Yankees meet Orioles in massive June clash with Gerrit Cole return looming

Yankees Aaron Judge celebrates home run
New York Yankees’ Aaron Judge, right, is congratulated by Juan Soto, left, after hitting a two-run home run during the fifth inning of a baseball game against the Chicago White Sox, Sunday, May 19, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)

With a slim 1.5-game lead over their division rivals in the American League East, the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles will face off in a crucial three-game series for top billing, beginning Tuesday at Yankee Stadium.

The Yankees, with a robust .676 win percentage, come in with the best record in Major League Baseball. The Orioles, 8-2 in their last 10 games, are tied for the second-best record in the league and are seeking to win the AL East for the second straight season. 

Baltimore is coming off back-to-back wins against the National League-best Philadelphia Phillies, outscoring them 14-5 over the final two games of the series in large part thanks to the long ball. Anthony Santander had two homers Saturday in a 6-2 victory. Gunnar Henderson, Adley Rutschman, Colton Cowser, and Jordan Westburg all homered Sunday in a 8-3 win. 

Speaking of Henderson, he comes in with 22 home runs, second in the majors only to Aaron Judge. The 22-year-old phenom is also second in Wins Above Replacement (WAR) with 5. According to Fangraphs, an average full-time position player is worth about 2 WAR. Henderson has flown past that value with more than half of the season left to go.

Baltimore Orioles’ Gunnar Henderson (2) celebrates his home run in front of Philadelphia Phillies catcher Garrett Stubbs, right, during the first inning of a baseball game, Sunday, June 16, 2024, in Baltimore. Home plate umpire Mike Estabrook looks on at left. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

The Orioles will send out Albert Suárez to start on Tuesday. The 34-year-old righty has had a solid year, going 3-0 with a 1.61 ERA thus far. Wednesday’s probable starter is Cade Povich, who has made just two starts and is 0-1 with a 4.76 ERA. Cole Irvin, 6-3 with a strong 3.03 ERA, will close out the series on Thursday, meaning the Yankees will avoid Cy Young candidate Corbin Burnes. The Orioles massive offseason addition has lived up to the hype, boasting an elite 8-2 record with a 2.14 ERA. He started and won Sunday’s 8-3 win over the Phillies, outclassing NL Cy Young candidate Zack Wheeler. 

The Yankees are coming back home after a 4-3 road trip that saw them drop the final two games at Fenway Park to the Boston Red Sox over the weekend. The good news for New York is that they still have Aaron Judge and Juan Soto, who have been as formidable a duo as any in baseball this year.

Judge leads baseball with a 5.1 WAR and 26 home runs. He left the yard again on Sunday against the Red Sox but it was not enough as the Yankees fell 9-3. Soto, the Yankees prized offseason acquisition, has been terrific with a .315 batting average and 18 home runs. There is much ongoing debate about whether New York will be able to re-sign the 25-year-old lefty after the season. For now, at least, Soto is a Yankee and will look to help them extend their division lead over Baltimore.

The Yankees will send out veteran lefty Nestor Cortes on Tuesday. He has been a stable anchor at the end of the rotation for New York this year, pitching to a solid 3.59 ERA with 80 strikeouts. Wednesday’s starter is yet to be announced, but all signs for now are pointing toward Gerrit Cole’s long-anticipated 2024 season debut. 

The reigning Cy Young Award winner was sidelined during spring training with an elbow injury. He struck out 10 during a rehab start in Triple-A on Friday, giving him normal rest for a potential start in the middle game of the series against Baltimore.

Yankees ace Luis Gil will start Thursday. Gil comes in with a dazzling 2.03 ERA and 9-1 record. The 26-year-old righty will look to temper an Orioles lineup that leads the majors with 114 home runs going into Tuesday. 

The first series between these two this year took place at Camden Yards from late April to early May. The Orioles took three out of four games, led by strong starting-pitching performances. 

It may only be June, but this series holds massive weight in what is shaping to be an epic AL East divisional race.

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