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Yankees at Blue Jays series preview: Conquer the North to pad the East

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The Yankees hit a bit of a bump in May but still end the month on top of the AL East. Can they return to dominance in June?

Toronto Blue Jays v New York Yankees
“I’m coming for you, Canada”
Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

The first-place Yankees take their American League East road trip north to Toronto to begin a four-game set against the suddenly-hot Blue Jays. The Yankees began their trip in Baltimore, where they lost two of three to the Orioles. The Yankees “stumbled” a bit in May with a 15-12 record after surging in April at 15-8, though this past month was still good to them.

The good news is that the Yankees aren’t worried. As Joe Girardi pointed out, it’s hard to keep playing .700 ball. Bumps are going to come, it’s how they respond that matters. Fortunately, the Yankees hardly ever looked out of any games. This team has a special feel to it, and it feels like they’re always in it. Hopefully June gets them back on track.

It won’t be an easy task for the Yankees to start the season winning, though. A dreadful April made it seem like the Blue Jays were doomed, however, April showers indeed brought May flowers in Toronto. The Blue Jays’ offense coming alive changed the team’s course from an 8-17 April to an 18-10 May. Of course, scoring 148 runs versus a meager 89 will do that.

On paper, it looks like a match-up of two powerful offenses. The Yankees will be led by Aaron Judge and his major league-leading 17 home runs. The Blue Jays offense will be carried by Josh Donaldson, who recently came off the disabled list to hurt baseballs. Both offenses should be fine, but how does the pitching match up?

Game One: CC Sabathia (5-2, 4.42 ERA) vs. Marco Estrada (4-2, 3.15 ERA)

It’s been a streaky season so far for Sabathia. He started the season with three good starts, followed that up with four bad starts, and now his last three starts have been good again. The only thing we know is that we don’t know what’s coming. The good streak will continue or a bad one will start.

Estrada’s been his usual self this season. He’s mixed in a couple bad starts, but overall he’s delivered. His last outing against the Yankees was May 1st when he threw seven innings of one-run ball. He’s always been good against the Yankees though, so hopefully good Sabathia shows up.

Game Two: Michael Pineda (6-2, 3.32 ERA) vs. Francisco Liriano (2-2, 6.35 ERA)

I’m still cautious, but so far it seems like Michael Pineda has found “it.” He’s always had dominant stuff, but consistency has always eluded him. He might be in a hot stretch and could go back to his old Pineda ways, but for now, it looks like he’s found his consistency. My theory is that he Space Jam’d Masahiro Tanaka and that explains both pitchers’ seasons thus far.

It will be interesting to see how Liriano will fare this weekend. Liriano’s been on the disabled list with a shoulder injury since May 10th, and will be making his first start Friday. His numbers are a bit inflated this year, but it’s hard to tell how much of that was because of injury. Even in his good starts, he’s struggled to go deep, so the Yankees have a good chance of knocking him out early.

Game Three: Jordan Montgomery (2-4, 4.11 ERA) vs. Joe Biagini (1-3, 3.64 ERA)

Montgomery’s been as solid as one could have hoped for the Yankees so far. He certainly has held his own and hasn’t looked overmatched. He’s dealt with some learning curves, but even then, no games have really gotten away from him. Which is really all one could ask for from the rookie starter who no one really expected to make the rotation coming into camp. Fun fact: Montgomery is leading all rookie pitchers in fWAR, which may not be much considering the overall competition, but it’s still pretty cool.

By the numbers, Biagini looks like he’s having a solid season, but it’s actually deceiving. He started in the bullpen for the Blue Jays and was pitching well enough that they put him in the injury-depleted rotation. Though his starts haven’t been too impressive, he is coming off his best start of the season and will be looking to build off of that.

Game Four: Luis Severino (4-2, 2.93 ERA) vs. Marcus Stroman (6-2, 3.28 ERA)

The final game of the series looks to be the most exciting from a pitching standpoint. After working with Pedro Martinez in the offseason, Severino looks like the pitcher he was in 2015 when he was first called up and looked like the Yankees’ future ace. After having to compete for a spot in the rotation, Severino might just be the Yankees’ best starting pitcher right now.

To close out the series, the Blue Jays are sending their own young stud starter to the mound. Like Severino, Stroman’s also having a solid bounce back season so far, but the difference is that Stroman was simply below average last year whereas Severino was just straight bad. The good news is that the Yankees knocked Stroman out early the last time they faced him when he gave up five runs in three innings. More of that please.

As is the case anytime the Yankees face an AL East opponent, this series won’t be easy. As Jake Devin pointed out, the AL East is shaping up to be the best division in baseball again and all that is due to how competitive all of the teams are. Both teams should put up a good fight, let’s just hope it’s the Yankees who end up on top. The Yankees are two games up in the AL East, and would love to build on that lead.

*Season statistics provided by Baseball Reference.