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Series Preview: Yankees vs. Orioles III+i

The Yankees and Orioles just played four games a week ago, so I don't see much need to go into too much detail here. The two teams will play a regularly-scheduled three-game set in the Bronx Monday through Wednesday, then slide back down to Baltimore to play a controversial make-up game.

For those who missed it, the two teams got rained out all the way back on April 22 in the first game of a weekend set in Baltimore, but rather than play a double-header in one of the two remaining games in that series, they scheduled a double-header on Saturday, August 27, in the middle of a four-game set that, as it so happened, coincided perfectly with Hurricane Irene's arrival in Baltimore. However, despite the extreme predictability of an approaching hurricane, the Orioles rejected the Yankees' proposal to move the double-header to Friday, which would indeed have solved the problem. Instead, the Orioles let both Saturday games get rained out, made up on in a Sunday double-header, then forced the Yankees to play on what was really their only true remaining off-day (they're also off on the 15th, but will be flying from Seattle to Toronto following a night game on the 14th). The Yankees, specifically Joe Girardi and player representative Curtis Granderson, initially said they were going to fight the rescheduling, preferring instead to make the game an "if necessary" game to be played the day after the regular season schedule expired, but eventually they settled for having the make-up be a day game that would allow them an to take an early flight to Anaheim, where they are playing on Thursday.

That whole ordeal might put a little extra spice into what might otherwise have been a late-season snooze fest between one team playing out the string and another cruising into the playoffs with little left to fight for. Mix in a little Jesus Montero, Ivan Nova's sudden pursuit of the Rookie of the Year award, and the fact that the Orioles actually won two of the four games these two teams played last week (one because A.J. Burnett pitched so poorly, one because Zach Britton pitched so well), and there's at least something going on here.

Freddy Garcia (11-7, 3.09) vs. Brian Matusz (1-7, 9.07), Monday, September 5, 1:05, YES/MLBN

Garcia returned from the disabled list a week ago to face the Orioles, and despite giving up his first home run since June 7 (to Mark Reynolds), he was as effective, if not more so, than before he cut his hand. Reynolds' homer and a Adam Jones double were the only hits Garcia allowed in six innings of work, he walked just one, and needed just 88 pitches to hand a lead to the Big Three in the Yankee bullpen. Garcia has been a rock for the Yankees all season, and has gone 7-2 with a 2.44 ERA in his last 11 starts.

Here's what I wrote about Matusz last week:

Matusz was supposed to be the team’s 24-year-old lefty ace coming into this season, but an intercostal strain wiped out the first two months of his season, and he was awful upon his return (8.77 ERA in six June starts). Send down to get straightened out, Matusz was good but not great for Triple-A Norfolk and has since picked up right where he left off in the majors, allowing six runs in both of his starts since his mid-August recall, good for a 9.28 ERA. That all from a highly-touted prospect who turned in four quality starts in as many games against the Yankees last year. I find it hard to believe he’s fully healthy.

Since then, his only start saw him allow six runs in 5 1/3 innings against the Yankees with all but one of those runs scoring on homers by Gurtis Granderson (three-runs), Robinson Cano (two-runs), and Adam Jones (solo shot).

Phil Hughes (4-5, 6.75) vs. Tommy Hunter (2-1, 6.21), Tuesday, September 6, 7:05, YES

Hughes' last two starts did not go well. He did strike out nine men in 8 1/3 innings against just two walks and one home run, but he also gave up 12 runs on 15 hits in those 8 1/3 innings. Those starts were a set-back both for Hughes personally and for his place on this year's team. The decision to stick with a six-man rotation for at least another weeks has granted him a reprieve, but his chances of making a postseason start are receding rapidly.

Hunter, part of the Orioles return for veteran Japanese reliever Koji Uehara, arrived in Baltimore having posted a 2.93 ERA in eight relief appearances for the Rangers after missing the first half of the season with a groin strain. The Orioles put him in their rotation after one more relief outing, but have received just one quality start from him in six turns, and things are trending in the wrong direction. In his last three turns, Hunter has posted a 6.98 ERA while allowing five home runs, three of them to the Yankees two turns ago (Jorge Posada, Alex Rodriguez, and Nick Swisher did the honors). Hunter actually won that game because he had the good fortune to oppose A.J. Burnett, who gave up nine runs, but that was actually just one example of the excellent run Hunter has received from the O's, who have averaged 7.6 runs scored in his last five starts.

A.J. Burnett (9-11, 5.25) vs. TBA, Wednesday, September 7, 1:05, YES

Burnett made some mechanical adjustments prior to his last start on the advice of pitching coach Larry Rothschild and despite facing the Red Sox in Fenway, avoided his third disaster start in a row when he brought those changes to the game mound. He only lasted 5 1/3 innings, needing 96 pitches to get that far, and still hasn' t had a quality start since June, but he also escaped the game having allowed less than three runs for the first time since June. It wasn't a drastic improvement, three times in July and once in August he held the opposition to three runs in five and change innings, but it was a step in the right direction and enough to convince the Yankees to let Burnett and Hughes battle it out for the fifth spot in the rotation for at least another week.

Make-up game @ Baltimore:

Ivan Nova (15-4, 3.89) vs. TBA, Thursday, September 8, 1:05, YES

Nova has six quality starts in seven turns since returning from Triple-A and, thanks to some well-timed run support in the one exception, hasn't lost a game since June 3, going 11-0 with a 3.43 ERA over that stretch. There seems to be no question now that Nova and Garcia will join CC Sabathia in the postseason rotation. The only remaining question concerning Nova this season is how well he'll fair in the Rookie of the Year voting, something I'll address on SI.com a week from today when my Awards Watch column returns with the "lightening round," which lists the top three contenders in each league for each of the big three player awards each week. I think it's clear that Nova is in the top three Rookie of the Year candidates in the American League, and I would no longer be surprised to see him take home the hardware.

Baltimore Orioles

2011 Record: 55-82 (.401)
2011 Third-Order Record: 53-84 (.384)

Manager: Buck Showalter
General Manager: Andy MacPhail

Home Ballpark: Oriole Park at Camden Yards

Bill James Park Indexes (2008-2010):
LH Avg-102; LH HR-126
RH Avg-108; RH HR-121

Who has replaced whom:

• Zach Phillips has replaced Mike Gonzalez (TEX)
• September Call-ups: Kyle Hudson (OF), Rick VandenHurk (RHP), Pedro Strop (RHP)

25-man Roster:

1B - Mark Reynolds (R)
2B - Ryan Adams (R)
SS - J.J. Hardy (R)
3B - Robert Andino (R)
C - Matt Wieters (S)
RF - Nick Markakis (L)
CF - Adam Jones (R)
LF - Nolan Reimold (R)
DH - Vladimir Guerrero (R)

Bench:

R - Jake Fox (UT/C)
L - Matt Angle (OF)
L - Kyle Hudson (OF)
R - Craig Tatum (C)

Rotation:

R - Jeremy Guthrie
L - Brian Matusz
R - Tommy Hunter
L - Zach Britton
R - Alfredo Simon

Bullpen:

R - Kevin Gregg
R - Jim Johnson
L - Troy Patton
R - Brad Bergesen
R - Chris Jakubauskas
L - Jo-Jo Reyes
R - Willie Eyre
L - Zach Phillips
R - Rick VandenHurk
R - Pedro Strop

15-day DL:

IF - Cesar Izturis (left groin strain)
1B - Chris Davis (right shoulder straon)
RHP - Jason Berken (right forearm strain)

60-day DL:

OF - Luke Scott (right labrum tear)
2B - Brian Roberts (concussion)
RHP - Jake Arrieta (bone spur in right elbow)

Typical Lineup:

R - J.J. Hardy (SS)
L - Nick Markakis (RF)
R - Adam Jones (CF)
R - Vladimir Guerrero (DH)
S - Matt Wieters (C)
R - Mark Reynolds (1B)
R - Robert Andino (3B)
R - Nolan Reimold (LF)
R - Ryan Adams (2B)