Battle of the aces:
Say this for both teams: They’ve definitely got the guy they want taking to the mound tonight. For the Yankees, of course, it’s C.C. Sabathia, the team’s ace and $160 million horse. Sabathia was spectacular in Game One, holding the Orioles totwo runs over 8.2 innings, the first eight of which saw the game either tied or within a margin of one run, before giving way to David Robertson for the final out after throwing 120 pitches. Hammel also held the Yankees to two runs, but he lasted just 5.2 innings before Buck Showalter went to the bullpen, and also walked four batters in that time frame. That, by the way, includes a walk to Alex Rodriguez, the only time A-Rod reached base against a righty in this series.There’s no guarantee those results will carry over to tonight, of course, but be that as it may both teams know that, if they are to go down tonight, they’ll do so with their best starting pitcher on the mound.
One thing to keep an eye on tonight: how the bullpens will hold up after the two teams played 25 innings in two days. Both teams have used their best relievers for multiple innings in that span, but there’s no question that everyone will be available on both sides tonight. Fatigue could still play a role once the relief corps are called upon, however and in that sense the Yankees may have something of an advantage given the likelihood of Sabathia pitching deep into the game relative to that of Hammel doing the same. Another 8+ inning outing from the starter would be just what the doctor ordered, and no one is a better bet to do that than C.C.
I really don’t want to talk about the Yankees’ offense anymore, because it’s just making me grouchy, but how they show up after the way they’ve performed in the last three games will be a huge factor, as will what lineup Joe Girardi decides to send out there. If Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson keep getting themselves out while Alex Rodriguez keeps getting dominated by right-handed pitchers in crucial spots, it could be a really long night for Yankee fans. More than anything, I just want to see solid at bats from top to bottom out of the home team tonight. The Orioles’ offense has actually beenworse than the Yankees’ over the last four games, so between that and having Sabathia on the mound I’m extremely confident the Yankees will break through and outscore their opponents if they can just stop getting themselves out. Unfortunately, that seems like a really big “if” right now.
For most of the regular season the importance of the guy filling out the lineup card is vastly overstated, but in a deciding game like this one a team’s manager is arguably their most important individual other than the starting pitcher. Just ask Reds fans, who watched Dusty Baker leave a struggling Mat Latos in to try to grind out the fifth inning with the bases loaded and Buster Posey at bat, only to see Posey blow the game open with a grand slam. There’s a delicate balance that has to be struck between using your reserves too aggressively, but also not being too cautious and letting a game get away from you that has to be struck. The team whose skipper does that the best (and also gets a little bit lucky along the way) will have the inside line on playing tomorrow. Conventional wisdom would dictate that this puts the ball in the Orioles’ court, but Joe Girardi has been pretty aggressive himself over the last couple of weeks, so I actually think this is pretty even going into the game. And if C.C. Sabathia wants to make it a little bit easier on his manager the way Justin Verlander did for Jim Leyland last night, I’m sure Girardi wouldn’t complain about it one iota.