Monday, October 8, 2012

2012 ALDS Game 2 Preview: Put 'Em Down

Game 1 was about as textbook a win as the Yankees could have on paper. They scored a few early runs and wore down the opposing starting pitcher in the process, get him out by the 6th inning to get into the bullpen, struck late against the 'pen, and got a standout starting pitching performance from the ace of their staff. Last night’s game was incredibly important in terms of not letting the whole “lower-seeded team starting at home” thing become an advantage for Baltimore, and now they find themselves with their backs against the wall tonight, trying not to go down 2-0 with the series heading to New York. They send a struggling Wei-Yin Chen to the mound, not exactly an ideal starting pitcher to have out there in their situation, and he’ll be opposed by a guy who’s been in more big playoff games than he can probably count in Andy Pettitte. The cards are stacked in the Yankees’ favor again tonight, and they can push the upstart O’s to the brink if they play them right

Updated Starting Lineups (4:30PM)-

NYY: 1) Jeter- SS, 2) Ichiro- LF, 3) A-Rod- 3B, 4) Cano- 2B, 5) Swish- RF, 6) Teix- 1B, 7) Martin- C, 8) C-Grand- CF, 9) Nunez- DH

BAL: 1) McLouth- LF, 2) Hardy- SS, 3) Davis- RF, 4) Jones- CF, 5) Wieters- C, 6) Reynolds- 1B, 7) Thome- DH, 8) Machado- 3B, 9) Andino- 2B

Pitching Matchup-

Andy Pettitte (5-4, 2.97 ERA/3.48 FIP, 8.24 K/9 ) vs. Wei-Yin Chen (12-11, 4.02 ERA/4.42 FIP, 7.19 K/9)

3 Things to Watch For:

1) The Yankee Lineup's Approach Against Chen

The Yankees have faced Wei-Yin Chen 4 times this season, with the results shifting more in the Yankees’ favor each time. Chen fared well in his early outings against the Bombers in April and May, and then got knocked around a bit in 2 September starts less than a week apart. By now, all possible element of surprise is gone from Chen’s game, and he’ll come into tonight’s start on a serious downtrend in performance. Chen pitched to a 4.40 ERA/4.25 FIP split in August and 5.05/5.51 in September, a sign that his workload has caught up to him, and the Yankee lineup should be chomping at the bit against a tired pitcher with whom they have a great deal of familiarity. That doesn’t necessarily mean they will, though. The classic Yankee patience was on display against Jason Hammel last night, and I’ll be paying close attention to whether or not that patience is present again tonight.

2) Pettitte's Approach Against the Oriole Hitters

Contrary to Chen’s situation, Andy Pettitte comes into tonight’s game fresh, rested, and with a full complement of effective pitches at his disposal. According to FanGraphs, Pettitte has been heavy on his slider and cutter this year, with a slight decrease in curveball usage and a big decrease in 4-seamer usage (from 41.1% in 2010 to just 13.6% in 2012). Pettitte’s offspeed stuff has been his bread and butter in his later years, and when he’s hitting his spots he can chew up a lineup like Baltimore’s with it. But to keep them honest, and not allow them to hone in on certain pitches in certain counts, I think it’s important for Pettitte to establish the fastball early and throw it for strikes to get ahead in the count and set up his slider and cutter as putaway pitches. If Pettitte feels good about his fastball, I would expect to see it more early in the game. If he doesn’t, expect to see more cutters, sliders, and 2-seamers early in the count.

3) Alex Rodriguez's Bat Speed

I touched on this in last night’s game notes, but Alex Rodriguez is flat out getting beat by hittable fastballs right now. Give credit to Jason Hammel for challenging him with it last night, but give a bigger chunk of blame to A-Rod for not doing anything with them when they were thrown. Chen shouldn’t be throwing a fastball as hard as Hammel’s was last night, so if A-Rod is failing to catch up and popping them up early, that will be a sign that his bat is still slow. If he can foul a few off and hit a few square, it could be a sign that he’s starting to put things together.

Players to Watch:

Baltimore- Chen

Hammel showed early on last night that he was feeling fine and throwing his stuff well, but the same red alert that was out for him will be out for Chen last night. If he’s got nothing, it’ll probably show real quick and Buck is going to have a decision to make. He can’t wait too long for the game to get out of hand before going to his bullpen and risk getting into a hole his team can’t climb out of, but he also used his ace relievers a fair amount last night. He really needs 5 quality innings out of Chen tonight, and the Yankees know it. They’ll be looking to deliver the knockout punch quickly if they can, and with the way Chen has been pitching that punch could come even quicker than Buck would like it to.

New York- Derek Jeter

Always one to come back from his first at-bat and tell his teammates, "he's got nothing," we'll know if Jeter means that or not tonight based on how he approaches Chen in his first at-bat.  If Jeter is swinging early and making solid contact, that will be a sign that Chen's velocity isn't there and could signal an early-swinging night for the offense.  If he stays patient and tries to make Chen throw strikes, that could lead to another patient, grind-it-out approach from the rest of the lineup.  Either way, Jeter will set the tone for the Yankee offensive approach tonight.

Last night's 9th inning was a big statement for the Yankees.  To go down the way Baltimore did at home, and to lose any semblance of homefield advantage, is deflating and they need to bounce back tonight to keep this series interesting.  The Yankees drew blood last night, they can't rest tonight.  They need to beat up Chen early, get Andy a lead, and then use their deep bullpen late to hold the O's offense down.  A win tonight puts them down, and sets up the chance to put them out at home on Wednesday.


DickAllen1964 said...

Maybe this is neither the time nor the place, as the game came to a close last night, I couldn't help but think about Nick Swisher and how much it might cost to keep him, especially if he's looking for a four-to-five year deal. In light of the play of Ichiro since coming over, I am inclined to let him find a buyer elsewhere and sign Ichiro to a one or two year at less or even equal money per. Ichiro brings a great deal more to the table than Nick (as much as I like him), especially in the field. If anything, the re-emergence of Ichiro gives Cashman some leverage going into the off-season.

Unknown said...

Don't get too caught up in Ichiro's numbers with the Yankees and forget the last year and a half prior. Swish's skillset makes him a better option long-term than Ichiro and Granderson.