Probable starters for the upcoming week:
- Sunday - vs. Baltimore - Phil Hughes vs. Wei-Yin Chen
This week's opponents: Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles
The Blue Jays have been struggling mightily recently, only winning two of their last ten and just barely avoiding a sweep at the hands of the lowly Houston Astros. They've been even worse against the Yankees this year; New York is 12-1 against Toronto heading into this week's series. However, the Blue Jays have been better at home, and while their pitching has been terrible, their offense has been quite good (seventh in the MLB in runs scored). Their two best hitters,Jose Reyes and Edwin Encarnacion, have been especially productive over the past week; Reyes is batting .360 in the past seven days, while Encarnacion has three home runs in that same time span. They'll have to stay hot if the Blue Jays are going to have any chance of beating the Yankees at the Rogers Centre in Toronto this week.
On Friday, August 30, the Yankees will welcome the Baltimore Orioles to the Bronx for a three game series with potentially major playoff implications. The O's have only won five of their last ten games, but winning two of three from the wild card-leading Oakland Athletics will boost their confidence as they head into the week.
Baltimore has taken seven of twelve from the Yankees this year, due in part to the powerful Orioles offense (fourth in the majors in runs scored). This offense has been especially potent of late - Chris Davis has hit two home runs in the past week, Adam Jones has three, and Manny Machado has hit safely in 19 of 22 games in August. While the Yankees haven't been able to match the O's sluggers so far this year, this weekend will mark the first time that Baltimore has faced the lineup of A-Rod, Derek Jeter, Granderson, and Soriano. This series in the Bronx will really show whether the new-look Yankee lineup will have the staying power New York will need to sneak into October.
Phil Hughes vs. R.A. Dickey - In a game that could very well set the tone for the rest of the series, and perhaps the rest of the week, the Yankees will try to bounce back from losing two out of three to the Tampa Bay Rays by sending Phil Hughes to the mound. While that hasn't necessarily been a recipe for success this season, R.A. Dickey has also had his share of struggles.
Dickey's ERA sits at a relatively poor 4.49, although he's pitching slightly better of late, as he's allowed 12 runs in 29.2 innings in August. He's still giving up a lot of home runs, however, (one in each of his past four starts) and has shockingly even given up more than Phil Hughes this season (28 vs. 23). Dickey has also given up the second most runs in the majors this year and the Yankees (who handed Dickey his last loss) have a few hitters who have had great success against him. Robinson Cano is, of course, one of them (he seems to have success against everyone), but Alex Rodriguez is hitting a scorching .438 against Dickey in 16 at bats.
However, the last time the Yankees beat Dickey, they did so behind strong pitching from Adam Warren and David Huff, who combined to give up two runs in eight innings before Mariano Rivera shut the door in the ninth. Phil Hughes cannot be trusted to pitch this well. Hughes has been terrible this year, posting an ERA even higher than Dickey's (4.88) and an atrocious record of 4-12. However, Hughes is coming off a win against the Blue Jays, where he turned in his best start of the month (6 innings pitched, 2 earned runs, 6 strikeouts). Coincidentally, this was also the first game all season where Hughes induced more ground balls than fly balls. If he can keep the Blue Jays from hitting too many balls in the air (and out of the ballpark) then Hughes will give the Yankees a good chance to beat Dickey and set the tone for a week that will (hopefully) see the Yankees close the gap in the wild card race.
Hot or Not:
- Robinson Cano - As he's done all year, Cano is playing great baseball lately, hitting .441 in the past week. He was a major reason why the Yankees won five straight before losing the first two of three to the Tampa Bay Rays this past weekend. It looks as if his hot streak will continue, as he's hitting .377 with 10 extra base hits and 14 RBI in 13 games against the Blue Jays this year (including hitting .429 in Toronto). If the trend continues, the Blue Jays are going to be hard pressed to stop Cano this week when the Yankees travel north for a three-game set.
- Curtis Granderson - Since coming back from injury, Granderson has been a surprisingly steady part of the Yankee lineup. He's batting a respectable .282 since returning August 2, a huge improvement over the .232 average he posted last season. He's also maintained the power he's known for, slugging .464 since his return, and for a lineup that's been without pop or power most of the year, that perhaps is his most important contribution. He's hit safely in six of the past seven games and drove in the winning run in Sunday's 11-inning affair with the Rays.
This hot streak included batting .333 with a home run in three games against Toronto last week (he sat out game two of that series), and so with a road trip to Toronto looming, Granderson is primed to keep swinging the bat well. If that doesn't work out, expect him to heat back up when the Yankees return home to take on the Baltimore Orioles. Granderson hitting .347 and slugging .510 in New York this year, and he's hit .455 with 3 home runs in 11 at bats against Scott Feldman, the O's starter for Game Two of the series. Look for Granderson to keep up his hot hitting as the month of August winds down.
- Ichiro Suzuki - Ichiro hasn't been swinging the bat well at all in the second half; his batting average since the break stands at .238, and his OBP is well under .300. Since Ichiro has never been a home run hitter or big run producer, his ability to get on base has been what has made him so valuable offensively over his career. Simply put, that just hasn't been happening lately. However, he has shown a few signs of life - he's scored five runs and hit two doubles in the last seven days - and he's hit .310 against the Blue Jays this year, so a turn around may be on the way.
- Alfonso Soriano - While he had a four game stretch that saw him hit five home runs and drive in 18 runs, Soriano has lost his touch recently, displaying his penchant for being an all-or-nothing player. He's batting just .125 in the past week with only one double and one home run. Yikes - that certainly isn't the power the Yankees were hoping for.
Even though he played poorly last series against Toronto (one hit in four games), the fact remains that the Blue Jays have the second highest ERA in the league. Soriano will be eager to produce since he was so dreadful last time against the Blue Jays, and while he has been in a bit of a rut since his amazing four-game stretch, conditions are right for Soriano to break out of his slump.
Final thought of the week - Derek Jeter's return:
Derek Jeter will make his third return from injury this season on Monday. While there's no doubt the captain has slowed in his advanced age, he is still a solid baseball player who will provide the Yankees with an incredible emotional lift. His mere presence could inspire the Yankees to play better and, when they return to New York on Friday to face the Orioles, Jeter will certainly receive an incredible ovation as he walks to the plate for the first time. While teams cannot survive off emotion and momentum forever, there's no doubt his return will give the Yankees a boost. Can he help them down the stretch, though? The answer remains to be seen. Frankly, we'll have to see if Jeter, and his aging body, can stay in the lineup long enough to make a difference.
Prediction for the week: 4-2 (2-1 against Toronto, 2-1 against Baltimore).
The Yankees should be able to win Kuroda's start in Toronto, and at least have one good offensive game against Toronto's terrible pitching to snag another win. Things get tougher when the Yankees return to the Bronx to face the Orioles, but Derek Jeter's emotional return to New York, the hot hitting of Granderson and Cano, and the fact that the Baltimore will have just finished what is sure to be a tough series against the Boston Red Sox should help the Yankees take two out of three from the Orioles. If Sabathia pitches well, a big if, admittedly, the Yankees really have a great chance to win a big series against Baltimore.
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