Hooray for Interleague Play being over! I realize there are certain aspects of Interleague that are enjoyable to fans, but unless they revamp the schedule so that every team in baseball plays every other team there’s always going to be a certain level of imbalance/unfairness to the proceedings. I for one am more than happy to return to our regularly scheduled slate of American League teams.
And what better way for the Yankees (47-28, 1st place in the AL East, 2 games up) to come back to the AL than to face the utterly punchless Mariners (31-44, last place in the AL West, 14 GB)? Granted, having to face two of the best pitchers in baseball in future Yankee Cliff Lee and Felix Hernandez is a painfully tall order, but even if both aces fire blanks they’ll still need to plate some runs, which has been a problem all season long.
While many were extolling the virtues of Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik’s and Boston GM Theo Epstein’s newfound focuses on pitching and defense this past offseason, as we saw yesterday Epstein still had plenty of firepower to back up this supposed change in philosophy. Unfortunately for Seattle, Zduriencik apparently lost sight of the fact that no matter how strong your pitching and defense might be you still have to score runs to win baseball games.
Outside of the 1995 ALDS, which we won’t get into here, and the glorious 2000 and 2001 ALCSes, the Yankees and Mariners don’t exactly dredge up a ton of memories for me, at least not in recent years.
Though they dispatched of the M’s rather handily at home in 2008, for the most part Seattle has played the Yankees pretty competitively during the past decade. Probably the most shocking moment between the teams last year was Ichiro Suzuki‘s walk-off against Mariano Rivera in late September, in a game the Yankees led 2-1 and with Mo only needing to record one more out for the win. Despite the Yankees having all but locked up a playoff spot at that point, I seem to recall quite a bit of hand-wringing in the aftermath in RAB’s comment section.
In tonight’s opener, Cliff Lee (2.39 ERA; 1.97 FIP(!!!); 3.09 xFIP) takes on Phil Hughes (3.17 ERA; 3.25 FIP; 3.86 xFIP) in what will certainly be the most compelling match-up of the three-game set. Lee is leading the galaxy with a mind-meltingly awesome FIP, not to mention the 2nd-best xFIP in the AL and a jaw-droppingly outrageous 19.00 K/BB ratio. To give you an idea of just how phenomenal that number is, the next-highest is Roy Halladay‘s 6.00. Hughes hasn’t exactly been a slouch himself — per Yankees.com, in five starts since the Mets dealt him his only loss on May 22, Hughes is 5-0 with a 3.86 ERA — although for as well Phil’s pitched he’ll probably need to be near-perfect to outduel the best pitcher in the American League. Phil should also make a point of introducing himself to his 2011 rotation-mate, so that they can bond quickly in Spring Training next year.
In Wednesday’s game Felix Hernandez (3.28 ERA; 3.37 FIP; 3.48 xFIP) faces Javier Vazquez (5.16 ERA; 5.07 FIP; 4.61 xFIP). This looks disastrous on paper — though Javy’s actually had a fine June, King Felix is a monster and almost always seems to have his way with the Yankees. While the M’s could very easily take the first two games of this series behind their two-headed ace, this is probably the game they most need to have.
And in the finale, Ryan Rowland-Smith (6.18 ERA; 6.74 FIP; 6.01 xFIP) gets to face CC Sabathia (3.49 ERA; 4.01 FIP; 3.92 xFIP). As you can see from his numbers, Rowland-Smith’s 2010 has been a horror show, and it’s not as if he’s gotten unlucky — 6.74 FIPs don’t generally lie. He’s allowed opponents to hit .308 and owns a 1.70 WHIP. Not sure how the Mariners don’t have a better rotation option than this, but I guess them’s the breaks. Meanwhile, on the complete opposite end of the spectrum, CC has a 2.19 ERA over his last five starts while limiting opponents to a .191 batting average. It would seem the M’s have little chance of winning Rowland-Smith’s start, which means they’ll probably figure out ways to lose the first two and somehow pull this one out.
We’ve already discussed Seattle’s offensive ineptitude, but man, somehow it looks even worse when you put it in table format. A .295 team wOBA, as Mike Axisa noted, means the Mariners are essentially fielding a squad of 25 Yuniesky Betancourts. Yikes.
Pitching’s obviously the Mariners’ better half, but not by much. On the whole Seattle’s staff is basically putting up the same numbers as the Yankees. Without Lee, King Felix and Doug Fister, this team would incredibly be even worse.
Ordinarily calling for the Yankees to take two out of three against a last-place squad that has less punch than my fifth grade little league team would be a no-brainer, except of course when said team trots out two of the finest starting pitchers in Major League Baseball. Still, as dominating as Lee and Felix are, the Yankees will probably find a way to take at least one of those games, presumably through the Seattle bullpen. Combine that with the gimme win on Thursday, and the Yankees should be able to win this series, while Boston and Tampa hopefully beat up on each other.
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