The Yankees closed out the Interleague slate with their best victory of the year, mounting a dramatic four-run comeback in the ninth against the Dodgers on Sunday, before winning the game on MVP candidate Robinson Cano's two-run homer in the 10th.
New York took two out of three from Los Angeles to finish 11-7 versus the National League. The first-place Bombers (47-28) now welcome in the last-place Mariners (31-44) for a three-game set this week at Yankee Stadium.
The problem for Seattle this year has been hitting. It ranks last in baseball in home runs and hits, while placing 27th with a .239 batting average. On the other hand, pitching has been a strength. The Mariners rank eighth with a 3.90 ERA and send two of their best to the hill in the first two games against the Yankees.
Tuesday, June 29 —Phil Hughes (10-1, 3.17) vs. Cliff Lee (6-3, 2.39)
When Hughes was skipped in his last turn in the rotation, it set up quite a pitching matchup for the series opener. The right-hander has won his last five starts, but was held out last week in an effort to keep his innings down during his first full season in the rotation.
The 24-year-old is 1-0 with a 2.00 ERA in four appearances (one start) against the Mariners. Seattle's roster hits just .182 (4-for-22) off him, led by Josh Wilson, who is 2-for-4. Russell Branyan, who was recently reacquired by the M's, has homered off Hughes, but Casey Kotchman, Jose Lopez, and Chone Figgins are a combined 0-for-11.
Lee is being considered a hot commodity as the Trade Deadline approaches and the Yankees were once rumored to be a possible suitor, although I'm not sure why New York, who already has three probable All-Stars in its rotation, would need another hurler.
But someone is going to land a Cy Young candidate if the left-hander gets moved. He has thrown three complete games in his last four starts to position himself atop the American League standings in that category (4), along with ERA and WHIP (0.91).
Lee is 4-4 with a 5.02 ERA in nine regular-season starts against the Bombers, but went 2-0 versus them in the World Series last year, including a masterful Game One performance, during which he allowed only one unearned run and struck out 10.
Derek Jeter hits Lee well (11-for-27, .407), as does Mark Teixeira (9-for-23, .391), while lefty Cano (4-for-18, .222) is about the only Yankee who does not.
Wednesday, June 30 —Javier Vazquez (6-6, 5.16) vs. Felix Hernandez (5-5, 3.28)
Vazquez turned in his worst outing in a month against the D-backs last Wednesday, surrendering four runs over five innings. I wouldn't be surprised if this trend continued now that the Interleague part of the year has finished. The right-hander, who dominated the National League in 2009, went 2-1 with a 2.88 ERA against the NL this season, but is just 4-5 with a 6.30 versus the superior AL. Then again, he may get a reprieve against the light-hitting Mariners.
Vazquez is 4-2 with a 4.35 ERA in six starts against the M's. Franklin Gutierrez is 4-for-12 (.333) with a homer off him, while Kotchman is 3-for-8 (.375) and Branyan is 3-for-6 (.500) with a remarkable three homers.
Milton Bradley, however, is just 3-for-18 (.167) and Lopez is 2-for-14 (.143).
King Felix tossed his second consecutive complete game his last time out and now leads the league with 112.2 innings pitched, while ranking fourth in strikeouts (105).
Hernandez is 2-3 with a 4.59 ERA in five starts against the Yankees, including 1-1 with a 4.97 in the Bronx.
Five Bombers hit better than .300 off the right-hander. Teixeira is 11-for-36 (.306) with three blasts, Curtis Granderson is 9-for-25 (.360), but has 10 strikeouts, Jeter is 5-for-15 (.333), Cano is 5-for-13 (.385) and Jorge Posada is 3-for-5 (.600).
Thursday, July 1 —CC Sabathia (9-3, 3.49) vs. Ryan Rowland-Smith (1-7, 6.18)
If there's going to be one blowout in this series, this figures to be it. Sabathia probably wishes there were 31 days in June because after a rocky May, he was outstanding last month, going 5-0 with a 2.19 ERA.
The big lefty is 6-4 with a 2.97 in 14 starts versus Seattle. Ichiro Suzuki has battered him around, however, collecting 19 hits in 48 at-bats (.396). Figgins is 5-for-16 (.313), Bradley is 4-for-11 (.364) and Gutierrez is 4-for-9 (.444).
But Lopez (.125), Jack Wilson (.123), and Josh Wilson (.167) each just have two hits in double-digit at-bats against Sabathia.
Rowland-Smith is just holding a spot for the injured Erik Bedard at this point. He allowed five runs and two homers in 5 1/3 innings against the Brewers on Friday.
The left-hander has no record and a 5.29 ERA in six appearances (two starts) versus the Yanks and has allowed five runs in 3 2/3 innings of relief in the Bronx.
But maybe all of the guys Rowland-Smith has had trouble with are gone. New York's roster hits just .189 off him and Teixeira is 2-for-11 (.182).
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Jordan Schwartz is one of Bleacher Report's New York Yankees and College Basketball Featured Columnists. His book Memoirs of the Unaccomplished Man is available at amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, and authorhouse.com.
Jordan can be reached at email@example.com