5 things to watch as Yankees visit Royals for four-game series

Here are five things to watch as the Yankees travel to Kansas City to play a four-game series with the Royals starting on Monday night...

Juan Soto Watch

All eyes are on the forearm of the 25-year-old slugger. The left fielder – and his 17 home runs, 53 RBI and a ridiculous slash line of .318/.424/.603 for a 1.027 OPS – missed the highly-anticipated series with Los Angeles but told SNY MLB Insider Andy Martino on Sunday that he felt good. But as far as playing in Kansas City, Soto said, "I’ve got to wake up [Monday] and see how my elbow feels."

Aaron Boone said Soto was “probably not an option” to pinch hit, despite chants from The Bronx faithful. “He did a lot pregame, and it went pretty well,” the manager said. “So we’ll see about availability” moving forward.

All indications are that Soto is trending in the right direction and won't be an IL candidate and could feature but it remains wait-and-see mode.

Prior to the start of Monday's game, it was announced Soto will return to the lineup, starting at DH.

Can the Yanks score without Soto?

Since Soto exited the lineup at the top of the sixth inning last Thursday, the Yankees have managed to score just 10 runs over the following 31 innings.

Despite pounding out 24 hits and earning six walks against the Dodgers, they went 3-for-21 with runners in scoring position to leave 22 runners on base. Giancarlo Stanton was the biggest offender, going hitless in 14 at-bats (including eight with runners in scoring position) with seven strikeouts.

If Soto is out for any of the series, Aaron Judge may just have to be a one-man wrecking crew after going 7-for-11 with two doubles and three home runs, accounting for five RBI over the weekend.

Kansas City pitchers have been solid this season pitching to a 3.68 team ERA (eighth-best in MLB) thanks to their starters posting a fifth-best 3.38 ERA over 373.1 innings. But, in the first seven games of June, the Royals have a 5.00 team ERA (9th highest in baseball) with opponents batting .267 off them in 63 innings.

Carlos Rodon renaissance

What a difference a year makes. Well, for the Yankees left-hander, it is only been 255 days since he made his final start of a disastrous debut season in pinstripes and hit the nadir in Kansas City, surrendering eight runs on six hits and two walks while recording zero outs in a 12-5 loss.

May 2, 2024; Baltimore, Maryland, USA; New York Yankees starting pitcher Carlos Rodon (55) delivers a second inning pitch against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

But Rodon returns with the 6.85 ERA from last season well behind him. Through 13 starts and 73.0 innings (more than all of 2023), he has pitched to a 3.08 ERA (4.23 FIP) and 1.082 WHIP.

The difference? Rodon's fastball went from his worst pitch last year (minus-7 run value, per Statcast) to back to being his best (plus-11 run value).

The lefty looks to keep a run of pitching at least six innings in each of his last six outings while posting a 2.48 ERA with 35 strikeouts to five walks over 36.1 innings.

Bullpen reset required

While the starting pitching has stolen all the accolades in these parts, the bullpen has been nothing short of very good: a 3.05 ERA (over 221.0 innings) with a 1.18 WHIP and holding opponents to a .209 average (all Top 5 in MLB).

But Monday night will be the seventh game in a series of New York playing 13 games in 13 days. (New York visits Fenway Park for a weekend series starting Friday.)

And after throwing some high-leverage innings over the weekend – and 13.1 innings in the series overall – the bullpen could use the starters – Rodon, Marcus Stroman, Cody Poteet and Nestor Cortes – eating innings.

And there could be the external pressure of some relievers already looking over their shoulder as the Yanks begin to examine potential trade deadline options.

Will Anthony Rizzo continue to sit?

The first baseman sat for Sunday's series finale against the Dodgers and that could stretch into this series.

And Rizzo is in a serious funk. He is 1-for-29 over his last seven games with three strikeouts and a walk and hasn’t homered since May 10.

Dating back to April 29, Rizzo has just five extra-base hits and 10 RBI while slashing .181/.236/.248 for a .484 OPS in 133 at-bats.

Of course, DJ LeMahieu, who got the start over Rizzo at first, hasn't been setting the world on fire either since he made his season debut in late May, with just seven hits in his first 32 at-bats for a .578 OPS.

The Yanks will need one of those two to get it going.