The Yankees are in the desert for a three-game set starting tonight against the franchise that beat them in seven games in the heartbreaking 2001 World Series. The 2010 Diamondbacks are obviously a completely different ballclub, but it's hard not to think about a trip to Phoenix without dredging up that painful memory.
A.J. Burnett (4.33 ERA; 4.62 FIP; 4.60 xFIP) faces longtime Yankee punching bag Rodrigo Lopez (4.70 ERA; 4.90 FIP; 4.58 xFIP) in the opener in the battle of who can suck slightly less. Did you know Lopez was still kicking around the Bigs? I sure as heck didn't. It seems like ages ago Lopez was the "ace" of the Orioles, and while he would occasionally author a shutdown game against the Yanks, I seem to recall the team getting the better of Lopez more often than not. The numbers would appear to support this, as the Yankees have a .294/.358/.524 career line in 126.2 career innings against Lopez, which is the second-most innings he's thrown against any team in the Majors. Burnett was horrendous in his last outing, and after a spectacular start to the season is now pitching like most of the preseason projection systems expected he would. Despite Burnett's struggles, I like the Yankees in this one.
In the middle game Andy Pettitte (2.47 ERA; 3.79 FIP; 4.06 xFIP) takes on D-Back ace Dan Haren (4.71 ERA; 4.10 FIP; 3.43 xFIP). Haren doesn't appear to be having quite the kind of season we've come to expect from him, although it looks like he's been much better in June (2.96 ERA; 2.91 FIP). As you know, Pettitte's been ridiculous for the Yanks this year, although as far as the pitching matchups go this is Arizona's best bet to pick up a win.
And Javier Vazquez (5.01 ERA; 5.14 FIP; 4.52 xFIP) -- who has quietly been pitching rather well for the Yankees over the past month -- opposes former wunderkind Dontrelle Willis (4.20 ERA; 5.80 FIP; 6.20 xFIP), who has battled a wide variety of struggles during the past few seasons and hasn't really been an effective starting pitcher since 2006. This of course means he will dominate the Yankees. Kidding aside, Willis has been so-so for Arizona in three starts although hasn't given much length. I'm always concerned about Home Run Javy against a home run happy team, but if he can keep the ball in the park there's no reason to expect anything but an effective outing from Vazquez.
Here's how the Yanks have fared against the Diamondbacks historically:
Not a ton of regular season history between these teams, although I'd be surprised if our wonderful YES broadcasters didn't remind us at least once that Marcus Thames hit a home run on the first pitch he saw in his first career Major League at-bat against future Hall-of-Famer Randy Johnson back in 2002, even though neither player will be active in this series.
And here are the two teams' offense and pitching numbers:
Both teams can hit, even if the Yankees haven't quite flexed their offensive muscles the way we're used to during the past week. Falling behind Boston (.359) in team wOBA is particularly distressing, and it'd be great to see cleanup hitter Alex Rodriguez finally start hitting some home runs again.
The decisive factor in this series is pitching. The Yankees continue to be in the top third of the AL in most of the major pitching categories, while the D-Backs' arms are terrible -- as evidenced by their worst-in-the-NL HR/9, BAA, ERA and FIP -- and the bullpen has been the worst in baseball.
I know the Diamondbacks can hit, but on paper this appears to be a gift three-game set. The Yankees really have to take two of three in Arizona, especially since Boston's going to go 91-0 the rest of the way.