Tuesday - 9/10 - Ivan Nova vs. Miguel Gonzalez
Saturday - 9/14 - CC Sabathia vs. Jon Lester
Sunday - 9/15 - Ivan Nova vs. Ryan Dempster
The Teams: Baltimore Orioles and Boston Red Sox
The Orioles: There's no let up for New York. After a soul crushing series in the Bronx against Boston, the Yankees travel to Baltimore to take on the Orioles. The Orioles are half a game ahead of the Yankees in the Wild Card, and with time running out, New York better win this series if they want to make the playoffs. Baltimore is coming off taking three of four from the Chicago White Sox, although they they're just 5-5 in their last 10. However, Baltimore is 41-30 at home, and the crowd is sure to be loud and raucous for such an important series against the Yankees. Over the past week, the big bats in the Orioles lineup, such as Chris Davis and Manny Machado, have been relatively quiet lately. Davis and Machado are hitting just .231 and .200, respectively, but Adam Jones has hit three home runs in September, and J.J Hardy has been especially hot lately, hitting .393 this month. While Baltimore has gone only 23-23 since the All-Star Game, their lineup is sure to show up against a suddenly shaky Yankee pitching staff and bullpen.
The Red Sox: Another weekend, another series against the hated Red Sox. The Red Sox have been extremely hot lately, winning 12 of their past 15, including three of four heartbreakers from the Yankees this past weekend and taking two of three from the AL Central leading Detroit Tigers including a 20-4 drubbing last Wednesday. Their offense has been incredible all season, even saving them from their dreadful pitching during the past series against New York (although the Yankees bullpen deserves a little credit for that, too). They have an excellent 47-25 record at Fenway, and two of their best hitters, David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia, have both hit over .300 against probable starters Hiroki Kuroda and Ivan Nova, and Pedroia has also hit .306 in 49 AB against Sabathia, although Ortiz has had less success. If the Yankees don't split the series with the Orioles, they may need a sweep of the Red Sox to keep their season alive. Based on how Boston has been playing lately, that seems incredibly unlikely.
Pitching Highlight: David Huff vs. Wei-Yin Chen
While this is an important matchup because it could be the pivotal final game of the Baltimore series, it will be even more critical to see if David Huff can be an effective fifth starter for the Yankees down the stretch. While Huff was excellent out of the bullpen for the Yankees this season, posting a 0.00 ERA and an unsustainable-yet-amazing .037 opposing batting average in his 8.2 IP in August, his first start as a Yankee was a disaster. Huff allowed nine earned runs and two homers in just over three innings against the Red Sox. The Orioles are also a powerful offensive force, scoring the fourth-most runs in the majors while leading the league in home runs. While Huff's start against Boston may have been a fluke, the nervous reaction of a pitcher inexperienced to playing in meaningful games this late in the season, facing down the imposing Baltimore lineup will be an excellent test to see if Huff can be a contributor down the stretch, or just someone doing his best Phil Hughes impression.
Wei-Yin Chen started the season off well, posting a 2.82 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP in the first half en route to posting a 5-3 record for the Baltimore Orioles. However, he's also struggled of late, dropping four of his past seven starts while posting a 4.72 ERA, a 4.52 FIP, and a 1.31 WHIP. This mediocre pitcher will be exactly the kind Huff is likely to see as the Yankee's fifth starter, and seeing if he can keep the Yankees within striking distance with Chen on the mound will be the perfect test to see if Huff's outing in Boston was a fluke, or if he's just (as unimaginable as it seems) worse than Phil Hughes, or maybe we should just ditch them both and give Brett Marshall a shot.
Who's Hot and Who's Not:
- Alfonso Soriano - While his batting average hasn't been great (.222 over the past week and .254 overall this year), Soriano has been driving in runs like the Yankees expected him to when they traded for him in July, collecting eight RBI in his last seven games. He seems to have a bit more drive and a bit more energy now that he's playing for a playoff contender, so look for him to keep knocking in the runs in Camden Yards. Expect him to keep up his production in the first game in Boston, as Soriano is notoriously streaky and is starting to heat up again; however, he should start cooling off against against John Lackey, as Soriano is a .143 lifetime hitter against Lackey in 35 at bats.
- Robinson Cano - He's still hot, and he's still the best bat in the Yankee lineup. Without Cano, the Yankee season would have ended long ago, and he's hitting .387 over the past week and .326 in the second half of the season. He's also got eight runs batted in over the past seven days, and his two run double was key in taking one game from the Red Sox over the weekend. It's not in-depth analysis, but it's still true: without Cano staying hot for the rest of the month, the Yankees have no chance. No one has been as consistent, or as productive, all year long.
- The Yankees Bullpen (and yes, that includes Mariano Rivera) - The Yankees bullpen singlehandedly lost the two of three games to the Boston Red Sox this past weekend. And yes, even the G.O.A.T Mariano Rivera was a big part of this. Rivera blew two saves this series, although Ichiro Suzuki salvaged one by scampering home on Brandon Workman's wild pitch. But it wasn't just Rivera who let New York down. Preston Claiborne, who has been solid for much of the year, gave up six earned and two home runs while recording just two outs in two appearances this weekend. Phil Hughes, in his first showing out of the bullpen, gave up four earned in just 1/3 of an inning to ruin an excellent start by Andy Pettitte on Friday. And let's just not even talk about Joba Chamberlain. It's not looking to get any better soon, as David Robertson has been shut down for five to six days and Boone Logan is also injured. With few other options available other than finally giving Dellin Betances a real shot, the relievers the Yankees have are going to have to stop wasting their opportunities if New York wants to see any part of October.
Prediction: 5-2 (3-1 against the Orioles, 2-1 against the Red Sox)
Each series at this point is the most important one of the season for the Yankees, and they'll have to win these this week to stay in the playoff hunt, especially since the teams competing with them for the Wild Card have easier schedules coming up. The Cleveland Indians take on the Kansas City Royals before a four game stand against the same Chicago White Sox the Yankees swept earlier last week (doesn't that White Sox series feel like ages ago?). Tampa Bay will take on the Minnesota Twins, who are barely better than the White Sox, before a tough series against Texas. So the Yankees can't keep dropping games, as these teams are bound to win this week.
But the Yankees will want to bounce back after such a tough series this weekend. They swept the Orioles the last time they played, Pettitte and Sabathia both turned in solid outings their last times out, and Nova is the hottest pitcher on the Yankee's staff currently. Look for Huff to turn in a better start this time around, or be pulled almost immediately upon Girardi seeing signs of trouble. Either way, the Yankee offense will be able to get to Chen. That'll give New York a solid chance to sweep Baltimore, but it'll be hard to silence the Orioles' bats for four straight games. In Boston, the Yankees will once again be hard-pressed to beat the best team in the American League, but with Nova and Kuroda going against the Red Sox – Sabathia has a 7.15 ERA against Boston this year, so I'm not counting on him to do anything –look for the Yankees to take a big two out of three from Boston in Fenway.
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