Programming note: Please use this as your game thread for tonight.
The reeling Chicago White Sox (8-14, last in the AL Central), losers of nine of their last 10 games, come to the Stadium this week for a four-gamer against the first-place Yankees (12-6). The AL Central has certainly been one of the stranger stories of the early 2011 season, with Cleveland spending way more time than it has any right to in first place, while Kansas City is currently tied for second. Meanwhile, the Minnesota Twins and the ChiSox, two teams that many expected to be contend for the division crown, have limped to rather painful starts. In the former’s case, the Twinkies really have yet to get going, while the Sox were actually looking pretty good before this recent stretch of futility.
Unfortunately for the Yankees, Chicago isn’t as bad as it’s played recently, so forget everything you think you know about the 2011 White Sox. While their offense has left quite a bit to be desired, they still boast a formidable starting rotation — even if the numbers don’t necessarily back that up at the moment — and a solid bullpen, which, despite the fact that it has already blown its share of games, has been the victim of some rather extraordinary bad luck, as evidenced by the unit’s unsustainable .317 BABIP and 64.2% LOB%. In fact, two out of the Chicago bullpen’s “big three” peripherals have been outstanding, as they are currently tops in the AL in both K/9 and BB/9 — the HR/9 is the killer here. As the home run rate regresses, xFIP expects the Chicago ‘pen will have the best ERA in the AL going forward, and so all is not quite as bad as it might seem on the south side.
In tonight’s game, A.J. Burnett (4.37 ERA/4.73 FIP/3.92 xFIP) faces Philip Humber (4.42 ERA/3.54 FIP/4.29 xFIP). I missed A.J.’s last start, though it sounded like it wasn’t exactly great. According to whitesox.com, this is Humber’s first appearance and start at Yankee Stadium, which means the Yankees will be no-hit tonight. Kidding aside, Humber is certainly the least of the Chicago five, and while his early numbers are OK, his FIP is being buoyed by a tiny HR/9 — expect that to change, especially at the Stadium against the home run-happy Bombers.
Tuesday’s contest pits the underwhelming Ivan Nova (7.63 ERA/4.03 FIP/5.32 xFIP) against Gavin Floyd (4.00 ERA/3.79 FIP/3.34 xFIP). While Nova spun six very important innings in a much-needed win against Chicago last fall, the 2011 version of Nova has failed to impress, although perhaps the relative impatience (6.9% BB%) of the Chicago lineup will work toward Nova’s favor. Floyd was excellent (6.2IP, 2ER) in that very same Nova game against the Yanks in a hard-luck loss in his only start of the year against them last year on August 29, though he appears to be one of the many pitchers missing some velocity this year (avg. fastball down to 90.5mph from 92.4mph in 2010), so hopefully the Yankees will be able to hit him a bit harder this time.
Wednesday sees the suddenly awesome Bartolo Colon (3.50 ERA/3.10 FIP/2.76 xFIP) go against Mr. Workhorse himself, Mark Buehrle (5.40 ERA/3.81 FIP/4.46 xFIP). Buehrle’s been knocked around a fair amount thus far this year save for a gem against the A’s. Looking at his pitch type ledger, it’s pretty amazing that he’s been able to survive and thrive as a Major League pitcher for as long as he has with a fastball that’s averaged 86.3mph over the course of his career, but of course, as we all know, crafty junk-throwing lefties can last a very long time in the Bigs as long as they can keep hitters wildly off-balance with a dizzying array of slow, slower and slowest pitches. Looking atBuehrle’s repertoire, it’s almost like he’s the lefthanded version of Freddy Garcia, though obviously that’s doing a bit of a disservice to Buehrle, who’s been one of the more consistently excellent and reliable pitchers in the American League during the last 10-plus seasons (42.4 fWAR during that time period, second only to Roy Halladay and CC Sabathia). Colon has of course been one of the bigger surprises for the Yankees in the early going, and will look to continue his magic carpet ride against the ChiSox.
And in the finale, CC Sabathia (2.73 ERA/3.02 FIP/3.18 xFIP) takes on Edwin Jackson (4.88 ERA/3.11 FIP/3.40 xFIP), who seems to be continuing his enigmatic career-long path of alternating nigh-unhittable starts with mediocre ones. If Jackson is on this could be one heck of a battle, although the smart money says Sabathia takes care of business at home.
Here are the two teams’ offense and pitching numbers:
I’ve basically already discussed the Chicago pitching staff, but it’s pretty interesting to see how close both teams’ numbers are both starting- and bullpen-wise.
The offense is the real eye-opener here, as it seems quite strange to see Chicago entering a series mustering only a collective .303 wOBA. This is primarily due to the fact that only two hitters are hitting — the crazy-hot Carlos Quentin and Paul Konerko. Other than that, you’ve got a lineup where seven regulars have wOBAs of .301 or less — clearly that’s not going to last, but let’s hope the Chicago offense waits a little while longer before finding its stroke.