Whose Series?

The upcoming series with Cleveland provides three intriguing pitching match-ups worth examining. Tomorrow night, Pettite (3-3, 3.93 ERA) faces Fausto Carmona (3-1, 2.60 ERA), Cliff Lee (5-0, 0,96 ERA) and Wang (6-0, 3.00 ERA) square off in which should be another gem Wednesday night [an HDLR event], and Mussina (4-3, 4.23 ERA) gets Paul Byrd (1-2, 3.74 ERA) in a match-up of junk ballers in the finale Thursday. While Carmona and Lee are the better pitchers that Cleveland will field this series, with these three tight match-ups, one can argue that all three are toss-ups. Though Pettite’s last two starts have been poor, he’s tough and can lock a team down when focused. He’s Andy Pettite, not the schlub author of this post. Lee versus Wang will be pivotal, as I’ll discuss a bit more below, and though the Yankees should pummel Byrd, he has bested the team the last two times facing the Yanks (Game 4, 2007 ALDS, April 25 in Cleveland). Meanwhile, Mussina has won his last three starts and looked sharp.

Starting with tomorrow’s game, the Yankees might be getting Carmona at the right time since he has struggled mightily with his command. In his first six starts, Carmona is somewhat fortunate (and heavily reliant on his ability to get the ground ball) to have his 2.60 ERA since he has walked twice as many batters (26) as he has fanned (13). He only walked 1 in his April 17 win against Detroit, but walked 8 on 82 pitches in 3 1/3 in a loss to Oakland immediately before that, and has walked four in each of his last two starts. Nor has Carmona been unhittable this year, allowing 9 hits with his 4 walks on 96 pitches in a 9-6 win over KC April 24, and 8 hits with his 4 free passes on 6 2/3 in a 7-2 loss to Seattle. He is still getting a lot of ground balls, and has only allowed one homer–not surprising for a sinkerball pitcher, but this is someone–especially now–against whom the Yankees must be patient. Key will be how the likely lefty-heavy Yankees lineup will fare against Carmona tomorrow night. While righties are only hitting .233 against him this year, lefties are over .300 (.303) against Carmona in 2008, whereas last year, righties hit only .216 and lefties .275 against Carmona.

Cliff Lee has had a terrific start, but is due for a correction downward to his mean sooner or later, to channel the excellent Geoff from Bleeding Pinstripes which, for any readers not currently doing so, I’d highly recommend adding this blog to your daily reading regimen. There is no way that Lee, who is talented and had a terrific 2005 (18-5, 3.79 ERA, 1.218 WHIP) at the age of 26, will continue to have a WHIP of .558, as he has through his first five starts of 2008. To his credit, he has been dynamite this season, allowing 19 hits and 2 walks in 37 2/3 IP thus far and he hasn’t faced slouches–Oakland twice consecutively, the Twins, KC, and Seattle. His strikeout totals are also higher than his career average thus far–32 through 37 2/3 IP. Righties are .165 thus far, and lefties a paltry .122. Not to be dismissive of the guy because he’s always had talent, but I’d like to see how long this will last, and the Yankees’ ability to recognize and lay off his breaking pitches diving down through the strike zone will go far to determine their success against him. Again, patience is the key, as well as Lee’s ability to throw first-pitch strikes. If Lee is tough, Wang is the right guy to have facing him, not unlike Wang beating Sabathia in a pitcher’s duel in Cleveland. Who would be better to face a hot pitcher but Wang on the Yankees right now? No one. Say it with me–Ace.

In Thursday’s finale, the Yanks get bothersome junkballer Byrd, whom they hit well last time but, through poor patience and unrequited opportunities, failed to pound as he deserves. Count on seeing Giambi that day since he crushed to long homers off Byrd in Cleveland. But though understandable because he throws a good amount of strikes, the Yankees swung early in the count too many times with Byrd on April 25. They also did too little against him until they had two outs, while allowing Cleveland to score six–all with two outs as Pettite admittedly ran out of gas.

There are several reasons why I feel good about this series. The Yankees just swept Seattle in convincing fashion, good for the confidence boost. They did so with clutch hitting and scoring early in the game, trends obviously well worth continuing. Carmona is usually tough on the Yankees but hasn’t been so sharp this season. Lee is due, sooner or later, for a downward corrective from his great start, and Byrd is someone I always believe can be hammered if read right. Perhaps more importantly, the Yankees have been more patient at the plate of late, seeing an average of about 154 pitches per game (and in 8 innings, due to not needing last home ups) in the series sweep of Seattle. The last game raised this average, but the team was taking more pitches than before nonetheless. Additionally, the Yankees are at home and have last ups, which I like especially when the bats are warm, as they are now. The top of the lineup has heated up. Against Seattle, JD was 5-10, Jeter 7-14, Abreu 7-12, and Matsui 6-13, while Melky the Clutch was 4-12 shuffling between lead-off on Friday, and the six-spot in the next two games/wins. That is, JD, Jeter, and Abreu hit at or above .500 against three pitchers who were a combined 7-1 before this last weekend. Not to be overlooked, Girardi did a good job of balancing work in the bullpen lately (which the gang including Mike Sommer mentioned on Yankee Fan Club Radio yesterday), not allowing anyone to be overworked, while getting work in for Mariano Sunday. I was initially against it but, given the results–8 pitches, 3 outs–it’s not only hard to complain, but was an eminently wise ploy in retrospect given today’s day off. Joba is very rested, Cool Hand Nuke is rested, the fairly deep pen including Albaladejo, Veras, and Ohlendorf is as well, and Mariano won’t be called into a save situation Tuesday night having only pitched once (Friday, hypothetically) in the last week. The deep bullpen is rested and ready. Should the bats be, the Yanks definitely take 2 of 3.

Tomorrow, a look at the bats.

Published in: on May 5, 2008 at 11:06 pm  Comments (8)  

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8 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. oh man the instant i read that sentence about lee coming down to earth you KNOW what i thought…and of course that was your next sentence. i just don’t buy into it. the guy is on track for a monster year. yeah teams will score some runs on him and i hope the yanks are the ones to do it, but i never like that kind of logic at BPS or anywhere really…of course i respect you r opinion, but i hope that is taken for granted. you do correctly point out that the teams he has faces aren’t slouches, but on the other hand they are all teams that frankly haven’t scored many runs this year, so there is hope.

    i love the pitching matchups though. lets hope the moose can continue on his roll because i have no doubt that this time we’ll crush byrd like a bug. here’s a BPS prediction ( no offense geoff, i have the greatest respect): –andy is just DUE to pitch a gem.
    i’d say it’s a pretty balanced series…

  2. It’s a fair point Mike, but my point wasn’t to knock Lee (which I know you’re not saying), but rather to say that he won’t continue to pitch at this level–no one can. It just doesn’t happen. My larger point was, can there be a convergence between the Yankees’ somewhat better plate approaches and pitch recognition, AND Lee’s not pitching out of his mind? I think so, and I’m not talking about rapping Lee for 10 hits and 8 runs in 2 1/3 IP (though that would be great), but rather doing enough to work him in ways that others have yet to, in order to win. That is, can the Yankees do enough offensively and with Wang on the mound to win a game that isn’t necessarily 1-0, but perhaps 4-3 or 5-4 against Lee? I say it’s definitely possible. Lee might have a very good year, but he won’t pitch like THIS all year. It won’t happen.

    Plus, on Pettite, that’s my BPS-influenced point. I mean absolutely no offense nor to sound argumentative, but aren’t you refuting that logic in the case of Lee but subsequently applying it with Pettite, that one isn’t due to eventually move somewhat downward (Lee) toward a norm while another is due for a bounce (Pettite) up toward his respective mean? Both are rooted to degrees in hunches, but more importantly are rooted in what (especially recent) history shows us–Lee might be good but not always THAT good, while Pettite is due to improve because he usually does. Can and should the logic not apply to both scenarios?

    I say both can occur.

  3. And to clarify, it is most certainly taken for granted about the mutual respect for our opinions that we share. That will always be the case. Disagreeing occurs, and is both healthy and natural. I hope you know you have a good degree of latitude here, Mike.

  4. i think maybe you took me a bit too seriously.

  5. on another subject entirely–did you watch the tiger/sox game?

    so many things about it bothered me; of coure i regretted that we couldn’t have gotten to bonderman like the sox hitters did. i wish that we had taken apart their bullpen like the sox hitters right and properly did. it was disturbing to note that the twins swept the tigers after their triumphant series in the bronx. but you know what bothered me the most was the fact that dice-bb gave up EIGHT walks to the tigers and all these hitters could put across the plate was one run. you know watching two teams you hate isn’t a lot of fun anyway, but i came away with the idea that both of those teams are terribly flawed ( granted, so are the yanks). it’s just that i would have preferred to see the tigers take advantage of that cocky, yet utterly mediocre matzukaka

  6. matzuzaka, that is.

  7. Oh my goodness, Mike, I apologize. I was at the butt end of a 20-hour day last night and saw this morning that your comment’s perspective whooshed completely over my head and into the neighbor’s yard. My bad. [Insert voice of Oz discovered] “Uh…er…pay no attention to the man with his head stuck up his ass.”

    I was up at 5:30 because GLG had a long field trip and had to be at school very early. I administered the three-hour final exam, got home and had to drop off my wife at work, grabbed the little guy from school and played driveway hockey with him (I lost as always), grabbed GLG from the field trip and had a sandwich and cold water ready for her because there was softball practice right away, did practice and threw about 150 pop-ups and about 100 meatballs for BP, then I had to shuttle GLG to soccer, then pick her up. I should have said the heck with the stats and gone to bed.

    Between dropping off and picking up GLG from soccer, I did catch two of Matsuzaka’s innings, and he was effectively wild at best. I’m just unconvinced that he’s a very good pitcher. He’s not bad, but not great either. Eight walks is an embarrassment, only matched by the Tigers’ inability to take advantage of them. Geoff had a good post with his take on the Red Sox and it echoes yours. I agree. No team in the AL is untouchable.

    Today I am more lucid, so fear not.

  8. oh man, thqt does sound like a more than busy day…

    speaking of administering exams, we had a professor of german history at bard that would leave a bottle of scotch for the class on her desk during finals…as she left she’d say in her thick accent to enjoy the whiskey and not to cheat…

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