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Series Preview: Baltimore Orioles vs. New York Yankees, 9-12 September 2013

3-1 on the homestand thus far, the O's now face the Yankees for four games, in a series which could heavily swing the Wild Card race.

Jim McIsaac

A week ago, the Orioles were three games back of Tampa Bay for the second Wild Card spot. Now, they're two games back. As much as there were some frustrating losses last week, progress is progress.

This series begins the true home stretch of the season, as the remaining twenty games are all against divison opponents: four each vs. the Yankees and Rays, and six each against the Red Sox and Blue Jays. For better or worse, the teams the O's are most worried about are the two they play the least. This final O's-Yankees series of the season could have a big effect on the Wild Card race, as the Yankees are just half of a game behind the O's. Let's look at the matchups.

Monday, 9 September: Chris Tillman vs. CC Sabathia
Career Numbers Tillman vs. Yankees Sabathia vs. O's
IP 40.0 203.0
ERA 7.43 3.33
FIP 4.95 3.44
Slash Line (Past Teams) .360/.423/.506 .245/.290/.366
Slash Line (Current Players) .336/.404/.546 .278/.314/.428

Tillman has, to put it midly, not been good against New York in the past. The most I can say about those numbers above is that that the FIP is significantly better than the ERA (but still bad), and forty innings is still a pretty small sample size. It's not like Chris has never had a good start against the Yankees, though; he was pretty bad against them in their last meeting (6 July, in the Bronx), but went six innings with two runs allowed in Baltimore on 30 June. Tillman battled some major control issues in his last outing, walking five in 5.1 innings against the Indians, and the team really needs him to bounce back for this start.

It's weird when you actually get a pitcher who has a full season's worth of innings against a team, but it's to be expected from a pitcher like Sabathia, especially now that he's on his fifth season in the AL East. Sabathia has really looked vulnerable this year; his ERA is currently 4.86, and while he's probably suffering from some bad luck (4.22 FIP, 3.71 xFIP), even the advanced metrics don't have him looking like an ace anymore. The O's have done well against him this season, too: he had one outstanding eight-inning outing in April, but has thrice since failed to record a quality start against Baltimore. Expect to see Michael Morse in the lineup; even though these small sample sizes really don't mean anything, he's four-for-seven with a homer against Sabathia.

Maybe hot: Robinson Cano (1.360 OPS, 24 PA), Lyle Overbay (1.387 OPS, 17 PA), Alexi Casilla (1.144 OPS, 32 PA)

Likely not: Ichiro Suzuki (.250 OPS, 16 PA), Matt Wieters (.514 OPS, 42 PA)

Tuesday, 10 September: Miguel Gonzalez vs. Ivan Nova
Career Numbers Gonzalez vs. Yankees Nova vs. O's
IP 36.2 72.2
ERA 3.93 4.33
FIP 4.46 4.14
Slash Line (Past Teams) .221/.298/.382 .258/.310/.459
Slash Line (Current Players) .183/.258/.349 .270/.320/.466

I suppose it had to happen eventually. Gonzalez finally had a bad start against the Yankees on 30 August, giving up seven runs in four innings. That slash line against still looks pretty good, but the ERA is just okay now. With only one more off-day on the schedule, Buck Showalter won't be able to give Gonzalez extra rest as much as he might otherwise like. Hopefully Miguel's solid seven-inning, one-run start against the White Sox on the 5th is a sign of things to come.

Nova doesn't have great career numbers against the O's, but he dominated them on 31 August, throwing a three-hit shutout. That's actually the second complete game he threw against the Orioles this year, the last coming on 5 July. In three starts against Baltimore this season, Nova's given up just four runs in 23.2 innings. He has, admittedly, been quite good in general this year, posting a 3.02 ERA and respectable saber stats (3.24 FIP, 3.63 xFIP), but perhaps the O's will finally do something about this disturbing trend.

Maybe hot: Brett Gardner (1.010 OPS, 12 PA), Ichiro Suzuki (.982 OPS, 2 HR, 17 PA), Matt Wieters (1.500 OPS, 4 HR, 30 PA), Chris Davis (.994 OPS, 24 PA)

Likely not: Curtis Granderson (.214 OPS, 14 PA), Robinson Cano (.311 OPS, 20 PA), Manny Machado (.182 OPS, 11 PA), Adam Jones (.531 OPS, 36 PA)

Wednesday, 11 September: Scott Feldman vs. Andy Pettitte
Career Numbers Feldman vs. Yankees Pettitte vs. O's
IP 39.0 266.0
ERA 4.15 3.52
FIP 4.51 3.96
Slash Line (Past Teams) .305/.386/.455 .270/.330/.375
Slash Line (Current Players) .331/.407/.550 .265/.292/.371

Feldman's been on a bit of a roll lately, pitching a shutout in his last start and allowing two or fewer runs in his last five. He hasn't always gotten deep into games - two of those five starts have been less than six innings - but he's the kind of guy that most teams would be glad to have in the back of their rotations. That said, he hasn't pitched all that well against the Yankees historically, but his last start against them (on 31 August) was a seven-inning, one-run effort. Let's have a repeat of that, shall we?

I don't know what's more annoying remarkable: the fact that Pettitte is still pitching, or the fact that he's still decent, with a 4.03 ERA this season. He's another guy with a long history against the O's who's done quite well against them, but like Sabathia, those numbers are buoyed by years in which he was a significantly better pitcher. Pettitte has, however, given the Yankees five straight quality starts, including one against the O's on 1 September.

Maybe hot: Curtis Granderson (1.714 OPS, 18 PA), Vernon Wells (1.683 OPS, 18 PA), Michael Morse (.899 OPS, 11 PA)

Likely not: Ichiro Suzuki (.597 OPS, 44 PA), J.J. Hardy (.394 OPS, 26 PA)

Thursday, 12 September: Wei-Yin Chen vs. David Huff
Career Numbers Chen vs. Yankees Huff vs. O's
IP 34.0 8.2
ERA 5.29 0.00
FIP 5.54 2.63
Slash Line (Past Teams) .240/.308/.442 .167/.219/.167
Slash Line (Current Players) .273/.336/.495 .287/.350/.389

Chen pitched well against the White Sox on the 7th (6 IP, 2 R), but had a couple of poor outings against the Yankees and Red Sox in his two prior starts (total: 7.2 IP, 11 R). He's still having a decent year overall, with a 3.82 ERA (4.05 FIP, 4.32 xFIP), but his extreme flyball tendencies are always worrisome, and they become even moreso when he's pitching in AL East ballparks.

Huff was with Cleveland until earlier this year, when the Yankees claimed him off of waivers. He was a starter from 2009 to 2012, but threw fewer and fewer innings each year and has mostly been a reliever this season. His first start this year, in fact, was on 7 September, and he gave up nine runs in 3.1 innings to the Red Sox. That doesn't sound terribly intimidating, but Huff is left-handed.

In seventeen years of managing the Orioles, I don't believe I issued more than a few fines. ...Anyone who has a player on his team who must be fined before he plays ball doesn't have a very good player. He isn't a good player if he doesn't want to come to the park or if he doesn't want to play the game right or follow instructions. - Earl Weaver