This week in Yankees baseball

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The New York Yankees won five out of seven this week as they swept the Toronto Blue Jays four games to none over the weekend. I expected the team to lose two of three down in St. Pete against the Rays. I did not expect a sweep of the Blue Jays, though I did believe the team would win the series. My prediction was 4-3 for the week. The only trouble for the team is that its counterparts in the American League East keep winning too. The Red Sox continue their blistering pace and the Orioles won all week as well.  All four teams in the AL East other than the Toronto Blue Jays have won seven of their last ten. The Yankees remain two and a half games behind the Red Sox in second place, a half a game up on the Orioles.

In theory, this week coming up works really well for them. They remain home for the entire week and the next weekend is sandwiched in between two off days on Thursday and Monday before the team  heads out on a road trip. They play the struggling Houston Astros for three games and then have a three game set with the Oakland Athletics, a team that has lost eight of its last ten games. Making the theory a reality is always the tricky part. So let’s take a closer look at the week ahead.

The Houston Astros really are as bad as advertised. They are dead last in the American League in runs and hits allowed as a pitching staff. Their batters lead the American League in strikeouts, striking out as a team an amazing 27.3% while walking only 7.3% of the time. The lowest FIP of any of the starters is Bud Norris with a 4.25 and the Yankees will miss him. The Astros just came off of being swept by the Red Sox up at Fenway Park and the Yankees should sweep this series. If they do not, it will be disappointing.

The first game tonight features Andy Pettitte against Lucas Harrell. Harrell is 2-2 with a 4.08 ERA. He was one of the Astros pleasant surprises last year when he finished with a .500 record and a decent ERA of 3.76. But his WHIP, homer rate, hits per nine and walks per nine have all taken significant jumps so far this season. Harrell is not particularly adept at getting batters to swing at pitches out of the strike zone and has a very low swing and miss rate of 5.3% so far this season.

Pettitte, meanwhile, just seems to roll along with his 3-1 record and a 2.22 ERA in four starts. Pettitte has a 3.67 strikeout to walk ratio and a 1.65 ground ball to fly ball rate. The old hero provides comfort from start to start.

Tuesday pits Hiroki Kuroda against Philip Humber. Humber has not had a lot of fun since throwing his perfect game on April 21 of last season. He is already 0-5 on the season with a gaudy ERA of 7.99. His last two starts have been atrocious and have spanned only a total of five full innings while allowing eighteen hits, four walks and fifteen runs. Ouch. His first three losses at least came with decent starts. But those last two are as ugly as ugly comes. Whereas Harrell is a ground ball pitcher, Humber is more of fly ball pitcher. But homers have not really been Humber’s problem. Simply put, everything hit against him lately finds a safe spot to land.

Kuroda is 3-1 for the Yankees and after two terrific starts against Baltimore and Toronto, was just ordinary in his last start, though he won the game against the Blue Jays last Thursday. In that game, he gave up his first two homers of the season. Expect both Pettitte and Kuroda to expose the Astros lack of patience to pile up strikeouts and easy outs.

Wednesday night will feature a start by David Phelps against Erik Bedard. Ivan Nova‘s injury allows Phelps to get his chance in the rotation. Phelps has had eleven starts in his big league career and has averaged just over five innings a start. Part of that fact would be Joe Girardi‘s lack of confidence and the other part would be Phelps bouncing back and forth between starting and the bullpen. But Phelps has a 3.77 ERA as a starter and is a better pitcher in Yankee Stadium than on the road. If he can give the Yankees five good innings in this outing, the Yankees would be thrilled.

Erik Bedard has always had the ability to miss bats and his strikeout rate remains high. However, his four starts this season have lasted a total of 11 and a third innings and he has gotten blasted. Bedard is 0-2 with an ERA of 10.32. He has given up five homers in his 11.1 innings pitched. Part of Bedard’s problem is that batters are making him throw strikes. Only 23% of his pitches out of the strike zone have been swung at and thus, he gets behind in the count and either walks batters (6.35 walks per nine) or gets blasted in the strike zone. Bedard could be capable of striking out a bunch of Yankees as this Yankees’ lineup of misfit toys is not the usual patient Yankees of normal seasons.

All in all, the Yankees should have three comfortable days. Of course, that is on paper. What actually happens remains to be seen.

After an off day on Thursday, the Oakland Athletics come to the Bronx for a weekend series. Oakland’s young starters have struggled in the past two weeks and Yankee Stadium has always been a nightmare for the A’s to begin with. Neither team has announced its starters for the weekend. But you would have to figure the Yankees would go with C.C. Sabathia, Phil Hughes and Andy Pettitte while the A’s would go with A.J. Griffin, Bartolo Colon and Brett Anderson judging by both team’s recent rotation cycles.

For the A’s. Seth Smith, Jed Lowrie and Josh Donaldson have been hot hitters. Coco Crisp is having a good year but has cooled off of late. Yoenis Cespedes returned to that team’s lineup yesterday, so that makes them that much more dangerous. Josh Reddick has started the season stone cold.

As the spring deepens, the weather should be less and less of a factor. Rain could be a problem on Monday and Tuesday. But the rest of the week looks pleasant.

My prediction is that the Yankees go 5-1 on the week. Anything less would be a bit of a letdown. I cannot see anything worse than 4-2 for the week. They are at home and have two teams that are ripe for the picking at this moment in time.

Have a great Yankees week everyone!