in his last 7.1 innings pitched.

It’ll be consecutive day games leading into the All-Star break and consecutive giveaways to the first 18,000 guests — sun tan lotion today and a Yankees Hawaiian shirt tomorrow. No word as of yet on the sunscreen’s SPF level.

How to watch

Location: Yankee Stadium — Bronx, NY

First pitch: 1:05 pm ET

TV broadcast: YES Network – NYY / Marquee Sports Network - CHC

Radio broadcast: WFAN 660/101.9, WADO 1280 / 670 The Score

Online stream:

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