Raul Ibanez is being treated like a hero today after leading the New York Yankees to a comeback victory over the Baltimore Orioles in Game 3. Don't forget to credit manager Joe Girardi, though. He pulled the right strings and now his team is one game from advancing.
After watching the starting pitchers control the first three games, Game 4 should feature more scoring with Phil Hughes and Joe Saunders on the mound. If the game does turn into a shootout, it favors the high-powered Yankees.
One storyline to keep an eye on is how Alex Rodriguez reacts to being removed from the game for a pinch hitter in a key spot, a situation he's rarely had to endure throughout his career. It was the right move, but the Yankees need A-Rod to figure things out at the plate.
He's always been a very emotional player, so it will all come down to how he channels that starting tonight. Does he sulk or use it as motivation, leading to hot streak at the plate. If it's the latter, the Yankees will be tough to beat.
The pitcher Rodriguez will have to face on Thursday night, Joe Saunders, hasn't had much success against the Bronx Bombers. In six career starts, he has a 5.82 ERA and 1.53 WHIP. A-Rod has seven hits in 16 at-bats against him with two home runs.
Saunders should be brimming with confidence after shutting down an equally potent Texas Rangers, though. It will be important for the Yankees to get a couple runs off him early before he has a chance to settle in like he did in the play-in game.
New York will counter with Hughes, whose numbers against Baltimore aren't much better than Saunders' vs. the Yankees. He's posted a 5.10 ERA and 1.44 WHIP in 17 career appearances, including 14 starts.
The 26-year-old right-hander finished the regular season on a low note, giving up at least four earned runs in each of his last three starts. He's a streaky pitcher, so the Yankees have to hope the nearly two weeks off allowed him to reset before tonight's start.
Ultimately, the Yankees should be able to create more runs off Saunders than they have against Baltimore's other starters, especially since they are riding a wave of momentum after last night's vital victory.
It will come down to how the Orioles offense, which doesn't have nearly as much star power, responds. Will unheralded players like Nate McLouth and Manny Machado rise to the occasion or wilt under the pressure of an elimination game in Yankee Stadium?
While Buck Showalter's team has been an incredible story all season, losing last night's game was a crushing blow. Look for the Yankees to finish them off in Game 4.
Prediction: 7-5 Yankees (advance to ALCS)
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