The Orioles started left-hander Joe Saunders in an elimination game last Friday, and they’ll do the same tonight in Game Four of the ALDS. The 31-year-old southpaw was acquired from the Diamondbacks in late-August, and he went on to allow just one run in 5.2 innings against the Rangers in the AL wildcard play-in game last week. As bad as Texas had been swinging the bats, that was an unexpected;y strong performance.
The Yankees have seen plenty of Saunders over the years thanks to his time with the Angels, and in fact he made two playoff starts against the Bombers in the 2009 ALCS. He held them to two runs in seven innings in Game Two before getting hammered for three runs in 3.1 innings in the decisive Game Six. Saunders walked five and struck out zero in that game. He’s been in the NL the last few years though, so recent experience against the Yankees is limited.
2012 Performance vs. Yankees
Saunders’ second start following the trade to Baltimore came against the Yankees in Camden Yards, and he pitched admirably despite allowing a run in the first (Alex Rodriguez sacrifice fly) and a run in the second (Ichiro Suzuki double). Saunders retired ten straight after the double and 12 of the final 15 hitters he faced overall. That was the Jerry Meals game, when the first base umpire called Mark Teixeira out to end the game even though he obviously beat the throw on what would have been the game-tying fielder’s choice.
Pitch Selection (via Brooks Baseball)
Saunders is a ground ball guy who won’t miss many bats, so it’s not a surprise that he throws a ton of upper-80s sinkers. His comfort zone is down-and-away to righties, as he’ll pound that corner of the zone with fastballs, low-80s changeups, and upper-70s curveballs. I’m not kidding, he’ll live down there all game and rarely come inside to batters of the opposite hand. Lefties get just the sinker and curveball and Saunders absolutely dominates his fellow left-handers. He’ll bust them inside with the fastball and go out of the zone with the curve for swings and misses.
Performance & Results
Like I said, he dominates left-handers. In fact, Saunders has the biggest wOBA split among qualified starters this season, turning all righties into Nick Swisher and all lefties into Marlon Byrd. Seriously, those strikeout, walk, and ground ball numbers against lefties are top notch.
So, obviously, the Yankees have to stack their lineup with righties tonight. As bad as he’s been swinging the bat, Alex Rodriguez should start and hit right in the middle of the order. He hit lefties far better than righties this year (151 vs. 94 wRC+), and Saunders is exactly the type of pitcher he needs to face right now — a finesse left-hander who won’t come inside. If A-Rod is going to have some impact this series, Saunders is the guy you would expect him to do it against.
Derek Jeter’s new bone bruise might relegate him to DH, which I assume means Jayson Nix at shortstop. Joe Girardi will also have the option of playing Nix in left and Eduardo Nunez at short for a few innings, at least while Saunders is in the game. He could lift Nunez for defense and a pinch-hitter (Raul Ibanez?) as soon as a right-handed reliever is called upon. The Yankees didn’t do very much against Wei-Yin Chen in Game Two, but he went after them with low-to-mid-90s fastballs on both sides of the plate. Saunders won’t do that.