I honestly don't know what to say after last night. Or even after the first 3 games of this series. It's been the highest of highs and the lowest of lows as a fan and as a writer these last 4 days, and to be perfectly honest I am drained. The Yankees certainly looked like the were fixing to break our hearts last night, but some more Raul Ibanez fireworks, this latest round some of the biggest Yankee postseason fireworks in recent memory, changed all that. Now the Yankees come into tonight's game with the series lead, the momentum, and the emotional edge with the way last night's game finished up. Baltimore's got a tall order in front of them to try to keep this series alive tonight, and putting their playoff lives in the hands of a pitcher they basically picked off the scrap heap, even if he did pitch well in the Wild Card game, is a tough spot to be in.
I'm hoping for a nice easy game tonight. I could really use it, and not just to catch up on sleep. There are some personal obligations on the horizon for Friday and Saturday night that I was hoping wouldn't interfere too much in my postseason viewing/writing plans, and those obligations become a lot less intrusive if the Yankees take care of business tonight.
Updated Starting Lineups (3:55PM):
NYY: 1) Jeter- DH, 2)
Ichiro- LF, 3) Teix- 1B, 4) Cano- 2B, 5) A-Rod- 3B, 6) Swish- RF, 7) Martin- C, 8) C-Grand- CF, 9) Nix- SS
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
Phil Hughes (16-13, 4.23 ERA/4.56 FIP, 7.76 K/9) vs. Joe Saunders (9-13, 4.07 ERA/4.08 FIP, 5.77 K/9)
3 Things to Watch For:
1) Hughes' Slutter Command
Joe committed himself to Phil for Game 4 before Game 3 was even done, a risky move not knowing what side of the 2-1 series his team was going to come out on. Phil hasn’t pitched in 10 days, so it will be worth watching how sharp his command is early on tonight, especially his new slider/cutter pitch. That’s been an effective pitch for Phil this last month, and has helped supplement his curveball and still-developing changeup by giving hitters another pitch to think about the second or third time through the order. Having only started throwing it again for a little over a month and now having not used it in a game in days, I want to see what kind of feel he has for it early and how much he’s willing to go to it if it’s not right. Phil is always more effective when he’s mixing pitches, and having what has been his most effective offspeed pitch working for him will be a huge help in controlling the Baltimore lineup.
2) A-Rod's Platoon Situation
I don’t have my “Jump to Conclusions” mat out, so I’m not going to say this like it’s fact, but last night’s 9th-inning decision to pinch hit for A-Rod could have been the start of the final chapter of Alex Rodriguez’s career as a platoon player. He hasn’t been swinging the bat well at all for over a month now, he’s been swinging it even worse against power right-handers, and the decision was made that eliminated him and those weaknesses from an equation that included a power right-hander. Rodriguez will surely be back in the lineup tonight against the lefty Saunders, and he’ll more than likely be back at the hot corner if Joe has to DH Jeter because of his foot injury and play Nix at short. But if it’s a close game late again, and he hasn’t done anything in the game up to that point, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least to see Joe go to the lefty well again with either Ibanez or Eric Chavez as pinch-hit options for A-Rod.
3) The Hooks
Real strange set of circumstances involving each team's pitching staff. The Yankees haven't done much against the Baltimore starters but have feasted on their bullpen, Jim Johnson in particular. The O's offense has done even less against the Yankee starters and absolutely nothing against the bullpen. Buck will have a tough decision to make on Saunders if and when he starts to falter; his bullpen has been worked a lot and hit some. Joe is sitting pretty with a fresh starter and an even fresher bullpen. Both guys won't hesitate to go to the relievers if their starters fall apart, but Joe can be a lot more confident going to has than Buck can. If it comes down to the 'pens tonight, it's gotta be advantage Yankees.
Players To Watch:
Baltimore- Matt Wieters
The O’s have been through a lot emotionally in the first 3 games. They watched a 2-2 game turn into a 7-2 beatdown in the 9th inning of Game 1, hung on by the skin of their teeth to win Game 2, and then had Raul Ibanez drag his sack across their collective faces and steal Game 3. That’s a lot to come back from and a lot to overcome to get up for tonight’s Game 4, and somebody other than Buck Showalter in that clubhouse needs to step up and lead. Wieters, despite still being young, is one of the longest-tenured players on the O’s roster and is in a position of leadership as the starting catcher. It’s been a quiet series for Wieters thus far (1-13, 1 2B, 1 R, 1 K), and tonight’s the night where his team really needs him to step forward and carry them if they’re going to bounce back from last night’s heartbreak. He wasn’t heavily involved in Baltimore’s success against Hughes this season (just a .632 career OPS against Hughes in 27 PA) but tonight would be a helluva night for him to change that.
New York- Hughes
Hughes wasn’t very good at all against Baltimore this season. In 4 starts against them he allowed 12 ER, 5 HR, and 27 H in 22.2 IP. He faced them twice in 6 days in early September right after he started incorporating the slutter into his pitching arsenal with mixed results, so it will be interesting to see how he approaches their lineup tonight. With the rest he’s gotten he should have plenty of zip on the fastball, and I expect to see him lean on that heavily the first time through the order. A big thing for Hughes tonight is going to be keeping the fastball down against the Baltimore lineup, something he doesn’t do that well, to keep the ball in the yard. He’s pitched in some big games this season, some of them really good (CG against Detroit) and some not so much (final regular season start against Toronto). Hughes can make a huge statement with a good showing and a win tonight.
If this preview post has mistakes in it or isn't up to snuff compared to the first 3 games, I apologize. Like I said, between this series and the personal commitments I have coming up in the next 2 days, this week has taken a lot of out of me. This series has been exhilarating and exciting, and in my zombified state I really don't know what else to say about it. I don't know what else I CAN say about it that can do it justice. Just go out and win tonight, boys.