What to Watch For: June 24 vs Blue Jays

20111118-blue-jays-logoThe Yankees and Blue Jays play the middle game of their three-game series tonight at the Rogers Centre. Here’s a few things to watch for as you pray for the Yankees offense to score some runs.

Buerhle’s Kryptonite
The Yankees have dominated many pitchers over the years but perhaps none more than Mark Buerhle, who owns a 1-11 record and 5.84 ERA in 17 career starts against the franchise.

His .083 winning percentage ranks as the second-worst of any pitcher that has made at least 15 starts against the Yankees, behind only Hall-of-Famer and Yankee great Red Ruffing. Ruffing, who started his career with the Red Sox before being traded to New York in 1930, went 1-16 (.059) against the Yankees.

Buehrle’s only win against the Yankees came in 2004, when he beat them at the Stadium as a member of the White Sox. He is 0-5 with a 6.98 ERA in seven starts at home against the Bombers.

If there ever was a season he could finally beat the Yankees, this might be it, with the Blue Jays playing like it’s the early ’90s and the 35-year-old southpaw sporting a career-best 2.32 ERA.

The Yankees did beat him earlier this season as they managed three runs, including a homer, off Buehrle in their matchup last week. Although somehow they weren’t able to touch his 83-mph fastball (0-for-8 in at-bats ending in the pitch), they were one of the few teams this season that were able to solve his curveball.

Buehrle threw 13 curves against the Yankees, who went 3-for-5 with a home run and didn’t whiff on any of their swings against the pitch. All other teams have hit a combined .192/.185/.212 in at-bats ending in Buehrle’s curve this season.

Notable Matchups
If Joe Girardi is smart (and checks his binder), he’ll have the lefty-swinging Ichiro Suzuki in the lineup tonight against the southpaw Buehrle. Not only has Ichiro been excellent against same-sided pitchers this season in a small sample (.379/.455/.414 in 33 plate appearances), he has owned Buehrle in their head-to-head matchups.

Ichiro has faced 51 different pitchers at least 35 times in his career, and has hit better than .400 against three of them – Vicente Padilla (.500), Mark Mulder (.447) and Buehrle (.421). His success is not just a product of his early years with the Mariners either. Ichiro is 10-for-22 (.455) vs Buehrle since 2008, though he was not in the starting lineup last week against him.

Another Yankee lefty with strong numbers against Buehrle is Brett Gardner, who is 10-for-20 and has hit for the cycle against him (7 singles, 1 double, 1 triple, 1 home run). Gardner hit the ball hard each time he faced Buehrle last week, with three line-drive singles in three at-bats during the Yankees win.

Jacoby Ellsbury, unlike his fellow lefties Ichiro and Gardner, has struggled in his career against Buehrle. He is just 6-for-25 (.240) overall, and has only two hits in his last 21 plate appearances against him, including an 0-for-3 effort on June 18.

In their matchup last week, Buehrle pounded the bottom of the zone with a mix of pitches vs Ellsbury, who made all three of his outs (two flyouts, one groundout) against him on pitches located at the knees or lower.

If Buehrle can consistently throw his pitches in the lower-third of the zone to the entire Yankee lineup tonight, the visiting team might be in trouble. Batters have a .520 OPS in at-bats ending in a pitch located mid-thigh or below from Buehrle this season, compared to a .755 OPS in all other plate appearances.

Stat of The Game
Among the nearly 300 players that have at least 200 career at-bats vs the Blue Jays, no player in major-league history has a higher on-base percentage against the franchise than Gardner (.449). The only player with a higher batting average against Toronto than Gardner (.343) is Wally Joyner, who hit .345 in 388 at-bats over 16 seasons.

Former ESPN researcher; forever baseball and Yankees fan. Now living in northern Vermont and the color of the front door of our house is Yankee blue. Also write about college football and basketball and the NFL. Bleed Huskies blue (that's UConn, of course).

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