The amazing Yankees are still not scoring that much (4 runs last night, but only 3 in 3 of 4 previous games, all wins) but getting mostly pretty good pitching – solid starters and an excellent bullpen is the hallmark of a team that is 23-13, tops in the East and only 1/2 game off the best record in baseball. This is with a patchwork lineup (commented on many times) and it is not as if the lineup were playing over their heads.
But today will be a true test, of sorts. They play a true double-header (one admission) starting at noon with the second game to immediately follow. This is because they were in Kansas City yesterday, Cleveland today and New York tomorrow, courtesy of back-to-back rainouts April 10-11 during the Yankees only scheduled trip to Cleveland.
And in that double-header, they will start Phelps (1-1 5.02) their #6 starter (with Nova on the DL) and Vidal Nuno, making his first ML start (and only his 2nd ML appearance) having pitched 3 scoreless innings in a 9-1 loss to Houston on April 29, and I believe he hasn’t pitched anywhere since. He has made 4 starts in AAA allowing just 4 runs in 23 IP, with 26 Ks and only 2 BBs.
So the Indians, fresh off 9 wins in 11 games and claiming a share of the AL Central lead with the Tigers (by beating them 2 of 3), should be solid favorites: they start Justin Masterson (do you think the Red Sox wish they still had HIM?) at 5-2 3.67 and Trevor Bauer at 1-1 2.70. They have scored 188 runs (to the Yanks’ 157) and so you have to think that they have a better offense AND better pitching AND only came from Detroit AND slept in their own beds AND are playing at home.
From a Yankee fan’s perspective, then, a split would be delicious, and there has to be a very good chance that NY will lose both games. But I have been expecting them to lose all year, and they have just kept finding a way to win. They are currently on a 5-game winning streak (compiled against two of the surprise winning teams of the young season, Colorado and Kansas City) and have a 2-game lead on a suddenly-human Red Sox team that has dropped 8 of 10, and 1 game over an Orioles team whose lofty position is probably just as surprising as the Yanks’.
It is interesting to note that Cool Standings, which has not been impressed with the Yankees all year, finally has them over 50% to make the postseason for the first time in 2013. Of course, if they lose both games (and possibly even if they split, as long as Boston or Baltimore wins) they will be back below 50% – this time of year the projections are pretty volatile.
As both Indian pitchers are right-handed, the Yankees will likely play an outfield of Wells, Gardner and Ichiro, an infield of Overbay, Cano, Nix and Nelson, with Stewart catching one game and Romine the other. Travis Hafner will likely DH in both games. The Yankees placed Eduardo Nunez on the DL yesterday and recalled infielder Alberto Gonzalez to take his spot, but Gonzalez is a right-handed hitter so he will be unlikely to replace either Nix or Nelson, though he might get a game in for Nelson at third, since he (Nelson) has not hit at all as a Yankee (5 for 30). Not a lineup to scare you much, though better than their lineup against left-handers.
Things may be looking up for NY, though: rumor has it that Curtis Granderson could rejoin by the end of the week, and Mark Teixeira, though moved yesterday to the 60-day DL, appears to be on track for early June. Nunez DL designation is retroactive 5 days, so he is eligible to come off around May 22 and may well do so, though he didn’t hit before he went ON the DL, so that may not help much. And Kevin Youkilis, himself an injury-replacement and then injured, may also be close to starting a rehab assignment, and could be back by the end of the month.
Somehow a lineup of Stewart/Romine, Teixeira, Cano, Nix/Nunez, Youkilis, Gardner, Granderson, Ichiro/Wells, Hafner/Wells looks a bit more formidable. But the test comes first.