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Yankees vs. Reds series preview: How will New York start off the second half?

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Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees' first opponent of the second half will be the Cincinnati Reds, who will visit New York for three games this weekend. At 51-44, the Reds are currently in third place in the NL Central division, 1.5 games back of the division-leading Milwaukee Brewers. Dropping a rain-shortened Sunday Night Baseball match up against the AL East leaders, the Orioles, the Yankees sit at an even .500 at 47-47. Their rotation is comprised of players that no one would have penciled into the lineup at the beginning of the year and Hiroki Kuroda. CC Sabathia will not return this season and Masahiro Tanaka may yet end up needing Tommy John surgery. How the team responds to kick off the first half could determine a lot about whether they should buy at the deadline to try and make a playoff push, or just play with an eye more toward next season.

Tonight's game features Mike Leake against David Phelps. Leake is at an even 7-7 so far this season with 3.54 ERA. He had a solid April and a very impressive May before falling on slightly harder times in June and July. Opponents are batting .367 off Leake in his 18.2 innings so far this month. Lefties have fared much better than righties against Leake so far in 2014. Southpaws have tagged him to the tune of a 4.70 ERA vs. a 2.75 ERA vs. right-handers. That's good news for the likes of Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, and company.

Saturday's matinee is a match up of Alfredo Simon and one of the newest Yankees, Brandon McCarthy. Simon has an impressive 12-3 record this season, which was good enough to earn him a trip to the All-Star Game in Minnesota this week. He has a 2.89 ERA over his last 10 starts and has allowed no more than three runs in any of his starts dating back to June 1st. Unfortunately for the Yankees, Simon is better on the road than he is at home (2.37 ERA vs. 3.12 ERA) and better during the day than he is at night (2.11 ERA vs. 3.23 ERA), so it could be a long day if those splits hold up.

The series finale will feature Johnny Cueto and Hiroki Kuroda. Likely a match up of the best (healthy) pitchers on either team, Cueto comes into the series with a 2.44 ERA over his last ten starts. He hasn't failed to turn in a quality start since a five-inning, four-run performance against the Philadelphia Phillies on June 6th. He held the Dodgers scoreless for six innings while striking out 12 his next time out. Cueto has fared a little worse away from Great American Ballpark with a 2.38 road ERA to his 1.93 ERA at home, and lefties and righties have hit him pretty evenly this season, which happens to be barely any at all with an ERA just over two against both sides.

Tonight's game begins at 7:05 pm at Yankee Stadium.

Editor's Note: SB Nation's partner FanDuel is hosting a one-day $18,000 Fantasy Baseball league for tonight's MLB games. It's $2 to join and first prize is $2,000. Jump in now. Here's the FanDuel link.