The Baltimore Orioles ousted the two-time defending American League Champion Texas Rangers Friday night in the second ever wild card play-in game by a score of 5-1, setting up a five-game series against the New York Yankees which begins this evening at Camden Yards.
Yes, that’s right Camden Yards. Under the one-year format, the higher seed plays the first two games of the five-game set at the lower seed’s park and then the remaining games are played at the higher seed’s home field. For more on this check out this post.
The Yankees and the Orioles split the season series at nine games apiece. The interesting twist is that the teams went 6-3 in the other’s ballpark. That strange occurrence is a small sample size, but nonetheless, each team has shown the ability to win in the other team’s park.
This becomes important for the Yankees as they arrived in Baltimore, the site of the initial two games. These two games are not exactly BOTH must win but the Yankees definitely need to take one of two from the O’s. That would shift the pendulum back to the Yankees if they return to the Bronx tied at 1-1.
So, what’s the good news for the Yankees? Rest. The three days off gave the Yankees a chance to unwind and heal up any pains developed over the coarse of the long season. Unfortunately they had to travel to Baltimore due to the format change of 2-2-1 to 2-3. While not optimal, it is not as big a deal as it would have been to travel to Texas. They know the Orioles much better after 18 games of competition against each other this season.
The Yankees manager Joe Girardi was given the chance to sort his rotation the way he wants with the extra time. Girardi officially named CC Sabathia to pitch today’s opener, Andy Pettitte for Game 2, Hiroki Kuroda in Game 3 and Phil Hughes for a possible Game 4. Should the Yankees and Orioles go to a deciding fifth game, they will have their left-handed ace on the mound. This may not have been possible or it would have been under a situation where Sabathia would have to pitch with short rest had the Yankees not wrapped up the AL East and “home-field advantage” on Wednesday.
As of this writing Girardi has not named his entire roster, but only released the rotation members. Word has it that Andruw Jones has been told he would not be on the ALDS roster. This is important as the Yankees will see at least one lefty starter, Wei-Yin Chen, with the possibility of seeing southpaw Joe Saunders, the wild card game winner, at the end of the series. Girardi lost confidence in Jones toward the end of the season and it looks like Eduardo Nunez will see action against the lefty as a DH.
At the plate the Yankees are going to need to get balanced production from the middle of the lineup besides Robinson Cano, because if they are not at their best, the opposing pitcher will throw him garbage to hit or just intentionally walk him. This means that Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira will need to find their stroke quickly and there is no better time than Game 1 of the ALDS.
Rodriguez says he’s ready to help this team right now. In the regular season finale A-Rod got his first extra base hit in 67 at-bats, though he did have a couple of hard hit balls in games prior to that game which were run down. It is unknown whether the time away is going to help him straighten his mind and or if it will create a larger hole in his swing. Rodriguez gets a good personal matchup in Game 1, as he’s 8-for-22 with 4 home runs against the Orioles starter Jason Hammel.
Teixeira was able to play in just three games leading into the playoffs after a lengthy DL stint giving him little chance to get his timing down. Now he has had more time without game action the last three days. While Teixeira has the potential to lead a team with the bat, it wouldn’t be surprising if he struggles against the Orioles due to the lack of recent playing time and his history of poor performances in the postseason. Teixeira has limited appearances versus Hammel, going 2-for-5. The slight history shows Tex may be able to beat his playoff demons in Game 1.
In any playoff series, regardless of the venue the first game of the set is an important one in which to set the tone of the rest of the games. That is not to say the other games are less important but a dominant showing in the series opener can go a long way. For the Yankees it can release some pressure, knowing they will be back in the Bronx with at least one win in their pocket. For the Orioles it would put the Yankees on their heels knowing that they could be down 2-0 before heading home.
Is there anything that we can take from regular season numbers and the starting pitchers in Game 1 to see if either team has an edge in the series opener?
The Orioles as a team were second in MLB with 127 home runs hit at home (Yankees led with 138). The Yankees, who also set a franchise record for home runs in the season (245), led MLB in home runs hit on the road with 107. So, both starters will have to be careful to keep the ball in the park. Whoever leaves the yard the most during this game could win.
The Orioles had a 47-34 record with a 4.14 ERA at Camden Yards, while the Yankees were 44-37 with a 4.04 ERA on the road which doesn’t give a major advantage to either team. Hammel was 4-2 with a 3.44 ERA in 10 starts (55 IP) in Baltimore. In three starts against the Yankees in 2012, Hammel was 0-1 with a 3.94 ERA and a 1.563 WHIP. Good work at home overall for Hammel, and it looks like the held the Yankees more or less in check while surrendering a high number of base runners.
Besides Rodriguez and Teixeira, other Yankees have also fared well against Hammel; Cano is 8-for-23 with one home run, Ichiro Suzuki is 7-for-12. On the other hand there are those who have struggled against the O’s righty; Curtis Granderson (3-for-14, 1 HR), Raul Ibanez (5-for-21, 1 HR) and Russell Martin (1-for-9).
Sabathia is 16-4 with a 3.14 ERA against the Orioles in his career; 10-3, 3.38 ERA at Camden Yards. But, the Orioles pounded Sabathia this season; beating the lefty twice and producing the highest ERA he allowed against any team at 6.38 along with a 1.636 WHIP. He’s had trouble against Adam Jones (14-for-41, 3 HR), J.J. Hardy (7-for-17, 1 HR) and Robert Andino (8-for-23, 1 HR) in his career. The remainder of the Orioles’ potential lineup either does not have great numbers or unsubstantial plate appearances against Sabathia to report.
So, it seems that the Yankees and Orioles have a good chance of having a high scoring game tomorrow based solely on recent results, but Sabathia’s career stats against the O’s (which are still very good despite being hurt by 2012′s performances) tell another story. The numbers against Hammel are small samples which make it difficult to speculate with confidence. In the playoff experience department, Sabathia would have an advantage over Hammel, but the southpaw has not been as dominant in the postseason when compared to the regular season.
In the end, the Yankees would love to get A-Rod and Tex going right off the bat and Sabathia to pitch like he did over the last three games of the regular season. That said, the game could come down to which team is able to muster the biggest inning off the opposing starter and allows the bullpens, a strong piece of each team’s arsenal, to ride the last few innings to a victory.