The big discussion here at Yanks Go Yard and just about everywhere else is Alex Rodriguez and his place in the lineup. Joe Girardi as of this writing has yet to reveal his lineup. Directly after Monday’s loss to the Orioles the Yankees manager was non-committal to lowering Rodriguez in the lineup. One day later he had given it some more thought and admitted it was an option.
A-Rod is certainly a polarizing figure and if you’re interested in what our staff thinks about how he is treated please check out any of the two posts from today alone (there will be another at game time) and you’ll see opinions run the gamut. But, this post is about today’s game and today’s game only. While A-Rod will likely have a part to play one way or the other, he is far from the only player the Yankees will look to for a big game.
Nick Swisher, also written about today on the site, would love to get off the career-long playoff schnide. He’s a well-documented 1-for-33 with runners in scoring position. But, the Yankees as a whole, other than the ninth inning of Sunday’s Game 1 are back in the familiar RISP fail mode.
As is typical for a playoff series, the starting pitching will be at the forefront of the results. So far, each team has received very good to exceptional starts from the rotations. Tonight, Hiroki Kuroda will toe the rubber for the Bombers while Miguel Gonzalez will be on the mound for the Orioles.
Kuroda was a pleasant surprise for the Yankees this season going 16-11 with a 3.32 ERA (3.86 FIP). He tossed the most innings of his Major League career with 219.2. It may have worn on him as he turned in a 4-1 record despite a Sep./Oct. ERA of 4.71 in 36.1 IP. The triple slash against him was .303/.353/.510 during the span. It was by far his worst month+. The good news is he has had plenty of rest and he will be starting at home where he was considerably better than on the road.
In Yankee Stadium, Kuroda was 11-6 with a 2.72 ERA (3.50 FIP) for the season. Opposing batters put up a .219/.268/.312 line against him in 132.1 IP. Those are impressive numbers. Furthermore, Kuroda was 1-1 with a 2.93 ERA in 15.1 IP against the Orioles in 2012 over the course of two Yankee Stadium starts; his only meetings against the O’s. The current Orioles roster hit .216/.244/.378 in 41 plate appearances against Kuroda this season. He allowed two homers, both the only hits for J.J. Hardy (in 7 AB) and Mark Reynolds (in 5 AB). Small numbers of course, but his results against the Orioles match up with what he did to most teams at the Stadium this year.
Kuroda’s counterpart Gonzalez had a very nice rookie campaign for the Birds. He went 9-4 with a 3.25 ERA in 15 starts over 18 games tossing a total of 105.1 innings. While his ERA glistens there is a chance it is deceivingly low as his FIP according to FanGraphs was 4.38; over a full run higher. Gonzalez did pitch much better on the road than he did at Camden Yards, going 6-2 with a 2.74 ERA (3.67 FIP). Gonzalez was 2-0 with a 2.63 ERA and 17 Ks in 13.2 IP at Yankee Stadium this season. He had two very different starts however; in one he allowed four earned and the next zero.
Gonzalez’s splits against Yankee batters are even more impressive than Kuroda’s. The Bombers went .196/.212/.373 with three homers against him over 51 AB (52 PA). Derek Jeter, Raul Ibanez and Ichiro Suzuki each had two hits in six at-bats against Gonzalez and Eric Chavez went 3-for-6 against him with a home run. Could we see Chavez at third tonight with A-Rod at DH? I doubt it, but it would be interesting, especially since A-Rod fared well at the plate this season when DH’ing. Rodriguez hit, .307/.371/.467 at DH and .258/.348/.416 when playing 3B.
Based on the above, it looks like the very good starting pitching trend could continue should each hurler turn in performances similar to the relevant splits in force tonight. What can the Yankees do to get to Gonzalez? First, it seems the focal point for the Yankees tonight should be to work the count better against Gonzalez. The Yankees will need to improve on the lone walk they managed off him in 52 plate appearances during the regular season. Gonzalez actually walked 2.99 batters per 9 IP over the entirety of the season, so this should not be a problem for the Yankees if it is in fact part of their game plan.
The Yankees will obviously need to come through with RISP at a better clip because their chances may be few and while Kuroda has had plenty of success at the Stadium, it would be nice if he had some runs to work with. The Yankees are also going to need to play clean baseball both from a physical and mental standpoint today to have a chance. They have to be crisp on the field and not run themselves off the bases.
Yes, it would be nice to get contributions from A-Rod and Swisher, but in all honestly, those guys could go 0-for-the-rest-of-the-series and the Yankees could still advance. Right now W’s matter, not individual performances or metrics. Pitching is what wins postseason games and Hiroki Kuroda has an opportunity to write his name into Yankee playoff lore with a top-notch effort tonight.