The Angels come to New York tonight for a quick, two game set. On the surface this series doesn't seem important. The Yankees could lose both games and retain a lead in the division. Looking deeper, however, reveals that it will be important to see how the team responds to its first major injury this season. True, Curtis Granderson, Nick Johnson and Jorge Posada have all missed (or continue to miss) time this year, but the 2010 Yankees have thrived on their pitching, with Andy Pettitte at its core. The rest of the guys need to step up.
Scott Kazmir has been scratched from Tuesday's game. The lefty has struggled this year, and was put on the DL with shoulder fatigue. The Angels have yet to announce who will pitch in his place. The early reports suggest either Trevor Bell (6.38 ERA) or Sean O'Sullivan (1.29 ERA, but in only 7 innings pitched) will take the mound for LA. Who? The Yankees have never faced either pitcher, which can only mean one thing: The Yankees will make the rookie look like 1969 Tom Seaver.
Phil Hughes will make his first start for the Yankees since he took the loss in the All-Star game. Hughes has been so-so in July, after his rocky June but excellent April and May. With Pettitte on the shelf for a while the Yankees will need Phil to rediscover the form he showed early in the season.
Wednesday's game is a matinee, featuring Joel Piniero for the Angels and Javier Vazquez for the Yankees. Pineiro has been solid this year, and embarrassed the Bombers in his April start at the stadium. Offensively this game could go either way. Victory probably hinges on which Javy will show up - the one who was miserable against the Angels in April, or the pitcher who has been lights out in June and July? Vazquez hasn't pitched since his July 10th outing against Seattle. Hopefully the time off hasn't affected his mechanics. The Yankees can't afford to have him fall out of rhythm.
This series seems difficult to predict. The Angels are a .500 team this year, and are only 2-8 in the new Yankee Stadium, including the post season. The Yankees, meanwhile, look to be clicking offensively. However, the teams woes against new pitchers and Pineiro could make things difficult. For the moment it looks like a probable split, with the Bombers winning the first but losing the second, but it could just as easily break in either direction. Tampa Bay gets to pound Baltimore, so hopefully the Yankees can continue to win.