The top thing to watch tonight will be how the Yankees closer fares if given his first save chance in the post-Rivera-injury era.
But what else is worth keeping an eye on?
Matchup to Watch: Sabathia vs Moustakas/Gordon
Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas hurt the Yankees on a couple of fronts in the series opener, with a home run and a fine game-ending defensive play against Alex Rodriguez.
Moustakas doesn’t always start against lefties, but is hitting .432 in his last 10 games. If he plays tonight he’ll go up against CC Sabathia, which will pose a more formidable challenge. This will be the first time they’ve ever faced each other.
Moustakas is 5-for-11 with two doubles against left-handed pitching this season, but hit only .191 in 89 at-bats against them last season.
Gordon has gone head-to-head with Sabathia previously and is 4-for-21 against him with a walk. This is a better version of Gordon than the one who has often faced Sabathia in the past.
Last season, he made significant improvements at getting hits against left-handers, so it will be interesting to see how Sabathia pitches him.
Sabathia usually dominates lefties with his wipeout slider, which has accounted for 16 of the 21 times he’s gotten a lefty out this season. However he’s already been taken deep this season by Carlos Pena, Josh Hamilton and Prince Fielder, allowing one homer each on his fastball, curveball and slider.
Gordon is a potential troublemaker if Sabathia’s slider lacks bite. He hit three home runs against lefties’ breaking balls last season, after hitting only one in 2009 and 2010.
Sabathia’s 17 wins against the Royals are one shy for his most against any team. He’s won 18 games against the White Sox.
Matchup to Watch: Teixeira vs Chen
There are several Yankees with good histories against Bruce Chen, though none better than Mark Teixeira. Sort of.
Teixeira hit six home runs in his first 11 at-bats against Chen, though all of those came in 2005 and 2006.
Since then, the success in the matchup has gone the other way.
Chen gave up two more hits to Teixeira after the last homer, but has since retired him seven times in a row.
What’s been key to that is Chen’s use of the cutter, with which he’s gotten Teixeira out four times, three of which were on pitches that jammed him inside.
Expect that approach to continue. Teixeira has had nine at-bats as a right-handed hitter this season that ended with a pitch on the inner-third or closer to him. All nine of those at-bats ended in outs.
Stewart vs Martin
We’d expect Chris Stewart to catch today, since Sabathia has had a good run of starts with him behind the plate.
The Yankees numbers with Stewart behind the plate are impressive- a .185 opponents batting average, 47 strikeouts, and eight walks. In Stewart’s 42 innings behind the plate, the Yankees have not allowed a stolen base.
The Royals defense
The Royals defense hurt the Yankees in a number of respects on Thursday, not just on the game-ending play. Centerfielder Jarrod Dyson made a couple of nice running catches in the spacious outfield gaps, and first baseman Eric Hosmer made a perfect scoop to complete the ninth-inning double play on Teixeira.
The Royals also have two outstanding outfield arms in the corners in Gordon and Jeff Francoeur, and one of the 2011’s Web Gem leaders at shortstop in Alcides Escobar.
So far this season, their defense checks in about average, with two Defensive Runs Saved, a mark considerably better than the Yankees’ -20.