In the last two series of the season, the Yankees will take on the Tampa Bay Rays and the Houston Astros with their season on the line.
Saturday, September 28 - at Houston - Hiroki Kuroda vs. Paul Clemens
Sunday, September 29 - at Houston - To be determined
The Tampa Bay Rays are sitting pretty in a Wild Card spot with just a week left to play. They're two games up on Texas, four up on Kansas City, and four and a half games ahead of the Yankees. They're coming off a sweep of the Baltimore Orioles and are 7-3 in their last ten, although they are only 9-7 against the Yankees this year. The Rays are one of the better pitching teams in the league (12th in ERA but 3rd in opposing BA), but they're only average offensively, and in the second half, they've actually been one of the worst offensive teams in the major leagues, as only San Diego and Miami have scored less runs since the All-Star Break. Other than rookie Wil Myers, who is hitting .288/.364/.510 since then, there have been few live bats in the Rays lineup. While this seems promising for New York, what more could a struggling offense want than a suddenly ragged Yankee pitching staff in hitter friendly Yankee Stadium?
If the Yankees can somehow sweep the Rays, they'll have a good chance at ending the season on a winning streak as they'll visit the worst team in the majors: the Houston Astros. They haven't been anything but awful lately, as they've lost 9 in a row. Playing at home won't help them much either, as they're just 24-54 in Houston. While they haven't been awful with the bats in the second half of the season (13th in BA, 16th in runs scored, and 18th in home runs), they're second to last in ERA, and for the season, they're dead last, and by a decent margin, at 4.77. They can't pitch, and while neither can the Yankees lately, the Yankees improved lineup should be able to handle Houston. Look for either a moral victory in the Lone Star State, or the culmination of a massive comeback. Either way, look for a sweep. Because no matter how bad the Yankees have been at times this year...the Astros have been so much worse.
Pitching Highlight: Andy Pettitte vs. Brett Oberholtzer
Will Andy Pettitte win his last career start? Pettitte hasn't won a game in September, but that certainly isn't his fault. His ERA for the month is 3.24, and he's given up two runs or less in three starts (including this weekend against San Francisco) and the Yankees have lost all of them. What more do the Yankee hitters want the 41-year-old Pettitte to do? While he might not have been quite as good this season as he was for much of his career, Pettitte has been quite solid this year, posting a 3.88 ERA overall and a 1.36 WHIP. Not great, but not awful. He's given the Yankees chances, except, unlike in many of his years in the Bronx, the Yankee offense wasn't able to take advantage of many of them. Still, he's been pitching well this month, and against a horrendous Houston Astros team, Andy Pettitte should definitely win his last start as a New York Yankee.
The man that will oppose him, though, even though he plays for horrible Houston, will certainly not be a pushover. Brett Oberholtzer has posted a 2.71 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP over the course of 12 games (nine starts) for the Astros. And while things seem like they haven't been going so well lately, as Oberholtzer has lost three straight games, he gave up one earned run in one of those games, and zero in another. That's right, he gave up zero earned runs (2 runs scored on Astro errors) and still took a loss for the game. Talk about playing for a bad team. But even though Oberholtzer has showed some skill with the Astros, their offense likely won't be able to give him enough run support to beat Pettitte. And, for some reason, if the Yankees won't be going to the playoffs, I think the baseball gods will at least let a deserving Andy Pettitte go out a winner.
Who's Hot and Who's Not?
Mariano Rivera - In his final week as a Yankee, there's no other player that could conceivably be celebrated here except for the greatest closer of all time, Mariano Rivera. He's turned in another amazing year (he's second in the AL in saves with 44), and he's been excellent lately. Since blowing two straight saves on September 5th and 8th, he's only given up 1 run in six innings, lowering his ERA this year to 2.15 and his WHIP to 1.07. What else can I say? He's been an amazing player, a lights-out pitcher, a tremendous Yankee, and a humble champion. In my young life, I've never seen the Yankees play without Mariano Rivera being on the team. Next year will be a strange year for all Yankee fans, and it is almost inconceivable to think of the bottom of the ninth in the Bronx involving someone other than Rivera standing on the mound closing it out.
Chris Stewart - It's easy and fun to rag on Chris Stewart, and as bad as he's been all year, it's high time he made it into one of these "Hot or Not" segments. Stewart's been cold all year, and this month hasn't been any different. He's batting .154/.343/.192 in September, a month in which he has only four hits in 15 games. He's useless at the plate, and there are a multitude of GIFs that show this is in no way offset by his skill behind the plate.
Ivan Nova - While he had a stellar August, Nova struggled for much of September before turning in a complete game shutout against the offensively challenged San Francisco Giants. In his other three starts in September, Nova gave up 11 earned runs in just 14 innings, and only lasted more than four innings once. Sure, his 2.08 ERA in August was never going to be sustainable, but we all had hopes that he'd be better than the 4.30 ERA and 1.39 WHIP he's produced in September. He'll have to be closer to the Nova from last Saturday than the one from the rest of the month if he's going to beat the Rays' Alex Cobb (10-3, 2.90 ERA, 1.17 WHIP) on Thursday.
Final Notes and Prediction: 5-1 (2-1 against the Rays, 3-0 against the Astros)
Even if the Yankees win all their games this week it's going to be extremely hard to make the playoffs. But with the way their pitching has been lately, it's hard to see the Yankees sweeping the Rays, even at home. Matt Moore, David Price, and Alex Cobb are too good for one of them not to get a win, and Sabathia and Kuroda have been so bad lately that it's hard to see them out-dueling anyone. While the Yankees should still sweep the Astros, it'll all be for naught. And for only the second time in 19 seasons, the Yankees will not be playing in October.
It's been a long, strange season, and coming so close after all of it just makes it hurt that much more.
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