I often wonder how the schedule-makers determine the number of games the Yankees play against non-AL East teams. I’m sure it’s inherently random, but I’m not crazy about the fact that, for example, the Yankees will have played nine games apiece against each of the teams in the AL West this season while only getting Kansas City six times.
I’ve gone on record several times regarding my desire to obliterate the inherently annoying unbalanced schedule and go back to getting to play every team an even number of times. My dream proposal entails abolishing the divisions and reverting to simply the American League and National League, with 15 teams each — the Astros would move to the AL to create a natural rivalry with the Rangers. Yes, I know this would result in an Interleague game every night, but at this point who cares? Under this proposal, every team in baseball would play every other team — AL and NL included — six times each, three games at home and three on the road, which would require MLB to expand the regular season from 162 games to 174. None of this is likely to ever happen, but I’d be thrilled to see even one component of this institutionalized at some point.
In any event, after a wet, sloppy and mildly frustrating four games against the Orioles, the Yankees are now on their second and final west coast swing of the season, starting with three tonight at Los Angeles — facing LA’s top three pitchers, to boot — and three in Seattle. The Bombers are 4-2 against the Halos this year, which is awesome considering how long the Angels have been a thorn in the Yankees’ side. Much to the Rangers’ chagrin, the Angels have also hung around near the top of the division for the past two-plus months, coming as close as tying Texas for first at the beginning of July, falling as far back as seven games out on August 17 and currently sitting only 2.5 games out of first. Rangers fans should take comfort in the fact that their boys have a 90.8% chance of making the playoffs, although the Angels’ 9.2% odds aren’t nothing.
The Angels are a fairly anemic team on offense, except they always seem to manage to score their share of runs against the Yanks; that’s just how it goes. Their .313 wOBA and 96 wRC+ rank 9th and 8th in the AL. Yankee-killer Howie Kendrick‘s been their best player by far, with a 123 wRC+ on the year. Peter Bourjos has a solid 114 wRC+; Mark Trumbo sucks at getting on base but can run into a fastball (107 wRC+); while Mike Trout, the top-ranked hitting prospect in baseball, has played well since getting the call, with a 106 wRC+.
Probable Pitching Match-Ups
In tonight’s opener(10:05pm ET), Bartolo Colon takes on Jered Weaver. Along with rotationmate Dan Haren, Weaver has been one of the top four pitchers in the American League. His numbers are pretty gaudy across the board — 2.49 ERA, 3.02 FIP, 7.68 K/9, 2.22 BB/9 — although xFIP suggests he may have been a tad lucky up to this point, with a 3.74 expected ERA going forward that’s higher than every other AL pitcher in the top 10 in fWAR. Weaver sets up a nasty high-70s changeup with what one would think would be an eminently hittable high-80s fastball, except no one seems to be doing much hitting of it this season (23.3 runs above average). He also throws a high-70s slider and low-70s curve and high-70s change to lefties. Weaver’s multiple offspeed offerings to lefties make him equally tough on both righties and lefties, and in fact he has the 3rd-lowest FIP against lefties of all AL righthanded starters. Ordinarily I wouldn’t expect a pitcher matching Weaver’s profile to be able to contain the Yankees — and he’s been semi-roughed up by the Bombers in the past — but contain he did back on June 3, throwing seven innings of two-run ball. Given the 2011 Yankees’ continued difficulty with offspeed stuff, Weaver seems likely to turn in another strong outing against them. For his part, Bart was OK against his former team back at the beginning of June — 5.1 innings of three-run ball — and if he’s on this could be a compelling pitchers’ duel.
In the Saturday night game (9:05pm ET), CC Sabathia takes on Dan Haren. Haren’s second half (4.26 ERA; .720 OPS against) hasn’t been anywhere near as good as his absurd first half (2.61 ERA; .584 OPS against), but he’s still one of the best pitchers in the league. He doesn’t walk anyone — second-lowest walk rate in the AL, after Josh Tomlin of all people — and has the 17th-best K/9 in the league. Haren’s pitch array is also absurd; he basically throws the kitchen sink at you — his cutter is his primary weapon, and per Fangraphs’ pitch type values it’s been the most effective in the AL by a good margin; he also has a 90mph four-seamer and two-seamer, a splitter, curve and changeup, although righties don’t see the latter two too frequently. Haren wasn’t great in his only start against the Yankees this season (6.2 IP, 4 ER), but he’s always a tough match-up.
And in the Sunday afternoon finale (3:35pm ET), Freddy Garcia gets Ervin Santana. Santana’s quietly put together his best season since 2008 (when he was a 5.8 fWAR pitcher) and currently sports the lowest ERA (3.18) of his career. Some of that is due to luck, as he’s outpitched his peripherals (3.72 FIP/3.80 xFIP), but there’s no denying his slider, which Fangraphs ranks as the best in the game at the moment, (Sabathia’s has been the second-most effective, for what it’s worth). Santana sets that slider up with a 92mph four-seamer. The Yankees haven’t had an awful lot of difficulty with fastball-slider guys this season (off the top of my head, Alexi Ogando and Juan Nicasio come to mind), although for some reason I have it in my head that Santana always fares decently well against the Bombers. Maybe it’s the 7 innings of three-run ball on June 4 coloring my view, because he has a 5.15 career ERA against them along with a .286/.368/.514 batting line.
In the past, a three-gamer with the Angels always felt like a guaranteed series loss, but the Halos just haven’t been as good these last two seasons as they were for much of the aughts. Strangely, the Big A has been the second-lowest scoring environment in the AL this season — strange because I don’t recall thinking the Yankees ever had too many problems hitting in LA. Those park factors would seem due mostly to Jered Weaver‘s and Dan Haren‘s outstanding work, along with a relatively weak offensive attack. Their bullpen has also been pretty good, as the unit’s 3.53 ERA ranks 3rd in the AL, and their 4.03 FIP is 6th.
In any event, with the Yankees’ three best pitchers taking the hill for this series, they should have a decent-enough shot at taking two of three, although facing Weaver, Haren and Santana will pose quite a test for the Yankee offense.
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