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New York Yankees vs. Toronto Blue Jays: Series Preview

Can the Yankees play the spoiler in the upcoming three games against the Blue Jays?

Boston Red Sox v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images

The Yankees have been eliminated from the Wild Card race and have played their final game of the season at Yankee Stadium, leaving them just six games away from bringing a merciful end to an unenjoyable season. That doesn’t mean they have nothing to play for, as the upcoming three games at the Blue Jays still have massive implications for the four teams (Toronto, Astros, Mariners, and Rangers) vying for the AL West and/or the final two AL Wild Card spots. Toronto are the owners of the second Wild Card spot, two games ahead of the third-Wild-Card Astros entering play Monday, but a sweep by the Yankees would throw the race even further into chaos.

Tuesday: Michael King vs. Kevin Gausman, 7:07 pm ET

The Yankees have used the last month-plus to stretch Michael King out as a starter and already he’s looking like the best option for the number two spot in the rotation behind Gerrit Cole. He dazzled last time out against the Blue Jays, holding them to a run on five hits while striking out a career-high 13 — also the most by a Yankees pitcher this season. He induced the second-most swings and misses in a game in his career (16) including a whiff rate in excess of 43 percent on both the sweeper and changeup. He’s given up one or fewer earned runs during this string of six consecutive starts, going deeper and looking sharper in each successive outing. In 47 appearances (seven starts), King is 4-7 with a 2.66 ERA (162 ERA+), 2.68 FIP and 121 strikeouts in 94.2 innings.

Kevin Gausman is staring down at minimum a top-three finish in AL Cy Young balloting and is likely the stiffest competition Gerrit Cole faces for that elusive prize. He leads the AL with 232 strikeouts and is second behind Sonny Gray with 5.1 fWAR. He’s also been death on the Yankees lineup, running his strikeout tally into the double digits in all three starts against them while holding them scoreless in two totaling seven and six innings, respectively. They would be doing their ace’s Cy Young case a huge favor if they could scratch across a few runs on Tuesday. In 30 starts, Gausman is 12-9 with a 3.29 ERA (128 ERA+), 2.98 FIP and 232 strikeouts in 178 innings.

Wednesday: Gerrit Cole vs. José Berríos, 7:07 pm ET

Wednesday will be Gerrit Cole’s final start of his dazzling Cy Young campaign, a prize which has eluded him following top-five finishes in 2015, 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021. He all but wrapped up the award with his eight innings of one-run ball last time out against Toronto, but knowing Cole he will look to stamp an exclamation mark on his season in his last start. Entering play Monday, Cole led all AL starters with 200 innings (becoming the fourth active pitcher alongside Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke and Adam Wainwright to hit that mark six times) and a 2.75 ERA and is third in strikeouts behind Kevin Gausman and Pablo López and in fWAR behind Sonny Gray and Gausman. In 32 starts, Cole is 14-4 with a 2.75 ERA (157 ERA+), 3.21 FIP and 217 strikeouts in 200 innings.

José Berríos is having a nice bounce back campaign following his disastrous 2022 but is still quite a ways from the four-win starter the Blue Jays extended for $131 million in November 2021. He’s started to combat his batted ball woes by swapping out four-seam usage for an uptick in sinker usage, which has led to a slight decrease in opposition’s launch angle and a slight increase in ground ball rate. The Yankees jumped him for four runs on seven hits in 5.2 innings last week so they certainly have the blueprint for success. In 31 starts, Berríos is 11-11 with a 3.58 ERA (118 ERA+), 4.01 FIP and 174 strikeouts in 183.2 innings.

Thursday: Luke Weaver vs. Chris Bassitt, 7:07 pm ET

I’m not sure anyone imagined Luke Weaver would leave his second start in pinstripes to a standing ovation from the Yankee Stadium crowd, but that’s just what happened following his 5.1 shutout innings against the Diamondbacks, his former team from 2019-2021. He mixed in a bunch more four-seamers after leaning heavily on the cutter in his first Yankee start and to good effect, allowing just four hits and no walks while striking out NL Rookie of the Year frontrunner Corbin Carroll twice and tallying eight whiffs. Not bad for a pitcher designated for assignment twice in the last six weeks. In 28 appearances (24 starts) between the Reds, Mariners and Yankees, Weaver is 3-5 with a 6.47 ERA (71 ERA+), 5.55 FIP and 103 strikeouts in 119.2 innings.

Chris Bassitt has taken a small step back from his previous two campaigns with the Mets and Athletics but has still done a more than serviceable job as a middle of the rotation starter. He has lost roughly one mph off all his pitches, but with a legitimate eight-pitch arsenal (sinker, cutter, curveball, four-seamer, sweeper, changeup, slider, splitter) to keep hitters off balance, he is perhaps more resilient than any other pitcher to losses in velocity. Despite pitching in his ninth big league season, Bassitt has only faced the Yankees twice in his career, pitching seven scoreless allowing three hits and a walk with seven strikeouts back in May and previously holding them to two runs on six hits with seven strikeouts in six innings with Oakland back in 2021. In 32 starts, Bassitt is 15-8 with a 3.74 ERA (113 ERA+), 4.43 FIP and 174 strikeouts in 192.1 innings.