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Dodgers vs. Yankees: What to watch, pitching matchups and more as MLB's juggernauts face off in the Bronx

Juan Soto is out of the lineup Friday but not expected to go on the injured list, according to manager Aaron Boone

It’s that scene in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II" in which Harry’s and Voldemort’s wands meet in the middle, pushing back against each other — except here, both teams are evil.

It’s the World Series of MLB’s dreams: Yankees vs. Dodgers.

The two juggernauts face off this weekend in The Bronx in their only matchup of the regular season. It’s a series chock-full of star power, pressure, hype and unanswered questions. Both clubs entered the season with mammoth payrolls, enormous free-agent additions and astronomical expectations. It’s championship-or-bust every season for both of these franchises, but the additions of Juan Soto and Shohei Ohtani took things to a different level headed into 2024.

So far, the Yankees, who currently have MLB’s best record at 45-19, have looked the part slightly more than the Dodgers, who, at 39-25, have been merely the league’s fifth-best team. New York enters this bicoastal battle on an eight-game winning streak, while the Dodgers arrive in the Big Apple off a series loss to the erratic Pittsburgh Pirates.

No three-game series in early June carries actual heft. The season is too young and too long; there are too many games ahead. But the sheer spectacle of Dodgers-Yankees is enough to captivate. Both the Saturday and Sunday games are on national TV. Whatever happens, the resulting narratives will be thick and spicy.

In reality, this three-game snapshot is just a chance to enjoy some sensational June baseball. A Dodgers sweep would not doom the Yankees to a summer of woe. Nor would a Yankees sweep ensure an AL pennant. Time is the true arbiter. But this is good ball.

As Dodgers manager Dave Roberts put it Thursday: “If you can't appreciate Yankees-Dodgers, if you're wearing a uniform or not wearing a uniform, then really, what are you doing this for? [The games] all count the same. But I think that if you have any ounce of love for the game of baseball, it's gotta mean a little bit more, doesn't it?"

Here are a few storylines and pitching matchups ahead of this colossal showdown.

A torrential early-summer downpour delayed Thursday’s Yankees-Twins game. That was not particularly shocking; sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains. But when the storm passed and the teams reemerged, a surprising absence defined the proceedings. Yankees outfielder Juan Soto, he of the 17 home runs and 1.027 OPS, had been removed from the lineup during the 56-minute delay. The club swiftly announced that Soto was taken out due to “left forearm discomfort.”

Juan Soto headshot
Juan Soto
RF - NYY - #22
2024 - false season
260
AB
.315
AVG
18
HR
4
SB
1.025
OPS

Postgame remarks from Soto and Yankees manager Aaron Judge struck a tone of optimistic concern. Soto has been dealing with the issue in his throwing arm for “one to two weeks” and receiving regular treatment, but until Thursday, it hadn’t bothered him enough to sit out. The sit-and-start nature of a rain delay, however, was enough for the Yankees to err on the side of caution.

Anything forearm-related, particularly for an organization that has dealt with a rash of high-profile UCL issues for Gerrit Cole and top prospect Jasson Domínguez, is enough to raise the blood pressure. But Soto received imaging on the area Friday morning, and the initial results were promising: inflammation. Soto is not in the lineup for Friday's game, but per manager Aaron Boone, the team does not expect him to go on the injured list, and he could be back at some point during the Dodgers series.

It’s also worth noting that Soto has continued to dominate through the discomfort — his numbers the past few weeks are in line with or better than his season averages. The extent of the injury for the pending free agent will be one of the biggest stories, not just of the weekend but of the entire year.

This is a bigger problem for Los Angeles, but it could become a dilemma for the Yankees if Soto misses any time. The Dodgers’ seven, eight and nine hitters are batting a combined .204/.269/.311, good for a .580 OPS, the fifth-worst mark in MLB. Mookie Betts, Shohei Ohtani, Freddie Freeman, Will Smith and Teoscar Hernández have shined at the top of the order, but the bottom three — a mix of Andy Pages, Gavin Lux, Miguel Rojas, Kiké Hernández, Chris Taylor and James Outman — has been an absolute catastrophe. The return of Jason Heyward from injury should give the lineup more length, particularly against right-handed pitching, but this is a legitimate area of concern for the Dodgers.

The Yankees, given Soto’s and Judge’s dominance this season, are also somewhat top-heavy. They’ve gotten very little offense from first baseman Anthony Rizzo, second baseman Gleyber Torres and the rotating cast of third basemen. DJ LeMahieu only recently came back from injury, but his early struggles are a reminder that the lanky infielder hasn’t been a well-above-average player since 2020. Shortstop Anthony Volpe, left fielder Alex Verdugo and DH Giancarlo Stanton have all been very good, making the Yankees a deeper, more formidable one-through-nine than the Dodgers. But if Soto misses significant time, the Yankees might need to make a deadline addition.

Sure, the games all count the same, but Dodgers vs. Yankees is captivating nonetheless. (Bruno Rouby/Yahoo Sports)
Sure, the games all count the same, but Dodgers vs. Yankees is captivating nonetheless. (Bruno Rouby/Yahoo Sports)

This will be the 11th start of Poteet’s career and the 12th of Yamamoto’s. That’s where the comparisons end. Poteet was thrust into the rotation as an emergency depth option when Yankees starter Clarke Schmidt went down with a lat injury a few weeks back. The 29-year-old is a competent spot starter who, like every other pitcher on Earth, will have his hands full with the top of Los Angeles’ lineup. Don’t expect him to face Betts/Ohtani/Freeman a third time.

Yamamoto, on the other hand, was given a 12-year, $325 million contract to be the Dodgers’ ace this past winter. Since his five-run, three-out stinker in South Korea, the 25-year-old righty has a 2.67 ERA in 11 starts. Lefties have really struggled against Yamamoto, whose dastardly splitter gives him reverse platoon splits. His showdowns with Soto, assuming he plays, should be great TV.

Stone, a 25-year-old rookie, has been Los Angeles’ second-best starter this season by ERA. He’s a changeup artist with two different fastball shapes — sinker and four-seamer — that should help him navigate a Yankees lineup that, beyond Soto, Verdugo and Judge, doesn’t shine against changeups.

Cortes, for whatever reason, has some gnarly home/road splits this season. The crafty left-hander has a 1.12 ERA in six Yankee Stadium starts and a 6.17 ERA in seven starts outside The Bronx. It’s worth noting here that the Dodgers are better against left-handed pitching because it allows them to get Miguel Rojas, who has an .817 OPS against LHP this year, into the lineup as the shortstop. That pushes Betts to second and the scuffling Gavin Lux to the bench. Smith, Pages and both Hernándezes are also better against southpaws.

Gil has been one of the most enjoyable breakouts of the young season. The Dominican right-hander earned a rotation spot in spring training only because Gerrit Cole hit the IL. Now, he’s a surefire All-Star likely to garner Cy Young votes. How his heater/change/slider mix fares under the Sunday night lights against the Dodgers — who, as a team, have absolutely smoked changeups this year — will be fascinating.

Glasnow leads baseball in strikeouts, thanks to a comically disgusting four-pitch mix. His four-seam fastball has been one of the best pitches in the league, with batters hitting just .185 against the heater, with a measly .349 slugging percentage.