In a continuation of one of my favorite traditions from one of my favorite Yankee blogs, the now defunct Fack Youk, we'll once again be doing our AB4AR playoff game preview series with a musical theme/connection for each game. Tonight's is the road, specifically Baltimore, where the Yankees find themselves again despite outlasting the Orioles for the AL East title. Bud Selig's desire for more dollars has created this screwy 2-3 format for the division series, and the Yanks will just have to roll with the punches and try to get a win tonight to eliminate any potential advantage Baltimore could gain by starting the series on their home turf. Starting lineups below and keys to tonight's game after the jump.
Updated Starting Lineups-
NYY: 1) Jeter- SS, 2) Ichiro- LF, 3) A-Rod- 3B, 4) Cano- 2B, 5) Swish- RF, 6) Teix- 1B, 7) C-Grand- CF, 8) Martin- C, 9) Ibanez- DH
BAL: 1) McLouth- LF, 2) Hardy- SS, 3) Jones- CF, 4) Wieters- C, 5) Reynolds- 1B, 6) Machado- 3B, 7) Davis- DH, 8) Ford- RF, 9) Andino- 2B
CC Sabathia (15-6, 3.38 ERA/3.33 FIP, 8.87 K/9) vs. Jason Hammel (8-6, 3.43 ERA/3.29 FIP, 8.62 K/9)
3 Things To Watch For:
1) Mark Teixeira's Timing
Teix hit a HR in his first game back from his 2nd calf injury, but looked lost in the final 2 games of the regular season, going 0-9 with 2 GIDPs, 1 K, and 14 LOB. He's had a few extra days to get some work in the cage and try to find his timing at the plate, and it shouldn't be too hard to figure out if he's gotten any better in his first couple of plate appearances tonight.
2) CC's Slider
If it's on it's damn near impossible for lefties to hit, and it's been way on in his last 3 starts. A lot of Baltimore's power comes from the left side of the plate (Wieters, Davis), and Mark Reynolds takes his fair share of hacks at pitches out of the zone. If CC has the slider working, he can use it to neutralize the middle of the Oriole lineup.
3) Hammel's Velocity
Hammel has been the unquestioned ace of the Baltimore staff this season, but he's battled knee injuries since mid-July and actually had to be shut down again in early September after trying to come back. One of those September starts was against the Yanks, and he pitched well, but he hasn't pitched since 9/11 and didn't throw a lot of pitches in either September start. Hammel says he's fine, but the gun and how the Yankee lineup approaches him will tell the real story.
Players To Watch:
Baltimore- Adam Jones
Jones was labeled the player the Yankees most need to stop in Game 1 by RAB's Mike Axisa, who cited his strong career numbers against Sabathia and his ability to punish pitches that catch too much of the strike zone, and also by me in my series preview yesterday. Sabathia did have problems with the longball against the O's this season, and Jones can hit plenty of them. His ability to do damage in the middle of that lineup can take some pressure of the lefty bats hitting behind him; Sabathia's ability to stay away with the fastball and get swings and misses on his offspeed stuff with 2 strikes could lead to a shutdown of Baltimore's best player.
New York- Alex Rodriguez
He's not hitting much and not hitting for much power, we know that. What we don't know is what, if anything, Joe is going to do about it if the power outage continues. Like Teix, A-Rod has had a few days to work on things and I expect he'll be penciled into the #3 spot in the batting order tonight for the first game of the series. If A-Rod can get going tonight, the 3-5 spots in the lineup become a nightmare for Baltimore pitching. If he can't, RBI opportunities for Cano and Swish could be at a premium and calls for him to be bumped down in the order will be coming.
The Yankees finished with the best record in the American League this year, and yet they open this division series on the road against their closest competition. As ass-backwards as that is, it's reality and there's nothing that can be done to change it. An early trip to Baltimore in the second series of the regular season got the Yankees their first win. Now that the page has turned to the postseason, they'll look to do the same thing again tonight.