The Yankees and Rangers meet for the third and final time of the 2011 season tonight, squaring off for a three-game set in the Bronx. The Yankees have won four out of the six games the two teams have played thus far.
Texas is 7-5 in June, and started the month out with five straight wins but is coming off a four-game set with last-place Minnesota in which they lost three times. The Twins actually held the third-best-wOBA-in-the-AL Rangers to two total runs over their last two games.
The Ranger pitching staff, which began the year on fire, has regressed to the point of posting the second-worst collective FIP in the league, at 4.33, due in no small part to an AL-worst 1.16 HR/9. However, they’re outpitching that FIP by a fairly significant margin, with an ERA of 3.74 — this, along with the offense, explains how they’ve managed to remain in first place. However, the surprising Mariners are actually right on Texas’ heels, only 1.5 games out of first place.
Of course, that staff FIP is significantly inflated by a bullpen that has put up an AL-worst 4.90 FIP — considering the Rangers’ ‘pen was tops in the league last year, this is a pretty dramatic falloff for Texas.
The Yankees — despite last week’s horrific second sweep of the season by the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium — have actually been playing fairly decent baseball themselves. Even though they’ve won nine of their last 14 games, they’ve still managed to lose ground to Boston, who has won nine straight on the strength of an insane .396 team wOBA over the last two weeks to go with a 2.66 ERA/2.91 FIP. While the Red Sox are finally playing the way many expected them to prior to the season, and the current red-hot iteration is closer to their true talent level than the team that muddied its way through the first month-and-a-half of the season, they’re also not going to continue to collectively hit like 2010 Matt Holliday for the rest of the season and will have to cool off at some point. But enough about Boston.
In tonight’s game, the Yankees get their second look at Alexi Ogando (2.10 ERA/3.57 FIP/3.68 xFIP) the starter, and will again counter with CC Sabathia. Ogando has continued to significantly outpitch his FIP, and in fact leads the league in that particular stat by a fairly wide margin due in part to a comically high strand rate of 88.2%, which also happens to be tops in the AL. xFIP doesn’t think he can continue to maintain his miniscule ERA, but that doesn’t change the fact that he still has the second-lowest in the league.
Ogando’s done it with the third-most valuable fastball in the American League, though as you know, part of the reason the Yankees were able to tag Ogando up in what wound up being his second-worst start of the season was the fact that his only other pitch is a slider. He’s thrown a changeup a mere 5% of the time this season, and it’s been a below-average pitch for him (-0.9 wCH). It seems crazy that Ogando’s fastball-slider combo has continued to be as effective as it has against the American League, but I’d expect the Yankees to be able to hit Ogando again, as they seemed to have figured him out last time around.
CC Sabathia‘s (3.15/2.97/3.57) been his typical beastly self this season, though he did unfortunately succumb to the Red Sox last Thursday after cruising along for six shutout innings. Sabathia beat Ogando last time, though Adrian Beltre and Michael Young nearly singlehandedly willed the Rangers to victory in that game. As long as CC is very careful with those two, he should be able to navigate the rest of the Ranger lineup successfully.
In the second game the Yankees get their third look at southpaw Derek Holland, who has surrendered nine earned runs in 10.2 innings against the Bombers this season. Holland’s had a pretty up-and-down season, and while his strikeout (7.71 K/9) and groundball (47%) rates are good, he’s been victimized by a high HR/9 (1.10) and 5th-highest BABIP in the AL. The Yankees will throw Ivan Nova (4.30 ERA/4.31 FIP/4.52 xFIP), who followed up a poor outing against Texas at the Stadium in April (5 ER over 4.1 IP) with his best start of the season and longest outing of his career in Arlington a few weeks later (7 1/3 shutout innings).
And the Thursday afternoon (1:05pm) finale pits ace C.J. Wilson (3.09/3.47/3.50), owner of the best fastball in the league at the moment (16.5 wFB), against a question mark. The Yankees missed the Rangers’ best pitcher during the first two series, and have had mixed success against him as a starter. The Yanks got him for three runs in 6 innings on April 15, 2010, in a game the Bombers won; they got two runs off him over 5.1 innings on August 10 in a game the Rangers won; and they knocked him out after only three innings on September 10 in one of the most frustrating games of the season last year. As you’ll recall, they also faced him two more times in the ALCS, and he shut them down in Game 1 before unraveling in the eighth en route to a Ranger bullpen meltdown and loss, and got to him for five runs in five innings in the do-or-die ALCS Game 5.
As of this writing, the Yankees had yet to decide who will be stepping in for the injured Bartolo Colon for this start, although it’s been speculated that it could be one of David Phelps (2.95 ERA/3.78 FIP), Adam Warren (3.53/4.16) or D.J. Mitchell (3.04/3.99). Phelps has had the strongest season of that troika, boasting the best K/9 (7.78) and BB/9 (2.36), though Warren is coming off a nine-inning, one-run performance last Thursday, so it’s possible the team goes with the hot hand.
This may not be fair to any of the aforementioned three triple A hurlers, but in a way this situation reminds me a lot of Matt DeSalvo in 2007. DeSalvo was never a heralded prospect, but pitched well enough at the beginning of that season to get called up in May. He actually acquitted himself nicely in his Major League debut against the Mariners on May 7, 2007, throwing seven innings of one-run ball, but that line also included zero strikeouts, which didn’t exactly portend well for the future. Sure enough, DeSalvo was given five more starts (and one relief appearance) and wound up with an ugly 6.18 ERA/5.73 FIP on the season. DeSalvo became a free agent after the season, threw two innings for the Braves in 2008 in which he gave up seven total runs, and hasn’t been in MLB since.
Now I’m certainly not saying that Phelps, Warren or Mitchell are as fringy as DeSalvo was, but it’s important to remember that each has also been universally regarded as a back-end type starter (with many seeing Mitchell ultimately becoming a reliever). If one of them does get the call on Thursday, it’s possible the Yankees will for once be the beneficiary of the whole “Pitcher the Opposition has Never Seen Before” syndrome for a start or two, but it’s also possible that they’re able to get by on sheer newness at first before the league quickly catches up to them, as I’m not sure that any of them are quite ready for the show just yet.
In any event, it’s always a fun time when the Yankees do unveil a pitcher of the team’s own making either their Major league debut or first career start (which would be the case if Hector Noesi got the nod), and so Thursday’s game will be quite compelling one way or another. Though the Yankees have seen a handful of pitchers make their first career starts in pinstripes the last few seasons, the last Bomber pitcher to actually make their MLB debut in a start was Ian Kennedy on September 1, 2007 (Ivan Nova had made a handful of relief appearances prior to his first career start last August). Hopefully the Yankees will have been able to take the first two so that whoever starts Thursday will have a little leeway.
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