The Yankees return to Yankee Stadium after finishing a five-game road trip over the previous week. In that time, New York swept the defending World Series champions Chicago Cubs. They also split a two-game series against a surprisingly good Reds team in Cincinnati.
Between May 11 through May 14, the Yankees will host the Houston Astros. The four-game series will culminate with Derek Jeter Night, where the organization plans to retire No. 2 on Mother’s Day. The Yankees are now 21-10 heading into the home stand. They would be the best team in the American League, if it wasn’t for the team they will be facing this weekend.
The Astros are so far one of the best teams in baseball at 23-11 in the early goings. Like the Yankees, Houston has been powered by a strong group of hitters in the lineup and solid starting pitching. Unlike the Yankees, however, most of their offense comes from the younger members of the team. Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve, George Springer, and Marwin Gonzalez are all under 30 and hitting the ball well. Even Brian McCann is turning things around in Houston with a .280 batting average, if you can believe it.
The Astros are, of course, led by former Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel. He is joined by Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers, who are also doing pretty well for themselves. Their bullpen is filled with late-inning weapons, including Chris Devenski (50% K-rate!), Will Harris, and closer Ken Giles (who seems to be the worst of the three right now).
Game 1: Dallas Keuchel (5-0, 1.88 ERA) vs. Michael Pineda (3-1, 3.12 ERA)
Under normal circumstances, I would declare that the Yankees have already lost this game. In five career games against the Yankees, Keuchel has dominated the team by keeping them to a .185/.213/.237 batting line over 141 plate appearances. Don’t go forgetting that start in the 2015 AL Wild Card Game, either, when he limited the Bombers to three hits and a walk over six innings while striking out seven and making everyone look like a fool.
The consistently inconsistent Michael Pineda would also be part of that belief that the Yankees are doomed today, but the right-hander has actually been good this year. At 28 years old, Pineda has a 2.32 ERA since his 11-strikeout performance in April. He has also struck out at least six men over his first six starts, and he’s just looked very different on the mound. It may be only a matter of time before things come undone again, but let’s hope this streak goes one more game.
Put this all together, and it looks like the Yankees could possibly beat Keuchel and the Astros. I want to see Aaron Judge go deep off of him.
Game 2: Lance McCullers (2-1, 3.40 ERA) vs. Jordan Montgomery (2-1, 3.81 ERA)
The Astros might tout Keuchel as their ace, but McCullers is right up there as well. This guy is only 23, and he’s striking out 10.6 per nine innings, and still has so much potential to tap into. The Yankees will be lucky to see him after a few shaky starts on the road. He is also struggling with a heightened home run rate, which Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge are going to hope they can take advantage of on Friday.
Jordan Montgomery has not been with the team for long, but he is already proving that he belongs on a big league roster. Despite the hype, he’s nothing close to the pitcher that McCullers has been, but that doesn’t mean he can’t get the job done still. Montgomery has shown a propensity to generate ground balls, so look for him to take advantage of that and keep Houston out of the air.
Game 3: Mike Fiers (1-1, 5.64 ERA) vs. Luis Severino (2-2, 3.40 ERA)
At one point it looked like Mike Fiers was an under-the-radar acquisition by the Astros. He was great for them in 2015 but slipped in 2016. Now he’s in full-on decline at the age of 32. Fiers has allowed 14 home runs so far this season, which leads the American League and ties him with Jered Weaver (which is bad news).
Meanwhile, the Yankees are seeing the opposite from Luis Severino. After a difficult 2016 season, the 23-year-old right-hander has seemingly transformed into a different pitcher this year. His strikeout rates have risen and walk rates have dropped. He’s throwing his changeup more and keeping hitters off guard. The only problem appears to be the home run barrage he still seems to surrender, so watch out for this game to be a dinger happy matchup.
Game 4: Charlie Morton (4-2, 3.63 ERA) vs. Masahiro Tanaka (5-1, 4.36 ERA)
The Astros must have really seen something in Charlie Morton to have signed him to a two-year deal in the offseason. Most fans were left scratching their heads. Now, however, it’s looking like a winning contract. The 33-year-old pitcher has been solid so far by maintaining a 50% ground ball rate, which might leave the Yankees sluggers with much to be upset over.
Tanaka will have the honor—nah, the privilege—of starting on Derek Jeter Night this Sunday. After an Opening Day start that may have been the worst appearance of his MLB career, Tanaka has slowly settled in to become the pitcher he has always been for the Yankees. Since that first game, he has a 3.10 ERA and hitters only have a .245 batting average against him. The home runs have been there still, but he has shown that he can make it into the late innings pitching as effectively as ever. Watch out.