During his pregame press conference, Joe Girardi said that Phil Hughes will start Game Four of the ALDS tomorrow regardless of what happens in Game Three tonight. That means the Yankees will not use CC Sabathia on three days’ rest if they are facing elimination. I don’t really see the point in announcing it; it would have been nice to have the option of starting Sabathia tomorrow without making it look like a panic move.
The Yankees and Orioles are down to a best-of-three series now, and I’m not sure Buck Showalter would rather have anyone on the mound in Game Three tonight than the man scheduled to start: right-hander Miguel Gonzalez. He embodies the Orioles, the out of nowhere surprise that continues to look more and more like he belongs with each passing week.
Gonzalez, 28, signed with the Orioles as a minor league free agent after spending a few seasons in the Red Sox’s farm system. They originally claimed him from the Angels in the Rule 5 Draft back in 2008. Gonzalez took advantage of the opportunity the Orioles gave him by pitching to a 1.61 ERA (1.79 FIP) in 44.2 innings with their Triple-A affiliate. With their pitching staff in need, Baltimore called him up in late-May and he has since emerged as arguably their best starter. Funny how that works.
2012 Performance vs. Yankees
The Yankees saw Gonzalez as a starter twice, and he pitched pretty well both times. Done let those four runs in 6.2 innings in late-July fool you, he held the Bombers to just two runs on four hits and zero walks in the first six innings of the game before tiring out in the seventh. Those 111 pitches were the second most of his career, and both numbers 110 and 111 were hit out of the park for homers. If Buck Showalter had gone to the bullpen two batters sooner, Gonzalez would have finished with a much prettier 6.2 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 8 K line.
The late-August start was the best of his season by Game Score (74), a seven-inning masterpiece in which he retired 15 of the first 16 batters he faced. Gonzalez’s two highest strikeout and swinging strike totals of the season came at the hands of the Yankees. Those 111 pitches in July generated 20 (!) swings and misses, one of the highest totals in all of baseball this summer. He pitched extremely well against New York in New York during the regular season.
Pitch Selection (via Brooks Baseball)
Gonzalez uses three offspeed pitches and will use them a lot, especially early in the count. Right-handers will see his low-90s fastballs and mid-80s slider while left-handers get the whole kitchen sink, including the low-80s changeup and upper-70s curveball. The changeup has splitter movement, meaning it tends to dart down rather than fade away and off the plate. Hitters come up empty on more than 40% of the swings they take against the pitch (42.8%, to be exact), so if he has that working, it could be a long night for a Yankees lineup that figures to feature four lefties and two switch hitters.
Performance & Results
The effectiveness of the changeup shows up in Gonzalez’s strikeout splits, as he whiffed nearly twice as many left-handed batters as right-handed batters this season. The wOBA split is zero for all intents and purposes, but it’s worth noting that righties had a .214 BABIP against Gonzalez while lefties were at .310. Give him another couple hundred batters faced, and those ball-in-play results will even out. Very few pitchers (as in basically zero) sustain a near-100 point BABIP split.
Gonzalez seems like a candidate to show a reverse split going forward because of the changeup, but that is unlikely to happen all at once in Game Three. The Yankees have not just seen the Baltimore starter twice, they were dominated by him in their own building both times this season. Saying they need to be ready for the changeup, specifically the lefties, is much easier said than done. Considering how often Gonzalez likes to go to his offspeed pitches early in the count, the best approach might just be to sit on something soft earlier and swing away if he catches too much of the plate. Working the count and taking a strike or two didn’t work during the season, that’s for sure.
From Opening Day through Game 162, Hiroki Kuroda was the Yankees’ best and most consistent starting pitcher this year. He served as the staff ace for a big chunk of the summer while CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte were on the DL, and he didn’t just get the title by default. From late-May through mid-August, a span of 16 starts and 113.2 innings, Kuroda pitched to a 2.22 ERA and a 2.78 FIP. Overall, his season included a 3.32 ERA and a 3.86 FIP in a career-high 219.2 innings this season.
That workload appeared to be an issue coming down the stretch, as the 37-year-old right-hander began to look fatigued during his starts, particularly in the later innings. He closed the season out with a dynamite seven-inning, two-run outing against the woeful Red Sox, but prior to that he’d allowed 22 total runs in his previous six starts and 37.2 innings. Eight of those 22 runs were scored after the fifth inning in those starts. As expected though, Kuroda said fatigue was not an issue while speaking with reporters on a conference call yesterday.
“I really haven’t thought anything about (being worn down),” he said. “You know, I don’t really feel fatigued, or I don’t think I can afford to think like that because I always prepare myself for the next game, and that’s what I’m doing right now.”
The Yankees slightly juggled their rotation for the ALDS in an effort to not only give Kuroda extra rest, but to also make sure Andy Pettitte didn’t get too much rest and lose his rhythm. Pettitte allowed three runs in seven innings in Game Two on eight days’ rest while Kuroda will get the ball in Game Three tonight on seven days’ rest. Had he started Game Two, which seemed to be the plan basically all season, he would have been on normal rest.
Like basically every pitcher ever, Kuroda has pitched better with an extra day or two of rest both this year and throughout his career. In 15 starts with normal rest this year, he posted a 3.56 ERA (3.68 FIP) while averaging 6.2 innings per start. With at least one extra day of rest, he pitched to a 3.14 ERA (3.82 FIP) while averaging exactly seven innings per start. If Kuroda did tire down the stretch, it didn’t show in his fastball velocity, which actually ticked up late in the season. If the fatigue showed up anywhere, it was in his command.
Tonight’s game is, obviously, the most important game of the season to date. The difference between being up 2-1 or being down 2-1 in a best-of-five series is enormous, and Kuroda’s playoff history is short and spotty. He twirled two gems with the 2008 Dodgers (6.1 scoreless in the NLDS, six-innings of two-run ball in the NLCS) before allowing six runs in 1.1 innings in the 2009 NLCS after an injury kept him out of the NLDS.
“In ’09, I didn’t have all my stuff and I wasn’t feeling good,” added Kuroda on the conference call. “I had an injury to my neck and I couldn’t throw in the divisional series … Until now, I haven’t really thought about ’09. I’m focused on now.”
The Yankees signed Kuroda to little fanfare this offseason mostly because the deal happened on the same day of the Michael Pineda-Jesus Montero trade, and nothing was stealing attention from that. He went on to serve as the team’s most reliable starter all summer, cranking out quality outing after quality outing. The Yankees are going to need that kind of effort from Kuroda again in Game Three tonight, if not something better given their struggles against Miguel Gonzalez this season.
This goes without saying, but tonight’s game is monumentally important. The Yankees and Orioles have split the first two games of their ALDS matchup down in Baltimore, and now they’re in the Bronx to wrap this thing up one way or the other. Playing the next few games in Yankee Stadium is advantage Yankees even though the O’s won six of nine there this season, simply because the Bombers are a better team at home than on the road.
By my unofficial count, 26 of the 64 total ALDS series from 1995-2011 were tied at one after the first two games. Of those 26 series, the team that won Game Three went on to win the series 21 times. The Yankees have been on both sides of that ledger, both the winning and losing. That 21-5 series record for Game Three winners doesn’t guarantee anything for anyone going forward, but it goes to show how much of a boost a Game Three win will be for whoever gets it.
Beyond the numbers, just look at how much more difficult things will be for the loser of tonight’s game. If the Yankees do drop the game, they would have to seriously consider starting CC Sabathia on three days’ rest in Game Four tomorrow rather than run Phil Hughes out there with the season on the line. No offense to Phil, but you have to start your ace out in a win or go home situation if at all possible. Sabathia has been on a roll of late and we all know he can handle starting on short rest. That would bump Hughes to a potential Game Five, but you have to win Game Four before worrying about that.
Furthermore, if the series winds up going five games, the winner will have to use their fifth starter in Game Two of the ALCS because there is no off-day between rounds this year. That’s really just a minor nuisance compared to having your season end this week, but at this point of the series you can afford to look ahead and think yourself “that’s something I really want to avoid.” The most important game is the next game, but as fans we can’t help but peek ahead and hope this series wraps up as soon as possible.
The Yankees and Orioles have been neck-and-neck since early-September, except now a trip to the ALCS is on the line rather than a division title. Baltimore is just not going to go away quietly as much as I wish they would, so Joe Girardi & Co. are going to have to hope Hiroki Kuroda is on point tonight while the offense actually capitalizes on some opportunities. Game Three is the most important game of the season, at least until Game Four tomorrow. I hope that game can be a little less stressful thanks to a win tonight.
Tuesday: The Giants beat the Reds in extra innings tonight, so the Yankees and Orioles will play Game Three at 7:37pm ET on Wednesday.
Monday: Earlier this afternoon, MLB announced that Game Three of the ALDS will begin at 7:37pm ET on Wednesday unless both the Reds-Giants and Tigers-Athletics series end on Tuesday. If they do, Yankees-Orioles will be pushed back to 8:37pm ET. Gotta fill those prime time hours, I guess.
MLB announced today that Game Four of the ALDS begin at 8:37pm ET on Thursday unless the Tigers and Athletics have to play a Game Five. In that case, the game will begin at 7:37pm ET. Game Five, if necessary, will begin at 7:07pm ET on Friday unless the Nationals and Cardinals have to play a Game Five. If they do, the Yankees and Orioles will have their game bumped up to 5:07pm ET. Got it? Good.
As I said this morning, splitting the first two games of the ALDS in Baltimore isn’t ideal but it’s far from the worst case scenario. Game Two was eminently winnable — the final 13 Yankees to bat could have either tied the game or given the team the lead with one swing — and the Yankees were a lot closer to finishing the first two games of the series up 2-0 than down 0-2. Now they get to come home for the rest of the ALDS thanks to MLB’s convoluted scheduling.
Like almost every other team in the history of baseball, the Yankees are a better team in their own building. They hit better at home this year (119 vs. 109 wRC+), they pitched better at home this year (3.67 vs. 4.06 ERA), and they won more games at home this year (.630 vs. .543 winning percentage). The Yankees were a really good team on the road this season, but they were even better at home. As much as I dislike this year’s playoff schedule, it does work in New York’s favor for this series.
I’m sure that by now, you’ve already been reminded that the Orioles actually won six of nine games in the Bronx this year. I don’t put much stock regular season performances carrying over to the postsason, but I know there are a lot of people who think it’s meaningful. The piece of the pie that’s missing is the fact that four of those six wins for Baltimore came against pitchers who aren’t even on the Yankees’ playoff roster — Ivan Nova (three) and Freddy Garcia (one). Seriously, in three starts against the Orioles at home, Nova allowed 19 runs in 16.2 innings. That information has been ignored while that “six wins in nine games” stat has circulated.
Anyway, the Yankees are coming back home for the rest of the series and only need to win two of three to advance to the ALCS for the third time in four years. I really, really hope they win the next two to ensure an off-day between the two rounds, but the most important thing is simply advancing. We can give out style points later. Hiroki Kuroda gets the ball in Game Three tomorrow night, and he’s an offspeed machine who works the edges of the zone well enough to take advantage of Baltimore’s middling walk rate (7.8%) and high strikeout rate (21.3%, third highest in the league). Splitting the first two games isn’t great, but the Yankees are still setup well for the remainder of the series in their own park.