I’m not going to lie to you guys. After waking up this morning, I re-read my game recap from last night and I didn’t even remember writing 90% of those words. More surprisingly, I didn’t even enjoy 1 beverage last night. Nope. I was simply intoxicated, drunk off the shots that Raul just keeps on pouring out for us. I was also super paranoid about the nonsense that people would be writing about A-Rod this morning, which caused me to rattle off a string of sentences starting with “I wish” and “I hope.” I was utterly crazed. Luckily, after a good night’s sleep (albeit one that only lasted 3 hours or so), and major avoidance of mainstream sports media this morning, I can start to mentally prepare myself for Game 4. Join me.
For me, these day-after-dramatic-win games are always rife with letdown potential. Of course, one could say that the Orioles should be experiencing a hangover of sorts as well, but after watching Buck’s presser last night (and, well, knowing Buck) I doubt that he is going to tolerate any moping from his guys. Based on the way this series has gone so far and the way the Yanks and O’s locked horns during the regular season, we should probably be expecting another nail biter. Let’s take a look.
Game 4: Joe Saunders vs. Phil Hughes
Tonight, Yankee Stadium at 7:37pm EST on TBS
Remember when we all had a good laugh at Joe Saunders’ expense when he was chosen to start the Wild Card game, in Arlington, against a righty-laden mash brigade from hell? Right. Personally, I’ll reserve judgment on the decision to send Saunders to the hill in Game 4. Like most decisions Buck Showalter has made this year, tapping Saunders in the Wild Card game ended up paying off, as he turned in 5.2 IP, 1 ER, 1 BB, 4 K, on 77 pitches. Saunders was lifted with the Orioles leading 2-1 with 2 outs and the bases empty in the Bottom of the 6th, as Darren O’Day was brought on to retire Nelson Cruz to end the inning. Saunders really only had 2 innings where he ran into any kind of trouble, but Buck got him out of there and turned to the O’s solid pen before (what many believed to be imminent) disaster struck. I think it is probably safe to assume that we’ll see a similar strategy employed tonight.
In one start against the Yankees this season on September 8, the infamous Jerry Meals Game, Saunders allowed 5 hits and 2 ER in 5.1 innings of work but labored through his 101 pitches. It was a pretty typical Saunders outing: lots of soft stuff, never a pitch over the middle of the plate, a couple of long innings, somehow the wheels didn’t come off. In 28 games started for both BAL and ARI this season, Saunders allowed at least 1 run in all but 3 of them. For a guy who barely strikes anyone out (5.1 K/9 career) he generally does a good job of mitigating damage by limiting walks (2.0 BB/9 in 2012). He isn’t the guy who I would want out there for my team with the season on the line, but hey, nothing the Orioles have done this year makes any sense. Who am I to judge?
The Yankees have actually faced Saunders in October recently, taking him on twice in the 2009 ALCS when Saunders was with LAA. In those 2 games, Saunders allowed 5 ER on 13 H in 10.1 IP, striking out 5 and walking 6. Including the postseason, there are quite a few Yankees with rather gaudy numbers against Saunders. Derek Jeter, in particular, has tuned him up with 10 hits in 25 PAs, including 2 HR. Do you think he’s going to sit tonight? I’d bet against it.
Yankee to Watch: Alex Rodriguez And all eyes will be on him, won’t they? A-Rod has 8 hits in 24 careers PAs against Saunders, including 2 2B and 2 HR. I know that many narratives would lead you to believe that A-Rod is done forever, but Saunders seems like the type of guy that may be perfect for Alex right now. It’s easy to forget that Alex hit lefties quite well this year (.924 OPS, 8 HR). Additionally, Alex’s recent struggles have mainly come on 90s+ fastballs out over the plate, probably due to some combination of age and a not-quite-fully-healed-hand. Saunders doesn’t feature a serious heater (about 88, can get up to 91) so if he is foolish enough to leave one over the middle, Alex may be able to dispel some criticism tonight.
This is a big game for Phil. Huge, even. Phil’s postseason career has already been an interesting one for someone only a few months past his 26th birthday. Many remember his first taste in the 2007 ALDS, when Roger Clemens’ old legs gave out for the last time and Phil came in with 5.2 innings of stellar relief. In the 2009 postseason, Phil was unable to duplicate his regular season setup success, allowing 6 ER in 6.1 IP while walking 6. 2010 Phil provided us with a strong start against MIN, followed by 2 clunkers against TEX. So what does this all mean for 2012 Phil? Nothing. Nothing at all.
Hughes’ last regular season start was on September 30, so like Hiroki coming into last night, he’s had ample time to rest what may have been a weary arm down the stretch. After a superb performance against Boston on September 13, Phil failed to reach the 7th inning in each of his next 3 starts, allowing at least 4 ER in each outing. Perhaps coincidentally, those 3 starts all took place after Phil had already exceeded his previous (regular season) career high in innings. I know that I’m a habitual Phil Hughes apologist, but I’m banking on the fact that the guy was just running on fumes and that we will see a renewed Hughes tonight. Additionally, good starting pitching can be contagious, and the Yankees’ starters have been dynamite thus far. You can bet that Phil doesn’t want to be the one to break the chain.
Phil has taken the hill against the O’s 4 times this year, with 2 good outings and 2 relatively poor ones. His most recent outing against the Orioles on September 7th in Baltimore was solid (6 IP, 6 H 3 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 5 K) but he was rocked on September 2nd at the Stadium (5 IP, 8 H, 5 ER, 1 BB, 6 K, 2 HR). For the most part, we saw a good deal of consistency from Hughes in the 2nd half, and I think the added rest will restore whatever seems to have been lacking in his final 3 starts of the season. Is it a hunch? Yes. But if Joe can follow his gut, maybe I can too.
As is the case with any Hughes start, the main key will be keeping the ball in the ballpark. This is especially important against the O’s, who rely heavily on #toomanyhomeruns. Five members of the Orioles’ lineup have taken Hughes deep in their careers. Two of them have done it twice. Phil’s chances of leading the Yanks to the next round rest on his ability to keep the ball in the ballpark.
Annoying Orioles Player to Watch: Nate McLouth SSS Alert, but McLouth is 4-for-6 in his career against Hughes with 2 2B. Also, I just really don’t like his face.
Let’s Finish This Thing
I love me some winner take all games, but let’s leave that to the other 6 teams, okay? A win tonight means the Orioles are finally off the Yanks’ backs for the first time since forever ago, CC would be ready to rock for Game 1 of the ALCS, and Jeter would have a day to rest that foot. Going for the throat would be greatly appreciated.
Enjoy the Quadrupleheader today, folks. It’s guaranteed to be the last one of the year.