The Yankees are off to a surprising hot start. They enter the anticipated series as one of the three teams with a winning percentage over .600. This series is different and special. You will be told how different and special this is ad nauseam on two national broadcasts, but it doesn't make it any less true. It is like the Cubs trip to Fenway in that it just will feel different, and an added bonus is that both teams are good again. The Yankees had been building for a run like this after several down seasons. The Cubs have been building for this run for 5 or 6 decades. Add in that the Cubs don't see the Yankees often, and it begins to feels a bit like the 2003 showndown in Wrigley. The Cubs came within a few outs, who can remember how many oh so long ago, of meeting the Yankees in the World Series that year. The temptation to see this as a prelude to a future meeting with far more meaning. Both franchises certainly would like to write a different ending of that season a fort-year (that's not a thing is it) ago.
One of the other ways that this series is different has been the infusion of young talent. The Yankees feature a rotation that is no older than 28 except for elder statesman Sabathia. The young rotation and bullpen ranks sixth in baseball in ERA and K/9. They have been outstanding in limiting base on balls issued coming in second only to the Nationals in that category. There is more about the trio of young hurlers the Cubs face this weekend below.
The real key for a team that won eight in a row once already this year has been an offense headlined by young stars. Sometimes it has felt like the Cubs have had a monopoly on young position talent, but the Yankees offense looks much like the dynasty era teams lineups did. The Yankees continue to control the strikezone on both sides of the ball. Their hitters have drawn walks in 11.0% of their plate appearances. That ranks as second best in baseabll as is their 44 home run total. They've managed the best wRC+ despite huge injuries to players like Didi Gregorius, Gary Sanchez and Greg Bird all going on the disabled list. Young Aaron Judge has filled a lot of that void, but the Yankees have seen contributions from all over the roster to achieve those numbers.
The Cubs continue their best tortoise impression as they hit the four over .500 mark for the second time of the season. The Yankees have ran hot and cold but mostly hot. The team has won two in a row after their last four game winning streak was snapped by two. The Cubs have two struggling pitchers throwing in the opening games, but should have a strong outing as Jon Lester matches up against the Yankees once again on Sunday.
Friday - 1:20 pm CT on CSN, 670 AM
Saturday - 6:15 pm CT on FOX, 670 AM
Sunday - 7:08 pm CT on ESPN, 670 AM
Bullpen Usage Chart:
|Pitcher||1 day||2 day||3 day||4 day|
|Carl Edwards Jr.||19||0||27||0|
Michael Pineda has been the subject of much consternation since being part of a rare young player challenge trade. Pineda pitched one season in Seattle at age 22. He was traded to be paired with CC Sabathia a top the Yankee rotation at the price of top hitting prospect Jesus Montero. Pineda was hurt almost immediately and didn't return to the big league rotation until 2014. He came back a different pitcher scrapping his four seam fastball for a mid 90s cutter. He was very good in his 80ish innings in 2014, but has had difficulties with his results matching his peripherals ever since. Pineda has been a sabr-darling with FIP, DRA and other measures suggesting Pineda's results don't match his true talent performance.
Pineda was hit hard last year with all of his pitches getting hit a lot harder than previous years. Stacey Gotsulias wrote about his changeup in particular this spring. The change was a pitch that he has worked on to give him a strong third offering to pair with his cutter and good 86 mph slider. Pineda this year has been terrific in 5 starts and 28.2 innings. His strikeouts are up to an astounding 11.6 K/9 and miniscule 1.3 BB/9. Curiously his change has been used more than since the first half of 2016, but it appears like the change is still being hit hard. The real difference has been an increase in whiffs across the board while really limiting damage done to his cutter/slider combination.
Montgomery is the most unfamilar of the Yankeess starter. The 25 year old lefty is making his first trips through the leagues. Saturday will be the 6'6" southpaw's fifth start of his big league career. So far the lefty has been a solid if unspectuclar presence out of the fifth spot for the surprise Yankees. As Jake Devin notes at Pinstripe Alley, Montgomery is not the usual fifth starter. He throws five different pitches very evenly. He generates a lot of deception despite the unspectuclar radar gun readings of 92 on the four seam and sinker. Right now against all of his pitches are generating a lot of swings and misses. They are also generating a lot of weak contact. This makes for an intriguing young arm as his manager noted:
"He was a four-pitch mix," the manager said. "He had a very good downhill angle. He's 6-foot-6. He's left-handed. He was able to use his breaking ball extremely well, whether it was his curveball or his cutter, his changeup's good. When he locates his fastball, it's really good. His stuff is really good. And he's got run to his fastball on the first base side of the plate. He has different ways to get you out."
The reason he has a 4.15 ERA at the moment is two main culprits. One is perhaps a little bit of bad luck with the defensive play behind him and sequencing. That would help explain why his FIP, DRA, and cFIP all point to a brighter future for the Yankees fifth starter. One issue that is of his own control is his, well, control. Montgomery walked 4.2 batters per nine innings in his 21.2 inning big league career. A hopefully patient Cubs approach will outlast him, but it wouldn't be surprising if it took once or twice through the order to really see him well either.
Sunday- Luis Severino
Hard throwing Luis Severino is one of many new homegrown Yankees. Severino was signed all the way back in 2011 for $225,000 as a 17 year old kid. He exploded onto the scene in 2015 with 62.1 innings with a 2.89 ERA. His peripherals suggested he may have been a little lucky, but an overcorrection may have followed it up as his ERA jumped to 5.83 in 71 innings in 2016. This year he has been very good with a 3.86 ERA. He has done this with a drop in walks and an increase in stirkeouts. All of this bodes well for continued success of the young fireballer.
The Cubs will primarily see a 97 mph four seam fastball on Sunday night. Severino also has an 88 mph slider and an 88 mph changeup. Severino leans heavily on the slider as well throwing in 30% of the time. He has increased his changeup usage to the highest levels since the first half of 2016. The slider generates a ton of whiffs and is true stikeout pitch. Paired with a 97 heater makes it a deadly combination when he is on. In his one May start the opponents did hit the slider harder than ever, but I am not certain that is a formula the Cubs can count on repeating Sunday night.