It feels like just yesterday that the Yankees opened up this 2012 season with three consecutive losses in Tampa Bay. 159 games have flown by and this team is preparing for the final series against the once dangerous Red Sox. Yes, they’ve already claimed a postseason berth, but that’s only by technicality. Being a Wild Card this year means that you’re forced into a one game playoff, which is little more than a 163rd game. It’s far more dangerous than a best of 5 series, which is why the 92-67 Yankees and Orioles will play their next respective series like playoff games.
While Baltimore faces a not-yet-eliminated Tampa Bay Rays at the Trop, the Bombers have the pleasure of facing Boston in Yankee Stadium. In theory, the Yankees have the advantage, but that doesn’t mean it’ll be easy. The Red Sox have made it clear that they want to act as spoiler against their long time rival.
It was only last year that Boston was eliminated from the playoffs by the Orioles on the final day of the regular baseball season, and the effects of that historic collapse carried over into this year’s team. Instead of seeking revenge on the O’s this year, they handed this weekend’s series over in an easy sweep. Not only did they set their B lineup against the Birds, but they maneuvered their rotation to set their top pitchers for the Yankee series.
Monday, October 1st
The storyline for game one will follow Mark Teixeira, who is returning to the lineup for the first time since September 8th, and only the second time since August 27th. There is a strong chance that this is a premature return from the DL, but considering the circumstances, the Yankees need his bat, healthy or not.
Sabathia is coming off two exceptional starts against the A’s and Twins, combining the two starts for 16.0 IP, 9 hits, 2 runs, 3 walks, and 21 strikeouts. His counterpart, Buchholz, had an awful first half of the season, producing a 5.54 ERA and allowing batters to hit .287/.363/.466 up until the allstar break. Since then, he’s posted a 2.94 ERA in 95.0 IP, and lowered the triple slash to .229/.286/.351.
While the recent numbers are threatening, Buchholz still owns a career 5.84 ERA and a 1.746 WHIP in 44.2 IP against the Yankees. Alex Rodriguez, Nick Swisher, and Robinson Cano sport OPS’s of 1.140, 1.045, and 1.000 respectively. And then there’s Teixeira, Eric Chavez, Raul Ibanez, and Russell Martin, who have combined for 8 homeruns off him, which hints at a chance of a too many homeruns scenario.
Tuesday, October 2nd
As of right now, Nova is the expected pitcher on Tuesday, which is surprising when you consider how he’s thrown the ball of late. In his last two starts against the A’s and Blue Jays, Nova’s allowed 7 runs in 7.0 IP, and it may be no coincidence that he’s done this with a new windup. Even with these results, Girardi still plans to keep Nova’s start on Tuesday. This game has huge implications, so I would expect an extremely short leash and a David Phelps appearance.
For the Red Sox this year, Lester has been nothing short of disappointing. After 5 years of a low 3 ERA, he’s sat right around 5.00 in 2012. The strikeouts have dropped and the hits have risen, making the one time Boston Ace look like a shell of his former self. Even without the recent struggles, the Yankees have good career numbers, tagging him for a 4.27 ERA over 122.1 IP in his career. Nick Swisher has the best overall numbers, a .318/.415/.568 triple slash. We may also see a Jayson Nix appearance, who is slugging .857 off Lester in 21 at bats.
Wednesday, October 3rd
This is a matchup to pay attention to, between one incredible Japanese pitcher turned mediocre major leaguer, and one mediocre Japanese pitcher turned incredible major leaguer. Back in the day, Matsuzaka was supposed to be the best Japanese pitcher America has ever seen, but it’s by far been this guy name Hiroki Kuroda. That’ll be the narrative, but what have they done lately?
Kuroda’s been incredible for the Yankees all season, but in his last 7 starts, he’s allowed a 4.73 ERA and a .278/.326/.494 triple slash. With the way he pitched previous to that, you’d have to assume he’s in a pitching slump with a foreseeable ending. There is some good news, in that he’s pitched to a 3.86 ERA and a 1.107 WHIP in 28.0 IP against the Red Sox this season.
And then there is Matsuzaka, who’s injury shortened season is beyond abysmal. In his 10 starts, he’s allowed a 7.68 ERA, 10.8 H/9, and 3.9 BB/9. In his career against the Yankees, he hasn’t faired much better with a 5.52 ERA and a 1.517 WHIP. In particular, Teixeira, Curtis Granderson, Ibanez, and Derek Jeter have hit him very hard.
On paper, the Yankees should be able to take care of the three starting pitchers thrown at them this week, but that could all change now that the Red Sox are clearly fighting for something.
Valentine now looks to do what Buck Showalter did last year, make his name relevant in the national media by spoiling the division favorite. He has little else to look forward to but ruin the Yankees season as the Red Sox saw happen in 2011. As painful as 2012 has been for Valentine, it’s become obvious that winning this series against the Yankees, a team he’s hated since his days with the Mets, will be better closure for his career than any sort of revenge of the Orioles they could have wreaked this weekend. All their money is on this series, so the Yankees have to come out swinging hard.
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