clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Series Preview: Yankees @ Orioles VI

Making Japanese veteran Koji Uehara the closer is the one positive change we know Buck Showalter has made. (AP)

The Orioles have played .634 ball since Buck Showalter took over as manager. Though they seemed to cool off after an initial 8-1 burst, the O's are now 9-2 in their last 11 games and have taken two of three from both the Yankees and Rays in September. As I explained in my preview of that last series, the real reason for their turn around has been run prevention. The O's have allowed just 3.74 runs per game under Showalter after allowing 5.46 R/G prior to his arrival. Can Buck take credit for that? I have no idea.

Certainly it was just good fortune that Brian Roberts returned to sure up the O's keystone defense just before Buck's arrival, and dumping Miguel Tejada, which also happened B.S. (before Showalter), automatically improved the defense at the hot corner, no matter what your opinion of Josh Bell's fielding might be. Showalter did help himself by making Koji Uehara his closer (his only blown save in ten opportunities came on Nick Swisher's series-ending homer in the Bronx last week), but whether or not Buck had anything to do with the sudden awakening of rookie Brian Matusz, Jeremy Guthrie's recent run of success, or Kevin Millwood's relative stinginess of late, I can't honestly say.

I will say that with young starters Matusz, Chris Tillman (who starts Sunday), and Jake Arrieta around, the Yankees won't be licking their chops to face the Orioles any more. Matusz and Arrieta beat A.J. Burnett and CC Sabathia in that last series. The Yankees will avoid both in this series, but they'll have to face Tillman on Sunday and the streaking Guthrie on Saturday, while A.J. Burnett takes the ball tonight. The good news is that Sabathia takes on Guthrie, and Andy Pettitte returns to face Tillman, who has yet to find himself in the major leagues.

A.J. Burnett vs. Kevin Millwood (Friday, September 17, 7:05, YES)

Burnett's last three starts represent his first three-start stretch since the end of April not to include at least one game in which he either allowed six or more runs or gave up more runs than innings pitched. Of course, rain shortened his last start to four innings, and he still has a matching 4.76 ERA and BB/9 over those last three starts, but it's something. Right now, I'm guessing the Yankees are hoping CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte can be their shut-down starters in the postseason and that the other two starters, currently Burnett and Phil Hughes, can just keep them in the game. Burnett has a habit of putting games out of reach early when he's off, so his lack of disaster over those last three starts is actually a significant development. If he can avoid disaster again tonight, I'll be even more impressed. Note that over those last three starts, Burnett's one loss came when he gave up four runs over seven innings to the O's, though that was a blown quality start in which the fourth run came in the seventh inning.

Millwood leads the league in losses, but he's not as bad as his 3-15 record would suggest. He's not even as bad as the Orioles' 9-19 record in his starts. For example, over his last seven starts he has posted a 3.28 ERA, but is 1-4 while the O's have gone 2-5 in his games, and those are the rejuvinated Buck Showalter Orioles. Millwood just can't win, literally. Not that he's anything special. At this point in his career, he's a generic veteran innings eater. The Yankee faced him in consecutive starts in early June. Both times he allowed six runs on ten hits (two of them homers) in 5 2/3 innings. He faired better in a late-April outing against the Bombers, but still lasted just 5 1/3 innings and got a no-decision.

CC Sabathia vs. Jeremy Guthrie (Saturday, September 18, 7:05, YES)

In my last note on Sabathia, I pointed out that two of his last three starts saw him surrender 11 runs (ten earned) in 13 1/3 innings. Well, now two of his last three starts have seen him allow no runs on three hits over 16 innings. Fugghedaboutit, the guy's the ace and his performance in a huge matchup against David Price on Monday did everything to prove that, not that we needed more proof. So, yeah, the last time Sabathia faced the O's, he gave up six runs (five earned) in 6 1/3 innings, but don't expect that to happen again.

Since joining the Yankees last year, Sabathia has faced off against Jeremy Guthrie five times and is 4-1 in those starts including a pair of wins early this season. Guthrie, however, is 7-3 with a 2.29 ERA over his last 11 starts. Guthrie's a curious pitcher in that he seems legitimately to induce poor contact. In his four years in the Orioles' rotation (118 starts, 6 relief appearances) his opponents have hit just .270 against him on balls in play, and his line-drive rate has trended downward over those four seasons from 21 percent in 2007 to just 16 percent this year (relative to a league average of 19 percent). That's how a fly-ball pitcher who doesn't strike many men out can continue to be a sort of second-division front-end starter. I still don't trust it, but a four-year sample is pretty significant. That's 756 innings of evidence.

Andy Pettitte vs. Chris Tillman (Sunday, September 19, 1:35, YES/TBS)

Andy's back! Pettitte pitched well in two rehab outings and did so in the Eastern League playoffs, which meant he was at least facing some level of quality, albeit at Double-A. He threw 67 pitches in his second outing, then ten more in the bullpen, which means he'll still be something short of a full outing on Sunday, but just having him back and healthy and on the mound is a huge thing for this team. Pettitte will have just three starts, including this one, to get back up to speed. His failure to do so would mean certain doom for the Yankees in the postseason. Hey, but no pressure.

Tillman, a 22-year-old righty, is part of the youth brigade in the Orioles' rotation. Acquired in the Adam Jones trade, he made 12 starts down the stretch as a rookie last year, but has been a regular rider on the Triple-A shuttle this year. In a previous stint with the big club back in June, he turned in a quality start against the Yankees, though he struck out just one man against three walks and eight hits in his six innings in that game. Since returning to the rotation in September, he has made two solid starts, but walks continue to be a problem as he was walked nine men against eight strikeouts in 12 innings over those two starts. That's not his usual style as he walked just 30 men in 121 1/3 innings at Triple-A this year (2.2 BB/9). Baseball Prospectus's Kevin Goldstein rated Tillman above both Brian Matusz and Jake Arrieta when listing the Orioles' top players under the age of 25 back in November, so expect better things from him in the future and expect facing the Orioles to continue to be a pain in the neck for many seasons to come because of those three young arms.

Baltimore Orioles

2010 Record: 58-88 (.397)
2010 Pythagorean Record: 56-90 (.384)

Manager: Buck Showalter
General Manager: Andy MacPhail

Home Ballpark: Oriole Park at Camden Yards

Bill James Park Indexes (2007-2009):
LH Avg-104, LH HR-115
RH Avg-107, RH HR-129

Roster changes:

• David Hernandez has been activated from the 15-day DL
• Pedro Viola and Troy Patton have been called up

25-man roster:

1B - Ty Wigginton (R)
2B - Brian Roberts (S)
SS - Cesar Izturis (S)
3B - Josh Bell (S)
C - Matt Wieters (S)
RF - Nick Markakis (L)
CF - Adam Jones (R)
LF - Felix Pie (L)
DH - Luke Scott (L)


L - Corey Patterson (OF)
R - Julio Lugo (IF)
R - Jake Fox (C/4C)
R- Craig Tatum (C)
R - Nolan Reimold (OF)
R - Brandon Snyder (1B)
R - Robert Andino (IF)


L - Brian Matusz
R - Jake Arrieta
R - Brad Bergesen
R - Kevin Millwood
R - Jeremy Guthrie
R - Chris Tillman


R - Koji Uehara
L - Mike Gonzalez
R - Jim Johnson
R - Matt Albers
L - Mark Hendrickson
R - David Hernandez
R - Alfredo Simon
R - Rick VandenHurk
L - Troy Patton
L - Pedro Viola

60-day DL:

RHP - Jason Berken (right shoulder inflammation)

Typical Lineup:

S - Brian Roberts (2B)
L - Nick Markakis (RF)
R - Ty Wigginton (2B)
L - Luke Scott (DH)
L - Felix Pie (LF)
R - Adam Jones (CF)
S - Matt Wieters (C)
S - Cesar Izturis (SS)
S - Josh Bell (3B)