5 things to watch as Yankees face Orioles in three-game series in the Bronx

May 15, 2023; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; New York Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge (99) celebrates in the dugout after hitting a home run against the Toronto Blue Jays during the eighth inning at Rogers Centre.

After a bit of a slow start to the season, mainly due to injuries, the Yankees have finally begun to find their footing.

New York is coming off perhaps their best week so far this year. They took three out of four from the Toronto Blue Jays then swept the Cincinnati Reds to finish the stretch with a 6-1 record.

The Yanks are riding a four-game winning streak, and have taken three of their last four series. They now return home to open up a six-game homestand with three against the Baltimore Orioles.

Here are five things to watch for in this series…

1. Aaron Judge remains absolutely locked in

Since returning from the injured list due to a hip strain, Aaron Judge has been the center of the Yankees’ offense, as expected. The big slugger is settling into his usual groove and is scorching hot.

Judge sat out Sunday afternoon’s season finale against the Reds, but put together perhaps his best week long stretch of the season. In fact, he was named AL Player of the Week

Judge went 11-for-22 (.500) and led the majors in on-base percentage (.621), slugging percentage (1.273), and OPS (1.893). He also finished tied for the lead in homers (five), extra-base hits (seven), RBI (11), and total bases (28).

The 2022 AL MVP picked up five game-winning RBI to help the Yankees take the series from the Jays and Reds.

Judge is absolutely on fire, and now, he returns home to take on the Orioles, who he has absolutely crushed over his career.

2. Gerrit Cole’s continued dominance

Gerrit Cole has gotten off to a tremendous start to the season atop the Yankees’ rotation. Through ten outings, he’s posted seven quality starts and has a 2.01 ERA (fifth in MLB), 1.09 WHIP, and 68 strikeouts.

Cole’s coming off a dominant start in which he threw well enough to earn his sixth win, but didn’t receive enough offensive support. Cole tossed six shutout innings and struck out six in a 3-0 extra-inning loss to the Blue Jays.

He hasn’t started against the Orioles yet this season, but has posted good numbers against them over his career. He’s made ten career starts against Baltimore, one of which was a complete game shutout, and posted a 2.33 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, and 86 strikeouts.

Cole will look to keep the Yankees rolling as he takes the ball in the series opener on Tuesday night.

May 18, 2023; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; New York Yankees starting pitcher Nestor Cortes (65) throws a pitch against the Toronto Blue Jays during the first inning at Rogers Centre.
May 18, 2023; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; New York Yankees starting pitcher Nestor Cortes (65) throws a pitch against the Toronto Blue Jays during the first inning at Rogers Centre. / Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

3. Can Nestor Cortes build off his last start?

Its been a bit of a rough start to the 2023 season for the crafty left-hander.

After putting together a strong campaign last year, Nestor Cortes has struggled over his first nine starts. He’s posted a 5.21 ERA, 1.28 WHIP and struck out 48 batters through 48.1 innings of work.

Cortes is, however, coming off his best start of the year to date. Working against the Blue Jays, he recorded his third quality start of the season, allowing just two runs on five hits while walking one and striking out six over six innings.

Cortes is expected to take the ball against Orioles right-hander Tyler Wells in the second game of this series on Wednesday night. His last time facing Baltimore, back on April 9, the lefty allowed two runs while striking out five in 5.1 innings.

He’ll be looking to build off that last start and continue trending in the right direction.

4. Watch out for them pesky young Orioles

The Orioles have been one of the better stories in baseball over the first two months of the regular season. They currently sit in second place in the American League East with a 31-16 record, just 2.5 games behind the Rays.

Baltimore gave the Yankees a bit of a scare when these two teams faced off the second week of the season at Camden Yards. It was three close ballgames, but the Bombers ultimately ended up taking two out of three.

While the Yankees are red hot coming into this series, so are the Orioles. They are coming off a three-game series sweep of the Toronto Blue Jays on the road, and have won seven of their last ten.

With Cedric Mullins and Adley Rutschman leading the charge, Baltimore has a good young lineup and certainly will continue making some noise in the AL East.

5. Can Clay Holmes continue putting up zeroes?

Like Cortes, it’s been a rocky start to the season for Clay Holmes.

After securing 20 saves in 25 opportunities in an All-Star campaign last year, the right-hander struggled mightily early on and ultimately lost his hold of the Yankees’ closer role. Aaron Boone instead turned to the likes of Michael King and Wandy Peralta in his place.

Holmes has been working in different situations instead, and while it still hasn’t been pretty of late, he appears to slowly be making his way back in the Yankees’ circle of trust.

Holmes worked around two hits and a walk to secure his fifth save of the season in New York’s 4-1 win over the Reds on Sunday afternoon. That now marks nine consecutive outings in which he hasn’t allowed a run.

Holmes is down to a 3.26 ERA and 1.45 WHIP while posting an 11.9 K/9 on the year. How Boone handles the late innings, not just in this series but moving forward, is certainly something to keep an eye on.

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