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NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 1: Pitcher Sonny Gray #55 of the New York Yankees pitches in an MLB baseball game against the Boston Red Sox on September 1, 2017 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City. Red Sox won 4-1. (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)

Yankees vs Royals Series Preview

The Yankees begin a short six-game home stand on Thursday before heading to Boston for a pivotal four-game series with the Red Sox. This home stand is a chance to make up some ground in the division, as the Yankees face two of the worst teams in the league.

New York has shown to struggle at times this season against lesser competition. That narrative should be reversed in the coming week, as the Yankees trail only the Red Sox for the best home record in the league (34-14). The Bombers took two of three earlier in the season at Kansas City.

Game 1 (Sonny Gray vs Jakob Junis)

Gray (7-7, 5.34 ERA) has been underwhelming all season, although he’s shown some encouraging signs in his past two starts (2-0, 1.59 ERA). Gray has lowered his ERA from 5.85 to 5.34 in that stretch and owns a career 2.38 ERA in five starts against the Royals. On May 20, he pitched eight innings of one-run ball on four hits in a 10-1 win over Kansas City.

Junis (5-10, 5.03 ERA) pitched the opening game of the series on May 18, and scattered two runs and seven hits over 5.1 innings. His ERA lowered to 3.51 after that start, but has ballooned to over five since then. He’s had four starts of 5 ER or more, including getting tagged for eight runs against the Indians on July 2.

Some good news for a team leads the league with 162 home runs, Junis leads the American League with 24 home runs allowed, and an even two HR/9.

Game 2 (CC Sabathia vs Brad Keller)

Sabathia (6-4, 3.51 ERA) has experienced a slight regression over his past couple starts; however, the Yankees have won three of his last four starts. On May 18 in Kansas City, Sabathia went five innings and allowed four runs (two earned). Otherwise,  the leftie has a career 3.15 ERA in 40 starts against the Royals, including six earned runs in his past 24.2 innings pitched.

Keller (3-4, 3.20 ERA) made his way into the Royals’ starting rotation about two months ago after spending some time in the bullpen. The 22-year-old is 2-3 with a 3.75 ERA as a starter. He threw seven shutout innings against the Angels on June 25, while allowing four runs in 4.2 innings against the Red Sox more recently. Keller holds a 7.53 ERA in his last three starts.

Game 3 (Luis Severino vs Heath Fillmyer)

Severino (14-3, 2.63 ERA) hasn’t been himself lately, but is still one of the best pitchers in the league nonetheless. He’s got a 7.80 ERA in his past three outings and has allowed as doubled the amount of home runs allowed (12) in that time frame. This start is a bridge to his next projected start against Boston, so it is imperative that he returns to form.

Fillmyer (0-1, 2.82 ERA) made his MLB debut roughly a month ago. He’s started just two games, most recently going 6.2 innings and allowing one earned run on three hits against the Tigers. In his other start, he allowed four runs (three earned) in 4.1 innings against Boston. Kansas City is 0-6 in the six appearances Fillmyer has made this season.

Game 4 (Masahiro Tanaka vs Burch Smith)

Tanaka (8-2, 4.09 ERA) has been magnificent since returning from the DL, sporting a 2.29 ERA in his last three starts. Most recently, he threw a complete game shutout against the Rays; an absolute gem. More importantly, he prevented the long ball, which is extremely encouraging for a pitcher whose allowed a home run in all but three starts this season.

In terms of Kansas City, Tanaka faced them twice back in 2016 and allowed four home runs as part of a 6.00 ERA in those outings. Although, both teams are in completely different states than they were two years ago.

Smith (1-1, 5.58 ERA) was another bullpen guy moved to the starting rotation recently. He’s got a 6.17 starter ERA in three outings and a 5.40 ERA in 24 relief appearances. Smith has not been sharp this season, so the Yankees should be able to take advantage of a struggling spot starter.