After taking three of four from the Indians over the weekend, the Yankees face another last place team, this time from their own division as the Orioles come into town for three games.
After a short dry spell the Yanks righted themselves last week, taking series from the first and last place teams in the AL Central. They beat the Twins with quality pitching, and only dropped the final because Javier Vazquez could not match the performances of A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte. That pitching magic carried over into the Indians series — the only game they lost came when the pitching staff melted down. The bats also came alive against the Indians. It’s hard to believe that, with all the struggles we’ve seen from the Yanks, that they still lead the league in wOBA by a wide margin.
The Orioles have won the fewest games in the majors, no thanks to a current five-game losing streak. They haven’t won more than three straight this year, a feat they accomplished twice. They’ve gotten quality performances from Kevin Millwood and Jeremy Guthrie, the veterans atop their rotation, but haven’t seen much from their youngsters. In fact, David Hernandez realized the best results of the bunch, a 5.08 ERA, and he was the one demoted to the bullpen in favor of Chris Tillman. On offense, a number of disappointing performances, notably from Adam Jones and Miguel Tejada, have led the Orioles to a league-worst showing.
Just about everything, from the overall numbers to the pitching matchups, favors the Yankees this week. That doesn’t mean they’re destined to sweep, although they could certainly use three quick wins this week. The Orioles are vulnerable, and the Yankees look like a Mack truck. These things can turn on a dime, though, so we can’t really expect a sweep. Anything less than two out of three, of course, would represent a disappointment.
Tuesday: Brian Matusz (5.76 ERA, 3.81 FIP) vs. Javier Vazquez (6.86 ERA, 5.83 FIP)
This game looks like the Orioles’ best opportunity to steal a win. They’ll go against the weak link in the Yankees’ rotation, and while their own starter has had his problems lately, we can’t count the Orioles out of a slugfest. If the Indians can do it, surely the Orioles can, too.
Matusz started the year with a few solid starts, exiting April with a 4.40 ERA. That’s not bad for a 23-year-old player in his second pro season, especially coming in the AL East. He tripped up a bit in May, getting rocked by the Twins, Rangers, and A’s. He had two decent starts in there, including a seven-inning shutout against Cleveland. The other came against the Yankees, six innings and three runs, though two of the runs were unearned. He faced them in the start before that, too, allowing three earned in six innings.
Vazquez appeared to be recovering from his poor start to the season, but with a chance to sweep the Twins on Thursday, he took a step back. He struggled with command on secondary pitches, which hurt his cause right away. That he couldn’t get a strike call on his low and away slider hurt him further. The Orioles aren’t the Twins, though, so we get to see if Vazquez can respond and give the Yankees another solid start.
Wednesday: Brad Bergesen (5.96 ERA, 5.85 FIP) vs. Phil Hughes (2.70 ERA, 3.03 FIP)
Bergesen did a good job during his brief stint last year, but missed the season’s final two months after taking a comebacker off his leg. He also got off to a slow start this season after suffering a shoulder injury while shooting a commercial. He’s a groundball guy, and that skill hasn’t eluded him this year. A little over 50 percent of balls in play from him have been on the ground. His strikeout stuff, never impressive to begin with, is even worse this year, and he has actually walked more than he has struck out. He’s prone to the longball, which is not a good thing against the Yankees at the Stadium.
After the Red Sox and the Mets gave Phil Hughes a wakeup call, he responded in his last start against Cleveland. it seemed like the previous two teams were sitting on his cutter, fouling it off until he came at them with something in the zone. This time Hughes went to his curveball more often, and with much success. He also used the changeup. That will be more and more critical as the season wears on. It doesn’t have to be a frequently used secondary pitch, but Hughes will benefit from having it in his arsenal. It will, at the very least, prevent hitters from sitting on his cutter.
Thursday: Kevin Millwood (3.89 ERA, 4.47 FIP) vs. CC Sabathia (4.16 ERA, 4.48 FIP)
Kevin Millwood’s K/9 is at its highest level since 2004. His walk rate is at the lowest point of his career. That helps explain his 3.89 ERA. His 4.47 FIP? That’s because of the 1.46 HR/9 rate, right up there with 2001 as the highest in his career. Again, that doesn’t bode well for his matchup with the Yankees. He has handled himself well with diminished stuff, going to his secondary pitches more now that his fastball is 2 mph below the last two years.
The month of May was not kind to CC Sabathia. He had a 3.12 ERA and 3.38 FIP in April, but that jumped to 5.15 and 5.52 in May. Home runs and strikeouts have been the problem, and we can expect CC to put it back together sometime soon. He went through a similar stretch last year, though that was in April. This year it’s May. If it’s just one month, it’s nothing to worry about. If the Yanks take the first two, he’s still the guy I want on the mound to complete the sweep.