After a long three-game series up in Boston last weekend to cap a 10-game road trip, the Yanks have six games at home before hitting the road again. These will be match-ups against teams contending for the playoffs. More than that, they’re teams within striking distance, but are still a few games back of the Wild Card and AL Central division races. Since they mean a lot for the opponents, they mean something for the Yankees. First up is the Texas Rangers, who roll into town for three games starting tonight.
Texas enters the series a game and a half back of the Wild Card — and if not for an egregious blunder by Jose Contreras last night, they might have been just a half game back. Each win for the Yanks helps out the Sox, but that’s of no matter right now. The Sox will do what the Sox will do, and the Yankees just have to keep on winning. The further they pull ahead now, the more rest they can afford their regulars heading into the playoffs. If Texas leaves the series down 4.5 to the Sox in the Wild Card, so be it.
Offense vs. Offense
Both the Yanks and the Rangers have powerful offenses, ranking first and second in the league in home runs and slugging percentage. Other than that, though, the Yankees clearly have the superior squad. They lead the league in OBP, where the Rangers rank 12th in the AL. The difference in their respective team batting averages — .280 to .259 — is also stark. In fact, Texas ranks below league average in average and OBP.
The problem with the Rangers is that their offense only works well in the comfy confines of Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. There they have a .834 team OPS, with a slash line of .276/.343/.491, all more than respectable numbers for a team overall. Put them on the road, though, and they’re a shell of that team, hitting .240/.295/.417. The good news for them is that Yankee Stadium is a hitter’s park as well. The bad news is that it plays to the team’s weakness.
The Yankees have had so much success in their new digs because of the lefty power they bring to the table. Texas’s left-handed hitters represent a weak point for the team. Against righties their offense posts a line of .246/.306/.426, and against lefties that slumps all the way to .229/.271/.397. They have to be thanking their lucky stars that they avoid CC Sabathia in the final series between the two teams.
As a final note on the Rangers’ road offense, those numbers are actually brought up by good numbers at Angel Stadium of Anaheim (where they hit even better than at home), Minute Maid Park, and Camden Yards. Those are all subject to the small sample size warning, but at all other parks the team is pretty atrocious — including a .749 OPS at Yankee Stadium during the series earlier in the year.
At home, the Yankees are one hell of a team. They post a .276/.361/.494 line as a team, adding up to an insane .855 OPS. That bodes well for them in this series, considering Texas’s offensive deficiencies on the road. The difference between the two teams is that the Yankees actually hit well on the road: .284/.355/.466, a .821 OPS.
Pitching vs. pitching
On the offensive side, Texas has had a good team for years. It’s on the pitching end that they always faltered. That’s the difference with this year: they’ve gotten solid performances out of their starters, and have a solid bullpen for the first time in a long time. This is especially impressive because of the team’s home venue. If these guys can pitch in a hitter’s haven, they should be able to handle themselves on the road, right?
Surprisingly, they’re a bit worse in terms of results on the road, though in overall batting lines they’re a bit better. Texas pitchers hold opposing hitters to a .728 OPS — .252/.325/.403 — on the road vs. a .758 OPS at home, though they have a 4.22 ERA on the road against a 4.06 mark at home.
It appears their pitching has been improving as well. As starters they post a team 4.47 ERA in the first half, and so far in the second half have lowered that to 3.82. Ditto their relievers who pitched to a 4.09 ERA in the first half, only to see that improve to 3.24 in the second half. So it appears that pitching is Texas’s strength this year. Go figure.
The bad news for the Texas staff — and you know I’d find some bad news for them — is that when facing batters of the opposite handedness, they’re not quite as good. That’s expected normally, but the splits are a bit pronounced in this case. Against lefties as a RHP, the Rangers have a team .766 OPS, including a .340 OBP. Against righties as a LHP, the Rangers have .835 team OPS. This is not a good tendency against a team like the Yankees, a team which is built for match-ups like this.
With their A lineup in place, as it should be tonight against righty Kevin Millwood, the Yankees will feature three lefties and four switch-hitters, with the only true righties being Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter. They can trot out this lineup against Millwood and Thursday’s starter Dustin Nippert and gain a significant platoon advantage. On Wednesday they face lefty Derek Holland. Because Thursday is a day game after a night game, they could opt to rest Jorge Posada on Tuesday, putting Jose Molina in the lineup against a lefty, a favorable matchup for him. Play Hairston for Damon, and that’s four righties, three switch-hitters, and a lefty DH.
Despite the bandbox that is the new Yankee Stadium, the Bombers’ pitchers toss as well, in terms of slash stats, at home as they do on the road: a .748 OPS against at home and a .742 OPS against on the road. There is a difference in the ERA, but it also favors their home park: 4.18 at home vs. 4.58 on the road. So not only are the Yanks hitters comfortable at home, but so are the pitchers.
Tonight: Joba Chamberlain vs. Kevin Millwood
After a relatively disappointing three years to open his Rangers tenure, Kevin Millwood has stepped up this year, leading the Rangers staff with a 3.48 ERA. He was rolling through the season’s first three months, pitching to a 2.64 ERA at the end of June. He’s hit some snags since then, and has allowed 27 runs in 42.2 innings since July 1. This includes an opponent OPS of .810. He’s started against the Yanks once this year, allowing three runs over 5.2 innings back in May.
Joba Chamberlain has been experiencing a hot and cold season in his first as a full-time starter. He burst out of the gates after the All-Star Break, allowing two runs over 21.2 innings in three starts. He then stumbled a bit, allowing 12 runs over his next 16 innings in three starts. He’s has a nice long rest since his last start on August 16.
Tomorrow: Derek Holland vs. Andy Pettitte
Rookie lefty Derek Holland has struggled in his rookie year, especially against the Yankees. In one start and one relief appearance he’s thrown 6.1 innings, allowing eight runs, seven earned and surrendering 13 hits. He moved to the rotation permanently after the All-Star Break, during which time he’s gone 4-2 with a 2.95 ERA. This includes a complete game shutout against the Angels on the road. He’s been pretty good in the two starts following that, so the Yanks shouldn’t count on seeing the same guy they hammered back in May.
Before Friday night’s start, Andy Pettitte had been pitching exceptionally, allowing just five runs, four earned, over 26 innings. He also struck out 28 to just seven walks in that span, an incredibly impressive run for the 37-year-old Pettitte. His rough start exploded on him Friday night, as he couldn’t record an out in the sixth inning. That was on a full week’s rest, so we’ll see how he does on the usual four days this time around.
Thursday: Dustin Nippert vs. A.J. Burnett
If Dustin Nippert’s name sounds familiar, it probably dates back to the 2006-2007 off-season. One of the names discussed in the Randy Johnson trade was Dustin Nippert, but the Yanks eventually ended up taking Ross Ohlendorf. The D’Backs sent him to the Rangers in 2008 when he was out of options. He’s also bounced between the pen and the rotation since joining the major league club on July 7. He’s yet to go more than six innings, though that was enough of an effort to defeat the Sox in their recent series. In the two starts surrounding that, though, he’s given up five runs each time.
We all know the deal with A.J. Burnett. He can dominate, but sometimes he runs into games like last time out against the Sox. He had his stuff, but couldn’t harness it. The good thing about A.J. is that sometimes he doesn’t have his stuff, and he can survive. The league leader in walks could use a bounce-back start after his effort against Boston on Saturday.