Surging Yankees go for sweep of Cubs

CHICAGO — Sitting atop the American League East, the New York Yankees will go for a three-game sweep of the Chicago Cubs on Sunday night.

While the Yankees are trending upwards, the defending World Series champions are 16-14 and 3-3 in May after falling to New York 11-6 Saturday.

The Yankees have a chance at their fourth series sweep of the season after Starlin Castro and Aaron Hicks were a combined 7-for-9 with six RBIs. Castro hit a three-run home run against his former team while Hicks hit a two-run shot and both players are hitting well over .300.

“Come back here and hit a homer, it’s really fun,” Castro said. “I feel really good to come here and compete against my ex-team.”

A year ago, the Yankees were 11-17 through their first 28 games while the Cubs won 24 of their first 30 games.

“It’s just hard to go 25-6 on an annual basis, regardless of how much you’d like to,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “I’m with these guys every day.

“Conversationally, watching them, looking in their eyes, they’re engaged. There’s no haziness, no fuzziness, no lack of engagement on their part. Teams have played pretty well against us too.”

Left-hander Jon Lester (1-1 3.67 ERA), who is well acquainted with the Yankees, will start for the Cubs.

He is 13-6 with a 3.78 ERA in 29 career starts against New York, all while he was with the Red Sox. But Sunday will be his first appearance against the Yankees since June 28, 2014.

While Lester has a 6.06 ERA on the road this season, he owns a 1.50 ERA at home. He earned his first victory in his last start, allowing three runs (two earned) in five innings against the Philadelphia Phillies on Tuesday.

Lester began the season with four consecutive no-decisions and a loss.

“Jonny Lester overall has been throwing the ball really well,” Maddon said.

Overall, the Cubs are looking for more quality starts from their pitching staff, especially after Brett Anderson recorded just one out Saturday before departing with low back tightness. The starters are 11-8 with a 4.79 ERA.

“I’m not seeing dramatically a whole bunch of difference to what we saw last year,” Maddon said. “(They’re) pretty patient. These guys have got to get on those one or two nice consecutive good starts in a row, and then all of a sudden it starts morphing into what it’s supposed to look like.”

For the Yankees, right-hander Luis Severino (2-2, 3.86) is scheduled to make his first career start against the Cubs.

He is 4-5 with a 3.20 ERA in 14 games when pitching against an opponent for the first time. He has given up three earned runs or fewer in three of his last four starts.

In his last start, Severino allowed two home runs and a season-high five runs in 5 2/3 innings during a 7-1 loss against the Toronto on Monday.

“I thought he was just a little off,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “He was behind in some counts. It looked like he was just missing.”

Yet in his previous start, Severino threw seven scoreless innings against the Red Sox at Fenway Park.

Girardi said he was looking to start Matt Holliday at first base Sunday for his first action on defense this season. Holliday is 9-for-24 (.375) with one home run and five RBIs in his career against Lester.

Right-handers are batting .295 off Lester, while lefties are hitting .214.

Outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury could also return to the starting lineup. He has not made four straight starts due to an elbow injury sustained when crashing into the wall in the sixth inning Monday.

“I want him to pick it up a little bit today and throw a little bit more,” Girardi said. “He said he substantially feels better today than he did yesterday. I would think he’d be a full player tomorrow.”