If you had told me back in April that Phil Hughes would be the Yankees fourth starter in the playoffs, I probably wouldn’t have been very happy about the prospect. But after that terrible start to the season, Hughes has really turned it around to the point where there was never any debate that he’d be the team’s fourth option, and frankly one of the better fourth starters in the entire postseason. He’s still got a problem with giving up home runs, of course, but he’s been able to limit the damage in part by becoming a strike throwing machine that rarely hands out a free pass. He might consider taking the Orioles out of the zone a bit early tonight, however, given their high strikeout rate as a team and the fact that they could well come out pressing as they face the possible end of their season.
Hughes made four starts against the Orioles, with the last one coming back on September 7th. Hughes held Baltimore to three runs over six innings in that game as his offense pounded Wei-Yin Chen, but he did allow two home runs, and the damage could have been worse but for a splendid catch behind the second base bag by Robinson Cano in the first inning. I don’t expect Hughes to match the stellar outings his three predecessors have had in the series, and indeed I don’t even expect Joe Girardi to stick with him to the extent that he stuck with his top three starters if the game remains close, but any sort of quality start or low run, 5+ inning effort would more than suffice tonight.
Score. Some. Runs.:
I’m not saying that endings last night aren’t fun and all, but I can’t be the only person who’d like to see the Yankees get around to actually scoring some runs off of the Orioles’ starting rotation one of these days, can I? I guess they have arguably their best chance tonight against Joe Saunders and his career .286/.341/.463 slash line against right handed batters, but he just faced an even more dangerous array of righties down in Texas and held them to just a single run, and that run scored when Josh Hamilton bounced into a double play. So who knows.
The bullpen situation has more or less been on auto-pilot for the first three games of this series, and tonight provides the first real chance for intrigue in how both managers use their best relievers. On the Yankees’ side, Joe Girardi really leaned on his best relievers last night, with both Rafael Soriano and David Robertson pitching multiple innings, and the latter throwing an even two innings in his third appearance of the season. That makes you wonder if Joe Girardi will have any trpidation about over extending them tonight, especially Robertson, but my guess is that he” use anyone he feels he needs to tonight and let the chips fall where they may if need be tomorrow with C.C. Sabathia on the mound.
As for the Orioles, you have to wonder if Buck Showalter’s confidence in Jim Johnson has been shaken at all after he allowed two big home runs in the first three games, to say nothing of everything that came after Russell Martin’s ninth inning shot in Game One. In retrospect, he probably should have brought in Brian Matusz once Ibanez was announced last night, but he did the conventional thing and stuck with his closer, and the rest is history. I would assume he sticks with the typical patterns now, but he should at least think about mixing it up considering that his closer has now effectively blown both games the Yankees have won.
Mental bounce backs:
Finally, as I said last night, the Orioles looked really dejected after the game last night, and it’s not hard to see why. You do have to wonder how that will affect the psyche of the team that was never supposed to get anywhere near this game in the first place, and especially how they’ll react if the Yankees get an early lead today. Not saying they’ll wilt, but I’m not ruling it out either.