The winningest postseason pitcher in MLB history makes his return to October tonight, pitching in a stadium in which he owns a 16-4 career record and a 4.11 ERA. Of course, most of those games came against Orioles teams that weren’t as good as this one, so it’s safe to say that the hitters he’ll be facing tonight won’t put much stock in that past performance. This will be the first time Pettitte has faced Baltimore this season, though here’s a fun fact that could work in his favor: the Orioles were the third worst team in the American League at hitting the cutter, which Pettitte has been using as his put away pitch this year.
Buck Showalter’s string of making starting pitching decisions I wouldn’t have made in his position officially reaches three consecutive games tonight when left-hander Wei-Yin Chen takes the mound for the O’s. Chen was certainly the Orioles most consistent, durable starter this season (the only Oriole to make more than 20 starts, actually), but the playoffs are very much a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately endeavor, and Chen certainly didn’t play his best baseball down the stretch. In fact, he was something of a liability to Baltimore’s chase of the division crown, pitching to a 5.01 ERA and 5.51 FIP while allowing opposing batters a .340 wOBA from September 1st onward. Chen took the loss in his last start, allowing four runs, only one of which was earnedm in 6.2 innings in the series opener against Tampa Bay in the final series of the season.
Chen made four tarts against the Yankees in his rookie season, with somewhat mixed results. Overall, he wore an unsightly 5.25 ERA against the Bombers, but he had an 18-6 strikeout to walk rtio over 24 innings pitched, and that ERA was ballooned in large part by his last start, when he allowed seven runs in 4.2 innings during the four game series the two teams played at Oriole Park in early September. He didn’t allow more than four runs in any of his other three starts, and held the Yankees to two runs over seven innings in his second start against them. That was one of two starts he made against the Yankees at Camden Yards, with the other being his very first big league start.
While starting pitching ruled the night in Game One, especiallyfor the Yankees,the second game could be decided by the respective relief units. The Orioles count on their bullpen to come up big in just about every game, but the Yankees will have the advantage of a super fresh pen after C.C. Sabathia‘s 8.2 IP effort Sunday night. David Robertson was the only reliever Joe Girardi had to use last night, and he needed just four pitches to strikeout Ryan Flaherty, so between that and tomorrow’s day off, Girardi has all of his relievers at his disposal to use as aggressively as he wants to tonight.
While the lineup Girardi would deploy against right-handed pitcher Jason Hammel in Game One was fairly predictable (it was just a matter of whether Raul Ibanez or Eric Chavez would DH, and that was pretty much a settled question after the former’s late inning heroics last week), he’ll have a more difficult decision to make against the left-handed Chen, as he lacks a clear right-handed hitting DH.Eduardo Nunez performed fairly admirably in that role after Girardi benched Andruw Jones late in the season, and with Jayson Nix on the roster as an extra middle infielder, Girardi likely plans to use Nunez tonight as well. Alternatively, he could start Brett Gardner in left field and move either Nick Swisher or Mark Teixeira to the DH spot. That would be my preferred starting lineup right now, but Girardi indicated before the end of the regular season that, even with Gardner cleared to hit, he won’t be used as a regular starter due to his lack of at bats this season.
Rain, rain, go away…:
Last night’s game was delayed by two hours and forty minutes, and tonight’s forecast doesn’t look much better in Charm City. There’s actually a clearing of rain showers in the early evening, but the chance of precipitation rises from 8:00 on, though it tops out at 40% as of right now. So, hopefully no long delays tonight, but it’s still cool and wet at Oriole Park.