Yankees resume American League play as Indians invade the Bronx


The New York Yankees are finally done with Interleague Play and while they are the most successful team in the history of the format, they are welcoming a return to American League rules especially as their pitchers hitting in big situations does not help their season-long inability to hit with runners in scoring position. Beginning tonight at Yankee Stadium, the Bombers welcome the Cleveland Indians for a three-game series opening a seven-game homestand.

The Yankees enter the series with a two and a half game lead over the Baltimore Orioles in the American League East. They have won 24 out their last 31 games dating back to May 21st. They are 20-14 at the Stadium, which is good, but a mark they would clearly like to improve as they are 23-14 on the road.

Indians were an early season surprise, once holding a four-game lead atop the AL Central Division on May 17th. Their high-water mark over .500 was eight games when they were 26-18 after sweeping the Detroit Tigers one week later. They now trail the Chicago White Sox by one-half game after losing two of three on the road to the Houston Astros. Winning the AL Central is important as the American League wild card participants do not figure to come from the division.

As was mentioned by Ricky Keeler in the Yanks Go Yard podcast preview of the series, the Indians have mostly suffered from inadequate starting pitching. Their entire pitching staff holds a 4.54 ERA which ranks 13th out of 14 American league teams. They’re not exactly tearing the cover off the ball on offense either, ranking 10th in batting average (.249) and runs scored in the AL and 12th in home runs. Below is an up to date chart showing statistical leaders for both teams.

The Yankees starters have regressed a bit since their charge during the recent ten-game winning streak, but hope to put that behind them against the Indians. In tonight’s series opener the Yanks send Hiroki Kuroda to the mound. Kuroda (6-7, 3.57 ERA) took the loss in his last start against the Atlanta Braves when he allowed four earned runs in seven innings of work. He entered that start on a three-game personal win streak over five starts which saw him drop his ERA by more than a run. Kuroda has never faced the Indians nor does he have any meaningful numbers against their lineup.

The Indians will have righty Josh Tomlin on the mound. Tomlin (3-4, 5.10 ERA) pitched well in a no-decision against the Cincinnati Reds in his last start. He worked 6 2/3 innings allowing one run on six hits and two walks while striking out two. In three career starts against the Yankees, Tomlin is 2-1 with a 4.26 ERA. Nick Swisher is 4-for-9 with two doubles against Tomlin.

In the middle game of the three-game set, Phil Hughes looks to get back on track after he was bombarded by four homers against the Braves last week. Hughes only lasted 4 1/3 innings allowing six earned runs. Hughes had won three straight starts in impressive fashion before being dismantled by the Braves. Hughes is 2-1 with a 3.52 ERA in four career starts against the Tribe. Asdrubal Cabrera is 3-for-7 lifetime against Hughes while Casey Kotchman has yet to get a hit off him in 11 at-bats.

Justin Masterson will be opposite Hughes. Masterson (4-6, 3.98 ERA) is riding a 20-inning scoreless streak dating back to the middle of tough loss against the St. Louis Cardinals in which he gave up only one run in seven innings. Since then, he has two wins including a complete-game three-hit shutout in his previous start against the Reds. Masterson has pitched well against the Yankees in his career. In eight games (4 starts), he’s 2-2 with a 2.76 ERA across 29 1/3 innings. Derek Jeter (6-for-15) and Robinson Cano (5-for-13) have had some success against Masterson.

In the series finale, a Wednesday matinee, Andy Pettitte takes the hill after his poorest performance since his return from retirement. Pettitte (3-3, 3.29 ERA) was touched for five runs in the first inning of the initial Citi Field meeting between the Yanks and Mets. He finished strong, but the Yankees were unable to get all the back. In twenty starts, Pettitte is 8-8 with a 4.23 ERA against the Indians spanning 123 1/3 innings. Johnny Damon has 50 at-bats against Pettitte and is hitting .240 against him during their career meetings.

For the Tribe, the erratic Ubaldo Jimenez toes the rubber. Jimenez has been off and on for most of the season, trading good starts for bad with no rhyme or reason other than he pitches a bit better at home. He’s having a fine June (2-1, 2.05 ERA) after two uninspiring months to start the season. Jimenez made one start against the Yankees in 2011 as a member of the Colorado Rockies. He earned the win, tossing seven innings of two-run ball. Russell Martin has the most extensive history against Jimenez, going 9-for-28 (.320) with two doubles and five RBI.

The series is important to the Yankees as they head to Tampa and then Boston prior to the All-Star break, following four games against the Chicago White Sox who come into the Bronx after the Indians. The Yankees would love to have no less than the same cushion in the AL East as they currently enjoy once they split town. They’ll have to get better pitching than they received during the last turn of the rotation and hopefully sometime soon the offense can put to rest the RISP position issues. There is no time like the present, right?