So the Yankees take on the cellar-dwelling Indians at home for a four-game Memorial Weekend extravaganza, playing a significantly inferior team for the first time in nearly a month, when they swept the Orioles from May 3rd through 5th. Sure, one could make the argument that the Mets fell into that category, but even when the Mets are struggling they seldom roll over and die for the Yankees, and so I am choosing not to count last weekend's series.
The Yankees were sitting pretty at 19-8 after that Baltimore series, but as we all know have stumbled since then, going 9-11 over their last 20 games.
The Indians are having a rough season, and currently hold the second-worst record in the American League, bettering only those lovable O's. You really can't ever call a four-game sweep, but if the Yanks were ever going to pull one off, this would be the series to do it in. I will calibrate my expectations at three out of four and be pleasantly surprised with a sweep. Truthfully, even splitting this series would be unacceptable. If they were in Cleveland, a split would be a bit more understandable, but not at home (where they are tied for the second-best record in all of baseball) against a Major League-caliber Indians squad.
In tonight's game Fausto Carmona (3.45 ERA; 4.04 FIP; 4.79 xFIP) takes on Phil Hughes (2.72 ERA; 3.00 FIP; 3.81 xFIP). Carmona had something of a breakout year in 2007 (3.06 ERA; 3.94 FIP), although a quick glance at his peripherals show that he wasn't that dominating (5.73 K/9; .247 BAA), but it sure felt like it that season. I think it was mostly the 2.55 BB/9 rate (18th-best in the Majors that year) that propelled his success.
Since then Carmona's failed to replicate that level of effectiveness, though he seems to have regained some of his 2007 form this season, and is easily the best starter the Yankees will see all weekend. Carmona represents the Indians' best chance at a win, although he'll have to do it against Hughes, who -- though he's struggled some in his last two outings -- has still been one of the Yankees' two best starters this season. I expect Hughes will get back on track against a weak Indians lineup.
In the first of three straight matinees, David Huff (5.25 ERA; 6.16 FIP; 5.70 xFIP) opposes CC Sabathia (3.86 ERA; 4.65 FIP; 4.08 xFIP) on Saturday afternoon. I've never heard of Huff, but based on the numbers it sounds like the Yankees should chew him up. A 6.16 FIP over nearly 50 innings is pretty ugly. Sabathia had what may have been his worst outing of the season last Sunday against the Mets, but he and Dave Eiland reviewed tape and found (and apparently corrected) a mechanical flaw. Unless Sabathia absolutely implodes, it's hard to envision a scenario in which the Indians win a game started by David Huff, whoever that is, against CC Sabathia. Of course, if the Yankee offense continues to be located on the side of a milk carton, I suppose anything could happen.
In Sunday's game, Justin Masterson (6.13 ERA; 4.17 FIP; 3.84 xFIP) takes on A.J. Burnett (3.55 ERA; 3.83 FIP; 4.34 xFIP). According to Yankees.com, Masterson hasn't notched a win since Aug. 20, 2009, losing 11 consecutive decisions. Oof. He also has a 1.89 WHIP and a .386 average against when facing lefties. It looks like he may be pitching into a bit of bad luck given that his FIP and xFIP are outperforming his ERA, but this would still appear to be a pretty big mismatch in favor of the Yankees.
And in the finale, the Indians trot out another no-name, Mitch Talbot (3.73 ERA; 5.22 FIP; 5.02 xFIP) vs. Andy Pettitte (2.62 ERA; 3.74 FIP; 4.18 xFIP). Talbot had been in the Rays' system, but if Tampa dumped him for a backup catcher that clearly doesn't speak very highly of the righthander. Despite a deceptively low ERA, his peripherals are terrible (3.58 K/9; 3.58 BB/9; 1.19 HR/9), and he's accrued them in more innings (60.1) than fellow rotationmate Huff. On the flipside, Andy Pettitte has been nothing short of astonishing this season, and he should be able to carve a lineup like the one the Indians are trotting out up.
The most dangerous hitter on the team is Shin-Soo Choo, currently boasting an impressive .398 wOBA, followed by a resurgent Austin Kearns and his .375 wOBA (seriously, where'd this come from? He hasn't hit that well since his rookie year in 2002) and Travis Hafner, who's getting on base a ton (.400 OBP) but not hitting for much power (.430 SLG). Aside from those three no one else is wOBAing above .340.
On paper these matchups are a veritable bloodbath, as Cleveland's rotation -- aside from Carmona -- is a nightmare.
Here's how the Yankees have fared against the Indians in the unbalanced schedule era:
The Yankees have had a grand old time against Cleveland at home, and even sport a strong record on the road. Sadly, the only games that really stick out for me are the two historically bad losses, in which the Indians dropped 20-plus runs on the Yanks, both times coming at the Stadium (the latter of which I had the joyful misfortune of attending).
Here are the two teams' offense and pitching numbers:
Wow, the Indians' pitching staff apparently sucks even more than I realized. Dead last in K/9, BB/9, WHIP and FIP, and second-to-last in BAA and xFIP. If the Yankees were ever to come out of their latest offensive slumber, now would be the time -- the Yankees are still getting on base better than anyone, and the Indians allow more baserunners than anyone.
Scratch my previous prediction; after reviewing these team stats anything less than a sweep is going to have to be considered a disappointment.
For a look at how the opposition views us, be sure to check out The B-List Indians Blog.
Photo courtesy of the AP.