With the Yankees playing a three game set in Chicago this week, I decided to let my friend Adam Rothman (a White Sox fan) write a preview of the series, followed by my own prognostications. We'll check back on Friday to see who was right.
Take it away, R-Man...
Over the weekend, Yankee Stadium was transformed from the stomping ground of the great Yankee teams of yesteryear to the focus of global Catholicism as Pope Benedict II held mass for an estimated 60,000 worshippers. Judging by the first 20 games of this season, if the 2008 Yankees want to come away from their upcoming set against the White Sox with a series victory, they might have benefited from praying with the Pontiff.
The Chicago White Sox (11-7, 2.5 game lead in the AL Central) host the New York Yankees (10-10, 3.5 games behind in the AL East) this Tuesday through Thursday. The South Siders hope to make the Yankees yet another victim in a season that has seen them do no wrong. For their part, the Bronx Bombers hope to move in the right direction after dropping two of three to the rebuilding Orioles over the weekend.
Fans eagerly awaiting the three-game set can be certain of one thing: offense from both teams. The Sox rank second in the AL in runs scored and lead the junior circuit in home runs. However, the Yankees are no stranger to power hitting, holding a slight edge over the White Sox in slugging percentage. Toss in the homer-friendly confines of US Cellular Field and spectators can be certain to see some crooked numbers put on the scoreboard by both squads.
Of course, offensive prowess is no surprise from two teams that have finished first and second in team home runs three of the last four seasons. But what has surprised many analysts this season is the depth and consistency of White Sox starting pitching. The Sox enter the series second in the American League in team ERA (3.45), featuring a staff composed of both savvy veterans (Mark Buerhle, Javier Vasquez, Jose Contreras) and young talent (John Danks, Gavin Floyd). The youngsters’ performance has been particularly surprising, with some scouts calling Floyd “unhittable” after taking a no-hitter into the eighth inning against the Tigers on April 12th and following up that performance with 6 innings of two-hit ball against Baltimore.
The Bombers feature a mix of veteran experience and young talent in their rotation as well, but with much poorer statistics to show for it. Celebrated prospect Phil Hughes (0-3, 8.82 ERA) has failed to impress this season, while Joba Chamberlain—considered by many to be the future of Yankee pitching—is stuck in a setup role. He has 6.1 innings to his credit this season. Longtime Yankee Mike Mussina (1-3, 5.75 ERA) may have reached the end of his effectiveness, lasting only three innings and surrendering four earned runs in his last start. He struck out one. Team co-chairman Hank Steinbrenner said his veteran needs to alter his approach on the rubber, pitching more like the Phillies’ soft-tosser Jamie Moyer.
The X-factor in the upcoming series will likely be the New York superstar Alex Rodriguez, who injured his right quadriceps over the weekend. He did not accompany the team to Chicago, although all indications are he will rejoin the club by the first pitch on Tuesday night. If he is healthy, the Yankees can expect to contend in all three games. Without his power bat, it seems inevitable that the Yankees will fall even further behind in the race to October.
Chien-Ming Wang (3-0, 3.81 ERA) vs Jose Contreras (1-1, 4.34 ERA)
Wang is coming off a total shellacking against the Red Sox, allowing 8 earned runs in a no-decision on Wednesday. However, US Cellular Field has been friendly territory for the sinkerballer, where Wang sports a 2-0 record in 3 career starts. Look for him to turn in 6 strong innings. He tows the rubber against the former Yankee Contreras. The Cuban defector is most effective when he varies his arm angle from pitch to pitch; however, lately he has been relying too heavily on his offspeed stuff and neglecting his over-the-top fastball, neutralizing the threat of mixing up his arm angle. He’ll need better pitch selection to have a good outing against the Yankees.
Prediction:NYY 4, CHW 6. Ohlendorf gets the loss in relief.
Mike Mussina (1-3, 5.75 ERA) vs Javier Vasquez (3-1, 3.20 ERA)
This may be Mussina’s last chance at maintaining his role in the starting rotation. Unfortunately, I don’t think he has enough gas left in the tank. I expect him to surrender some big runs early and be pulled—both from the game and from the Yankees’ staff. He pitches against another former Yankee Vasquez, who has been dominant this year so far. The big righthander has rattled off three wins in a row. He’ll throw another 6.2 innings here as the White Sox cruise to victory.
Prediction: NYY 2, CHW 10. Mike Mussina is demoted to the bullpen following the game.
TBD vs Gavin Floyd (2-0, 1.40 ERA)
Floyd has caused a stir around the league with electric stuff in the early season. I expect him to continue pitching well, but it’s optimistic to expect his streak of 13.1 innings without an earned run allowed will continue. He gets the win here, bolstering his confidence and securing a spot in the White Sox rotation for the remainder of the season.
Prediction: NYY 4, CHW 9. This one’s a guess.
And now for my own predictions...
Game 1: Wang vs. Contreras
Adam seems to forget that before Wang got "shellacked" by the Red Sox on April 16, he nearly threw a perfect game against them five days earlier. Wang is 2-0 with a 2.57 ERA against the White Sox in his career and should continue that success on Tuesday. On the other hand, the Yankees usually do well against pitchers they are familiar with (see Sunday's game against Steve Trachsel) and the Yanks are very familiar with former teammate Jose Contreras, who holds just a 2-4 record with a 3.96 ERA against his old team since rejoining the White Sox in 2005.
Prediction: NYY 4, CHW 2.
Game 2: Mussina vs. Vasquez
This one could be a high scoring game. Mussina has been getting bombed for most of the year and while Vasquez is pitching well so far this season, he's another former Yankee and another guy the Bombers are familiar with. Vasquez is 1-1 with a 4.91 ERA against his old team, while Mussina is 4-2 with a 3.83 ERA versus Chicago over the past three years. The Moose might have a little extra incentive to pitch well in this one, but in the end, I don't think either starter will figure in the decision.
Prediction: NYY 9, CHW 8.
Game 3: Hughes vs. Floyd
ESPN.com has Hughes slated for this game and since its his turn in the rotation, that's what I'm going with. Hughes hasn't gotten out of the sixth inning since his first start of the year and that won't bode well for a Yankees' bullpen that should be depleted following Mussina's start Wednesday. You may see a lot of Farnsworth and Hawkins in this one, which is never a good thing if you're a Yankees fan. Floyd, meanwhile, is off to a good start this year, but this is the same pitcher who surrendered five runs in three innings against the Yanks last year. We could be headed for another high scoring affair.
Prediction: NYY 6, CHW 7.