Probable starters for the upcoming week:
Saturday - vs. Boston - Phil Hughes vs. John Lackey
Sunday - vs. Boston - Hiroki Kuroda vs. Jon Lester
This week's opponents: Chicago White Sox and Boston Red Sox
The Chicago White Sox have been one of the worst teams in the American League this season, and their woeful 56-79 record is only better than that of the horrible Houston Astros. However, they did sweep the Yankees the last time these teams played, outscoring them 17-8 across three games in the Windy City. Chicago has also been relatively hot lately, winning 11 of 15 games (including six straight) before being swept by Boston this past weekend. While the White Sox have been one of the worst offensive teams in the league, their pitching has been consistently good, and they have one of the hottest staffs in the majors over the past month. Chicago pitchers posted a 3.38 ERA in August, good for sixth overall during that time frame. Additionally, while trading Alex Rios (one of their best hitters) to Texas seemed to make their bad lineup even worse, they're actually scoring 4.6 runs per game since he left, up from 3.6 runs per game prior to the trade. This is a dangerous White Sox team that can pitch, and is starting to hit, and the Yankees had better not overlook them if they want to win this series.
The big matchup of the week, though, is the four game series with Boston. Boston comes into this week on a major hot streak, having won eight of their last ten games. They've taken seven of twelve from the Yankees this year, and their big bats (they've scored the second most runs in the majors this season) will be eager to put a damper on New York's playoff hopes. Boston's offense has been humming lately. The Red Sox have scored 37 runs in six games this week, led mostly by the hot hitting of Shane Victorino and Jacoby Ellsbury. Victorino is on fire this week, batting .435 with 10 RBI and 3 HR in the Red Sox last six games. Ellsbury hit a solid .298 in August, but hit .423 during Boston's last two series, scoring eight runs in the process. With these two hitters swinging hot bats, not to mention always-dangerous players like David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia in the lineup, the Yankees will have their hands full this weekend trying to beat one of the best teams in the majors.
CC Sabathia vs. Hector Santiago
The Yankees will hand the ball to CC Sabathia to close out the series with Chicago before Boston comes to the Bronx. Sabathia and the Yankees desperately need him to pitch well, as the Yankees need to win the series against Chicago to stay close in the Wild Card race, and Sabathia needs some confidence and momentum to try to turn his season around in the final stretch. While he may have won three out of his past four starts, his ERA in August was an ugly 5.94. He's given up 14 runs in just 17.1 innings in his last three games, and two of those times, the Yankee offense has bailed him out (how many times have we been able to say that this season?). He's given up the fourth most homers in the majors this year, and his velocity just isn't what it once was. However, he did have a solid showing last time the White Sox and Yankees played, pitching 7.1 innings and only giving up 3 ER on five hits. If he gets a little more run support this time, Sabathia can certainly beat Chicago. Sabathia was the Yankees' ace just a season ago, and if the Yankees are going to have a real chance of making the playoffs (and of making any noise once they get there), Sabathia is going to have to revert to the form that made him so dominant during much of his career in pinstripes.
Sabathia will be going up against young Hector Santiago, who only became a regular starter this season for the White Sox. Santiago may have only won one game in August, but he's got a 3.69 ERA since the All-Star Break and a 3.43 ERA overall. While his win-loss record (just 4-8) leaves something to be desired, the White Sox have won four out of his last five starts. However, Santiago is coming off a rough game where he only lasted three and 2/3 innings, and opposing hitters are batting .276 off of him since the All-Star break, which, if extended over a full season, would be good for the 13th worst opposing BA in the majors. His WHIP is just 1.37 (almost identical to Sabathia's 1.35), so it's safe to say that both teams' offenses will have their chances in this game. Look for the new-look Yankees to have a little more success than the White Sox, although, with CC Sabathia now unreliable, it's far from a sure thing. If he can turn in a vintage performance, the Yankees will be riding high when the Red Sox come to town.
Who's Hot and Who's Not:
- Ivan Nova - Ivan Nova has been lights out lately, and just when the Yankees need it most. With Sabathia still struggling and Hiroki Kuroda faltering at the worst possible time (more on that in a moment), Nova's excellent August is one of the major reasons the Yankees still find themselves within striking distance of the second Wild Card. Nova had a terrific ERA of 2.08, with a solid WHIP of 1.20, over the past month, a month that saw the Yankees win all six of his starts (including a complete game shutout of the Baltimore Orioles on Saturday). Simply put, Nova's been the Yankees' ace lately, and he needs to stay hot to keep them in the race. While Nova hasn't faced the Red Sox this year, his ERA is over a run lower when he pitches at home, so look for him to turn in another gem against the big Boston bats when he opens the Yankees-Red Sox series on Thursday versus Jake Peavy.
- Brett Gardner - Brett Gardner has been red hot this week, scoring a run in five of the Yankees six games while getting on base in all of them. He's hit .364 in the past six games, with an even more impressive .462 OBP. He's doing exactly what the Yankees need their leadoff hitter to do, which is get on base and let the power hitters scattered throughout the rest of the lineup knock him in. While he hasn't hit particularly well against the White Sox (just a .313 OBP in 13 AB), Gardner has shown up against the Red Sox, hitting .304 with four runs and seven RBI in 12 games against Boston. He's especially owned John Lackey, hitting .321 in 28 career at-bats against the Red Sox right-hander. Look for Gardner to use the momentum he's picked up over the last week or so to make a difference against the White Sox, before doing what he's done all year - consistently getting on base and scoring runs - against Boston this weekend.
- Hiroki Kuroda - Perhaps it's the obvious choice, but it's also the most worrying, as Hiroki Kuroda has struggled in his past three starts after being the pitcher the Yankees have leaned on all season. Maybe the amount of innings he's thrown have caught up to him, maybe he's mentally drained, or maybe he's just going through a rough patch, reverting back to the mean after an unbelievably good season. Whatever the case may be, the fact remains that Kuroda has been getting shelled lately. He's lost his past three starts, giving up 15 earned runs and 29 hits in just 16.2 IP. He even gave up four home runs in one game against Tampa Bay. Overall in August, he had a 5.12 ERA and his WHIP was 1.42, far higher than his excellent season average of 1.10.
Things aren't getting any easier this week. Although the White Sox have scored the second fewest runs in the majors this season, Chris Sale, who's going against Kuroda, is their ace. He sports a 2.99 ERA and a WHIP of just 1.06, and he beat the Yankees on August 6th, surrendering zero runs in just over seven innings of work. Needless to say, Kuroda will need his best stuff to give the Yankees a chance to win against the Chicago ace. Expect Kuroda to turn in a better performance than he has the last few starts (which came against some of the better offensive teams in the game, Baltimore, Boston, and Toronto), but it should still be a close game against a pitcher as good as Sale.
With the teams ahead of them in the Wild Card race playing some bad squads this week (Tampa plays the Angels and the Mariners, Baltimore takes on a solid Indians team and then the White Sox, and the Oakland Athletics, after playing the always tough Texas Rangers, have four against the cellar-dwelling Astros), the Yankees will have to string together some wins. Ideally, the Yankees will sweep Chicago and use the momentum, and the home crowd, to at least split the series with the Red Sox. However, with a horrible Phil Hughes going on Monday, followed by a struggling Kuroda and an inconsistent Sabathia, the White Sox series is bound to be a tough one. The Red Sox have been very good all year long. While the Yankees would love to make up some ground on the three teams ahead of them in the Wild Card, they'll be lucky to break .500 this week.
Prediction: 3-4 (1-2 against Chicago, 2-2 against Boston)
One of Kuroda and Sabathia will pitch well against a bad White Sox lineup, but, if the pattern of the last few weeks continues, probably not both (my money's on Sabathia, since he will not have the pressure of going up against Chris Sale). Hughes shows no signs of suddenly being decent, so the White Sox will more than likely take two of three from the Yankees. However, playing the Red Sox will bring out the best in New York, and in the Yankee crowd, so look for a hard-won series split against Boston.
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