The first two games of this World Series could have gone either way and did. CC Sabathia allowed just two runs in seven innings in Game One, but Cliff Lee allowed just one unearned run in nine as the Phillies cruised to a 1-0 lead. Pedro Martinez was sharp in Game Two, striking out eight in six innings while allowing just three runs, but A.J. Burnett was better, striking out nine and allowing just one run in seven, setting up a six-out save by Mariano Rivera which tied the series at 1-1.
The conventional wisdom is that when the road team splits the first two games of a best-of-seven series, they’ve succeeded in making it a best-of-five series in which they have the majority of the home games. That’s true, to a point, but it overlooks the sizeable advantages the Yankees retain in this series. To begin with, they still have home field advantage for what are likely to be the two most important games of the Series, Games Six and Seven, both of which will find at least one team a win away from the championship. The Yankees also have the edge in at least three of the remaining pitching matchups, including tonight’s and tomorrow’s.
Yesterday, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel announced that Joe Blanton, not Cliff Lee, would start Sunday’s Game Four. Lee will only have had three-days’ rest heading into Sunday, and he’s never started on short rest in his major league career. He also threw 122 pitches in his Game One shutout. Thus, Blanton, which gives the Yankees a sizeable advantage as Joe Girardi announced today that he will indeed start CC Sabathia on short rest in Game Four. Pitching on three-days’ rest in Game Four of the ALCS, Sabathia held the Angels to one run (on a solo homer) in eight innings. Sabathia also dominated in three consecutive short-rest starts for the Brewers as the 2008 season drew to a close (0.83 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 21 K, 4 BB, 0 HR in 21 2/3 IP). Until he was bested by Lee in Game One, the Yankees had won all three of Sabathia’s starts this postseason, and with Blanton opposing him in Game Four, the Yankees have to be heavily favored in that game as well.
Entering the Series, when it seemed that Manuel would start Lee on short rest, tonight’s game looked like most favorable pitching matchup for the Yankees. Cole Hamels pitched the Phillies to the title last year, but this postseason he’s been just shy of awful, posting a 6.75 ERA while allowing six home runs in just 14 2/3 innings over three starts (that’s 3.7 HR/9). That bad run actually extends back through Hamels’ last three starts of the regular season, giving him a 6.89 ERA and 1.50 WHIP over his last six starts.
The Phillies have actually won two of Hamels three postseason starts, both against the Dodgers, but did so by scoring a combined 18 runs. That doesn’t seem likely to happen tonight as Andy Pettitte has been his usual reliable self. Pettitte has lasted 6 1/3 innings in all three of his starts this postseason, walked just one man in each, and only once allowed as many as three runs. In fact, Pettitte’s last six postseason starts dating back to the 2005 NLCS have been quality starts (2.15 ERA, 4.0 K/BB), and in his last 13 postseason starts, including all of the 2003 playoffs and World Series, he’s posted a 2.64 ERA and turned in 11 quality starts. In his one regular season start against the Phillies this year, Pettitte gave up four runs in seven innings, but three of those runs scored on a home run by John Mayberry Jr., who isn’t even on the Phillies’ World Series roster.
Hamels is starting at home, where he his ERA was nearly a run and a quarter lower than his road mark this year, but Pettitte was significantly better on the road and has allowed just one earned run in 12 career innings at Citizens Bank Park. This matchup clearly favors the Yankees, and it will be on the offense and the bullpen to cash in these next two games, especially with the dominant Lee starting on full rest in Game Five (likely against A.J. Burnett on short rest).
Judging by the starting pitching matchups alone, this Series should return to the Bronx with the Yankees leading 3-2 and should find Sabathia, pitching on short rest for the second time in a row, lined up to face Hamels in a Game Seven matchup that also heavily favors the Yankees.
The only catch is the weather. If any of these games is rained out (and there’s a 70 percent chance of rain tonight, though the teams believe they’re going to get the game in), it could wipe out the Yankees’ hopes of starting Sabathia twice more and could line up his then-only-remaining start with Lee’s on Monday, thus making CC a near non-factor rather than the expected difference maker. If that happens, it will make taking advantage of something like tonight’s Pettitte-Hamels pairing all the more crucial to the Yankees’ success in this series.
Nick Swisher returns to the Yankee lineup tonight. He’s never faced Hamels before. Hideki Matsui rides pine due to the lack of DH at the National League Park. Expect a pinch-hitting appearance from Matsui in the late innings, but don’t expect to see him in the field unless there’s a substitution crunch (the Yankees have Gardner, Hinske, and Hairston who can go out to the field before Matsui would have to), particularly on a wet field. The Phillies’ lineup is standard.