The Yankees look to bounce back from a lackluster series against the Mariners this past week with a stronger performance against the Toronto Blue Jays. The last time these two teams met they were heading in different directions. The Blue Jays were surging, prompting some baseball fans to ask if the team was for real, while the Yankees were in 2nd place and just a hair above .500. The Jays took 2 of 3 from the Yankees in Canada, including a victory in a 14 inning game in which Joe Girardi refused to put Mariano Rivera on the mound. This time around the Yankees sit atop the AL East, and all of baseball, while the Blue Jays have fallen out of contention.
A.J. Burnett looks to continue his slide into oblivion against Brett Cecil in the opener. Enough energy has been spent on Burnett's turn for the horrendous of late. We've been treated to a variety of excuses for A.J.'s struggles, including Dave Eiland's absence and Jorge Posada's subpar defense. Today some of those excuses are missing. Eiland is back, it's a day game, and Burnett is at home. So far this season A.J. has done much better in Yankee Stadium or in the sunlight. At home his ERA is 3.46 and his BAA is .260, versus 6.51 and .304 respectively on the road. During day games his ERA is 3.24 and his BAA is .258, versus 5.97 and .296 at night. The conditions point either to A.J. turning it around, or small sample sizes.
If A.J. struggles, the Yankee bats may have a hard time against Brett Cecil. They managed only one run against him the last time the team played the Blue Jays, and Cecil is a solid young pitcher. He comes in with a 4.39 ERA (3.68 FIP, 4.02 xFIP) and a 1.16 WHIP. The Yankees do perform better the 2nd time they face a pitcher, so the real x-factor here may be what they get from A.J. Until he gives us reason to believe he's on the mend the safe bet is to assume he'll be tossing out more of the same. I could see the Yankees putting 3 or 4 against Cecil, but still failing to dig themselves out of the hole Burnett digs for them in a loss in the series opener.
Tomorrow the Yankees send Andy Pettitte (2.72 ERA, 3.76 FIP, 4.04 xFIP) against young Blue Jay stud Ricky Romero (2.83 ERA, 3.20 FIP, 3.43 xFIP) in a rematch of the 14 inning marathon game from early June. Both pitchers were dominant in the last matchup. Pettitte went 7.2 innings, allowing only 2 while Romero went 8, also allowing only 2. I'm calling the Yankees in this one. Romero remains a strong pitcher, but the Bombers seem to do better against a pitcher once they've faced him. They also come out strong for Andy, who'll be looking to get his 10th win, and the team plays better at home. This has 5-3, late inning abuse of the opposing bullpen written all over it.
In the 4th of July game Phil Hughes (3.58 ERA, 3.39 FIP, 3.95 xFIP) faces Brandon Morrow (4.50 ERA, 3.44 FIP, 3.90 xFIP). This looks to be a fairly even pitching matchup, with a slight edge going to the Yankees, just as I believe a slight edge will go to the Yankees in the game. I find it hard to believe that Hughes will struggle again after his rough outing. I also struggle to imagine the Yankees dropping 2 series at home. I predict the team pulls out a close one.
Offensively the Yankees still trot out the 2nd best lineup in the game, no matter what it may seem like. The team's .351 wOBA is 2nd best in all of baseball behind only the pitching and defense oriented Red Sox. The Blue Jays are well off the mark, posting a .324 wOBA.
The power numbers, however, tell a different story. The Blue Jays can hit the long ball, leading all of baseball with 115 bombs this year. That's 10 ahead of the 2nd place Red Sox (there's that pitching and defense again). The Yankees, on the other hand, may be 6th overall, but don't figure into the equation, having hit only 88 round-trippers on the season. For the record, the Jays also hit more doubles than the Yankees, leading the Pinstripes 168 to 135 in that category.
I predict an interesting series, one that will play fairly close in all 3 games, but I fail to imagine the Jays stealing more than 1 game, simply because of how well the Yankees play at home and the team's recent history against pitchers it has seen before. A.J.'s start today seems like an easy bet for the lone loss.