Wednesday, October 10, 2012

2012 ALDS Game 3 Preview: Take The Power Back

The Yankees could have and should have won Game 2 easily.  That's a fact.  Lost in all the "A-Rod sucks" discussion and talk of RISP Fail, pinch runners, and Derek Jeter being a terrible shortstop is the fact that the Yankees had more hits, more baserunners, and more scoring opportunities than the O's.  If just 2 or 3 plays in that game go differently, the Yankees could have very easily won a 5-1, 6-1 game and the Orioles know it.  They did what they had to do to salvage some semblance of a chance in this series and the pressure is still on them tonight to win a game and negate the homefield advantage that is now clearly in the hands of New York.  Game 3 tonight could be the swing game in this series, and the Yankees need to put Game 2's failures behind them and come out ready to score some runs tonight.

Updated Starting Lineups (2:30PM)-

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

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

Pitching Matchup-

Hiroki Kuroda (16-11, 3.32 ERA/3.86 FIP, 6.84 K/9) vs. Miguel Gonzalez (9-4, 3.25 ERA/4.38 FIP, 6.58 K/9)

3 Things to Watch For:

1) Home Cookin'

The Yankees are a very good home team.  To a man, almost their entire starting lineup has better offensive numbers at home, with the exception being Derek Jeter (.718 OPS in 326 AB).  Raul Ibanez and Curtis Granderson are particularly dangerous hitting at The Stadium, and have feasted on the short porch in right all season long, Robinson Cano and Nick Swisher in the middle of the lineup should get a boost hitting in familiar surroundings, and Ichiro has been reborn as an offensive threat hitting in The Stadium.  The 2 pitchers they'll start in the next 2 games, Kuroda and Phil Hughes, were also much better pitchers at home than on the road this season, so it's clear that there's more to this 3-game homefield set than just knowing where your locker is.  The homefield advantage on paper is only worth something if you play well, and the Yankees have played a lot of good baseball at home in 2012.

2) Baltimore's Lefty Hitters

The O's have only scored 5 runs in the first 2 games of the series, and 4 of them have come off 2 swings of the bat by Chris Davis and Nate McLouth.  Those 2 combined to go 6-16 in the first 2 games, and that was against the 2 lefty starters in the Yankee rotation who should have been the ones expected to shut them down.  With both of them swinging the bat well and now getting to face a right-hander, Kuroda will have to pay extra attention to how he goes after them.  There's no reason to expect McLouth to not lead off again tonight, and Davis will probably hit 3rd again.  There are still dangerous matchups with Jones and Wieters looming a bit lower in the lineup, but keeping the 2 hot-hitting lefties in check should be Kuroda's top priority.

3) The Late-Game Maneuvering

Part of the good job that Joe has done early in this series has been the lack of matchup/binder moves that he's made.  For the most part, Joe has put his 9 on the field and said, "have at it, boys."  Buck hasn't been shy about using his bullpen and going to his bench in key situations, and I have to think part of Joe is itching to get involved in some of that strategy as well.  With this boiling down to a 3-game series in the next 3 nights, tonight should be the night where Joe gets more situationally active.

I think we'll see some pinch hitting earlier in the game if the matchup is right, some pinch running to create a scoring opportunity, and possibly a very quick hook on Kuroda.  Except for D-Rob, everybody out in the 'pen is working on a full week of rest, and it's almost to the point where you start to get concerned about guys getting rusty from lack of work.  Every play and every run counts that much more with 3 games left and control of the series hanging in the balance.  Both managers know that and I expect to see more of their fingerprints on tonight's outcome.

Players To Watch:

Baltimore- Gonzalez

I hate to go the easy route and take the rookie starting pitcher again, but it makes the most sense.  ESPN rolls outs his 2-0 record and sub-2.00 ERA in 2 regular season starts against the Yankees like it makes him some kind of Yankee killer.  Ask Josh Beckett how much a 2-0 career start against the Yankees means.  I'll give the kid his due for a job well done, but let's calm down with the hefty praise for a 13.2-inning sample size.  Gonzalez is still a pitcher who can give up some home runs, which doesn't play well in The Stadium, and he doesn't strike a lot of guys out.  He's similar in approach to Wei-Yin Chen, real heavy on the fastball with some sliders and changeups later, and the Yankees have a book on him now.  How he changes his approach against them, or if he even does, could help set the tone for the Yankee offense.

New York- Nick Swisher

Admittedly this is going on nothing but a hunch and a feeling, but I feel good about Nick Swisher tonight.  I know he hasn't done much in the series so far, but he looks like he's seeing the ball really well in his at-bats and he looks like he knows what he wants to do up there.  He's not flat out getting beat on hittable pitches like A-Rod, and he's not up there guessing wrong and flailing away like Curtis; he just hasn't made solid enough contact to make his balls in play mean something.  I think that changes tonight.  I think Swish comes up with a couple hits and creates a late-game opportunity or 2 for Cano to be pitched to in a big spot because of it.

Lost in all of the MSM drama created by Monday night's results, the fact remains that the Yankees did all they had to do in the first 2 games.  They took 1, and now they have the benefit of having complete, 100% homefield advantage in a best-of-3 series.  The deck is stacked in their favor and they need to take further advantage of that with a win tonight.  A win tonight and control of the series shifts dramatically heading into Game 4.  The Yankees can take back power in the series with a victory tonight.

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