It’s been a curious postseason thus far. Not one of the trailing teams in any of the four division series has won a game, while both NLDS ended in sweeps. In each series, the story has been the same, the losing team just isn’t hitting. Check these numbers:
Phillies: 2.67 runs per game, .172/.274/.366
Cubs: 2.00 runs per game, .194/.307/.255
Yankees: 2.00 runs per game, .121/.216/.273
Angels: 1.50 runs per game, .167/.236/.212
In the top three cases, the losing team was favored coming into the series, in part because of its explosive offense (the Yankees and Phillies were the top two offenses in the majors during the regular season, the Angels were sixth, curiously the Cubs were the third worst offense in baseball on the road).
By the time former Yankee Jake Westbrook uncorks his first pitch at Yankee Stadium tonight, the Yankees could be the last of those four teams standing, as Curt Schilling and the Red Sox take on Jered Weaver and the Angels at 3:00 EST. This is a particularly odd spot for the Yankees to be in, but here’s a curious fact: This is the Yankees’ 25th postseason series under Joe Torre. In the previous 24, they’ve only fallen behind 0-2 three times. In two of those series, they lost the first two at home then rallied to win the series (the 1996 World Series and the 2001 ALDS against the A’s–the latter remains the only time in major league history that a home team lost the first two games of a best-of-five series and came back to win the series). The third was the 2001 World Series, in which they lost the first two in Arizona, then won three straight at home, and later held a lead in the ninth inning of Game Seven.
The point is, this ain’t over. I still believe the Yankees can win this series, but they have to do to the Indians what the Red Sox did to them in 2004: Take the field each day with the goal of winning only that day’s game.
Roger Clemens isn’t a bad guy to have on the mound when you have a big game to win, and though the fact that he’s only made one start since September 3 due to a series of nagging injuries to his 45-year-old body and is pitching on 20-days’ rest could and should be a concern, I suspect that all that rest will actually benefit the old codger. Clemens has made three starts on ten or more days of rest this year (including his first, which was delayed by a “fatigued groin”) and has posted the following line in those starts:
18 IP, 17 H, 1 HR, 5 BB, 19 K, 1.22 WHIP, 2.50 ERA, 2-0
Included among those three starts was his last, which came in Boston on September 16 as the Yankees were fighting for the division. Clemens allowed just one unearned run on two hits and three walks in six innings in the Yankees’ 4-3 win. With Joba Chamberlain rested and debugged this evening, a similar performance should get the Yankees to Game Four tomorrow.
As for Westbrook, he’ll be making his postseason debut tonight, just as Fausto Carmona did in Game Two. Westbrook is a sinkerballer like Carmona, though he’s not as nasty. Still, he tends to throw strikes and get ground balls. He got ten of them against the Yankees on August 12, but also allowed four runs on nine hits and a pair of walks over seven innings while taking the loss. In his nine starts since then, he’s posted a 3.22 ERA, allowed just three home runs, and struck out 6.44 men per nine innings, an excellent rate for a ground-ball pitcher. That ERA is a bit skewed by a pair of gems in late August, however. Over his last seven starts, Westbrook’s ERA was a more pedestrian 4.12. Still, the lack of homers and solid K-rate persist.
Collectively, the ten Yankees most likely to start tonight (adding Jason Giambi to the nine who have started the first two games of this series) have hit .326 and slugged .553 in their careers against Westbrook, with Giambi, Posada, and Matsui leading the way, each with OPS figures over 1.200. Melky Cabrera has been the worst of the lot, going 1 for 11 against Westbrook in his career. It seems unlikely that Hideki Matsui’s knee would allow him to play the outfield, however, which makes Giambi at first-base the most likely change in the Yankee lineup tonight. Besides, Melky’s one hit off Westbrook was a home run.
If the Yankees win tonight, they’ll get to face Paul Byrd tomorrow, as Eric Wedge has already said he won’t bring back Sabathia on short rest. That’s tomorrow, though. The Yankees need only concern themselves with today.