The Yankees (5-4, tied for 2nd) host the surprising Orioles (6-3, 1st place) for a three-gamer at Yankee Stadium beginning tonight, with Baltimore coming into a series with New York playing better baseball than their AL East rivals for the first time in quite a while.
While the season is of course still quite young, what the Orioles have done thus far can’t be ignored, and with the Yankee offense suddenly looking lost at sea along with continued uncertainty about the performances the Bombers will receive from their starters, the Orioles have an opportunity to make a strong early statement in the Bronx this week.
Fortunately for the Yankees, the O’s will attempt to do so without studs-in-the-making Zach Britton — who doesn’t line up to pitch in this series — and the currently rehabbing Brian Matusz, who had several hard-luck losses against the Yankees in 2010 before finally getting the upper hand in a strong Labor Day performance last September.
In tonight’s game, A.J. Burnett (4.09 ERA/3.02 FIP/3.16 xFIP) takes on Chris Tillman (3.38 ERA/3.96 FIP/4.78 xFIP). Burnett has fairly quietly pitched reasonably well in his first two turns through the rotation, although he remains a wild card. Tillman — who held the Yankees to two runs over 6IP in his lone start against them last season — has outpitched his peripherals thus far and holds a .185 BABIP that is ripe for regression. Whether that comes at the hands of the Yankees remains to be seen, but this matchup seems fairly even on paper, with perhaps a slight edge to Burnett if he can continue delivering on his positive early returns.
In Wednesday’s contest, all eyes will be on Phil Hughes (16.50 ERA/11.19 FIP/7.70 xFIP) after his disastrous outing this past Friday, as Yankeeland waits with bated breath to see whether Hughes and Larry Rothschild will have magically found the solution to both Hughes’ missing velocity and lack of command. Hughes gets Brad Bergesen (4.91 ERA/7.11 FIP/6.53 xFIP), who frustratingly owned the Yankees in a September start at the Stadium last fall, nearly leading the O’s to a sweep of the Bombers until Nick Swisher hit a walk-off bomb against Koji Uehara. Bergesen doesn’t strike anyone out (career K/9 4.48) but has a favorable career GB% rate and solid BB rate. Bergesen seems like the type of pitcher the Yankees should jump all over; and indeed they did in their first outing against him last season. This is another difficult game to call as we have no idea which version of Hughes or Bergesen will show up. I’ll go out on a limb and say that if Phil puts last Friday’s start behind him and begins to get his velocity up, I like him to win this game.
In the finale, Ivan Nova (6.10 ERA/3.31 FIP/4.71 xFIP) gets to face Jake Arrieta (8.68 ERA/5.38 FIP/4.40 xFIP), another in a long line of opposing pitchers who seem to get crushed by everyone else but turn into Cy Young when facing the Yankees. Though both have been hit fairly hard during the young season thus far, Arrieta’s probably better than Nova, and given Arrieta’s track record, I have no reason to expect the Yankees to beat him until they show that they can.
Here are the two teams’ 2011 offense and pitching numbers this far:
The primary thing that sticks out to me like a sore thumb from this table is the fact that the Orioles’ rotation is outpitching the heck out of its FIP (2nd-biggest negative E-F delta in the AL), due in part to a ridiculous .199 BAA and .218 BABIP, both tops in the AL, while the Yankee offense has a .242 BABIP, 13th in the AL, and is hitting only .236. To boot, the Yankee pitching staff’s BABIP is .315, the worst mark in the AL. Eventually these numbers will inevitably smooth out.
In addition to striking out in over a fifth of their at-bats, the Yanks have obviously had some pretty rough luck on balls in play on both sides of the ball in the early going. Combined with the Baltimore pitching staff”s completely unsustainable BABIP and BAA rates, this series could be a quite a boon to the struggling Yankee offense if the regression monkey decides to rear its head sooner rather than later.
While the Orioles have received better-than-expected pitching performances, they’ve struggled quite a bit on offense, at least until they put runners on. Interestingly, as Dave Cameron noted, the Orioles have a .487 team OPS with the bases empty, .908 with men on base and 1.144 with RISP, so it would clearly behoove the Yankees to try to limit the number of Oriole baserunners in this series.
I’m not really sure how to predict this series. If the Yankee bats start heating up — and they pretty much have to, given that six of their nine regulars are OBPing .325 or lower — they should be able to wreak some havoc on an Oriole pitching staff that has benefited from quite a bit of luck. Of course, if the bats remain in cold storage it’s also not difficult to envision the O’s young hurlers having their way with a slumbering Yankee offense. However, being both back at home and playing against an overachieving Orioles team, the Yankees really should be able to grab two out of three in this set, pitching problems be damned.
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TagsA.J. Burnett Alex Rodriguez Andy Pettitte Austin Romine Baltimore Orioles Bartolo Colon Boston Red Sox Brett Gardner Brian Cashman Bullpen CC Sabathia Chien-Ming Wang Cliff Lee Curtis Granderson David Robertson Dellin Betances Derek Jeter Francisco Cervelli Freddy Garcia Game Recap Hiroki Kuroda Ivan Nova Javier Vazquez Jesus Montero Joba Chamberlain Joe Girardi Johnny Damon Jorge Posada Manny Banuelos Mariano Rivera Mark Teixeira Melky Cabrera Michael Pineda New York New York Yankees Nick Johnson Nick Swisher Phil Hughes Prospects Rafael Soriano Red Sox Robinson Cano Russell Martin Tampa Bay Rays Yankees