Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Four things to know as Yankees and Orioles face off: Gerrit Cole returns, Baltimore’s streak on the line, more

The two best teams in the American League will meet this week at Yankee Stadium. The New York Yankees will host the Baltimore Orioles for three games beginning Tuesday night, and because division rivals only play 13 head-to-head games with the new more balanced schedule, these games take on added importance. You only get so many chances to handle business yourself.

Here are the AL East standings coming into play Tuesday:

  1. Yankees: 50-24
  2. Orioles: 47-24 (1.5 GB)
  3. Red Sox: 38-35 (11.5 GB)
  4. Blue Jays: 35-37 (14 GB)
  5. Rays: 34-38 (15 GB)

The Yankees have been in sole possession of first place since May 14 and the current 1.5-game lead is their smallest since May 29. A sweep would move Baltimore into first place. That said, it is only June, and it’s likely these two clubs will be neck-and-neck the rest of the way. Simply put, two of the game’s best teams will play three games this week.

Here are the details for this week’s Orioles vs. Yankees series at Yankee Stadium. Select games can be streamed on fuboTV (try for free).

Date Start time Starting pitchers TV

Tues., June 18

7:05 p.m. ET

LHP Nestor Cortes (3-5, 3.59 ERA) vs. RHP Albert Suárez (3-0, 1.61 ERA)

YES, MASN, TBS

Wed., June 19

7:05 p.m. ET

RHP Gerrit Cole vs. LHP Cade Povich (0-1, 4.76 ERA)

Amazon Prime, MASN, MLBN

Thurs., June 20

4:05 p.m. ET

RHP Luis Gil (9-1, 2.03 ERA) vs. LHP Cole Irvin (6-3, 3.03 ERA)

YES, MASN, MLBN

No Corbin Burnes or Grayson Rodriguez this week. Also no Carlos Rodón or Marcus Stroman. Cole is back though. He will make his season debut Wednesday. He went down with nerve inflammation in his elbow in spring training and has completed his rehab assignment.

Here now are four things to know heading into this week’s Orioles vs. Yankees series, with a prediction thrown in because why not?

1. The O’s lead the season series

The Orioles and Yankees met earlier this season at Camden Yards and the O’s took three of four. Here are the final scores:

Now that division rivals play only 13 times a year, the important number is seven. Win seven of the 13 head-to-head games and you clinch the season series, and thus own the tiebreaker. The tiebreaker is important! The 2023 AL West and 2022 NL East were decided via tiebreaker. It’s something you’d rather have and not need than need and not have.

In the 2024 AL East’s case, the Orioles and Yankees are so good and so close than the tiebreaker could decide not only the division title, but also which team has to play in the Wild Card series and which team gets a bye. The O’s only need to win four of their final nine games with the Yankees to clinch the tiebreaker.

2. Cole will return this series

Gerrit Cole, the reigning AL Cy Young winner, will make his season debut Wednesday. He struck out 10 and allowed one unearned run in 4 1/3 innings in his third rehab start Friday, though the only number that really matters is 70. Cole threw 70 pitches in his third rehab start after throwing 45 and 57 pitches in his first two rehab starts. He’s almost fully stretched out.

Cole has pitched very well in his three rehab starts and, at this point, he’s simply building up his pitch count and arm strength. He has looked good and he says he feels ready to go, so why waste bullets in minor-league rehab games? Chances are Cole will have a pitch limit Wednesday (80-ish pitches?), but he’s returning this week.

Journeyman right-hander Cody Poteet has filled in since Clarke Schmidt went down with a lat strain two weeks ago. He has a 2.14 ERA in four starts this season and is likely to go down to clear a roster spot for Cole. Give the Yankees a truth serum, and I bet they’d tell they’d love a blowout win Tuesday so they could use Poteet for 3-4 innings to spare the rest of the bullpen.

Cole, 33, led the American League in innings (209), ERA (2.63), ERA+ (165), WHIP (0.98), and WAR (7.4) en route to winning the Cy Young unanimously in 2023. He is in Year 5 of a nine-year, $324 million contract.  

3. It’s been a while since the O’s lost an AL East series

Not since April 7-9 of last season have the Orioles lost a series to an AL East team. They dropped two of three to the Yankees at Camden Yards in that series, and are 15-0-6 in 21 series against AL East teams since. That includes 5-0-2 this season. Since the start of 2023, the O’s are 49-24 with a plus-95 run differential against the other four AL East teams. That’s a 107-win pace against the game’s toughest division. The Yankees will look to end Baltimore’s streak against AL East rivals this week.

4. Who’s hot, who’s not

Baseball is a sport of hot and cold streaks. Day-to-day and week-to-week consistency is a myth. As such, several players head into this week’s series swinging the bat better than others. Here are the hottest Orioles hitters over the last 15 days:

PA AVG/OBP/SLG HR RBI

Gunnar Henderson

61

.296/.377/.574

3

7

Ryan O’Hearn

42

.333/.381/.538

2

6

Anthony Santander

59

.283/.339/.717

7

12

Santander started the season slowly (.712 OPS on May 31), but Tony Taters has been one of the best hitters in the game in June. He has eight homers this month, two more than any other player. Similar to Santander, Austin Hays has been great (.400/.464/.760 over the last 15 days) following a slow start to the season. Those two make an already deep lineup so much more dangerous.

On the other end of the spectrum, Baltimore hasn’t gotten much from Ryan Mountcastle (.189/.259/.358 over the last 15 days) or Jorge Mateo (.154/.154/.385 over the last 15 days) lately. Cedric Mullins is having a nightmare season overall: .189/.240/.323. Center field is the one position Baltimore could upgrade significantly at the deadline. They’re set pretty much everywhere else.

Here now are New York’s hottest hitters over the last 15 days:

PA AVG/OBP/SLG HR RBI

Aaron Judge

54

.356/.463/.822

5

17

Juan Soto

43

.259/.535/.407

1

2

Giancarlo Stanton

50

.267/.340/.467

3

8

This is the way the Yankees drew it up, with these three leading the way offensively. Judge has gone nuclear in his last 50 games and Stanton has quietly rebounded from disappointing 2022-23 seasons. Over the last 15 days, the Yankees have also gotten sneaky great work from the catching platoon of Austin Wells (.278/.364/.444) and Jose Trevino (.308/.308/.654).

New York’s entire infield has lagged over the last 15 days: DJ LeMahieu (.167/.287/.167), Anthony Volpe (.128/.222/.231), Gleyber Torres (.188/.250/.375), and Anthony Rizzo (.128/.222/.231) around the horn. Rizzo broke his arm in a collision at first base Sunday and will turn to prospect Ben Rice to try to keep the train moving. Clearly though, New York’s offense is reliant on its outfielders and DH.

Prediction

The Yankees are in first place but the Orioles feel like the better team, particularly when it comes to the depth of their lineup one through nine. I will predict the O’s win two of three by cruising to a win Tuesday, then winning a battle of the bullpens Wednesday before New York avoids a sweep behind Gil on Thursday. It has been foretold.

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