The Yankees (78-49, tied for first in the AL East) head to Chicago (69-58, 2nd in the AL Central) for the first and only time this season, as they face the White Sox in their last AL Central series of the year. Last time these two teams squared off was the end of April/beginning of May, and the Yankees took two of three at home. The lone loss was a Home Run Javy special, although Andy Pettitte might have lost his start as well if he hadn't been bailed out by what may have been Derek Jeter's biggest game of the year. Phil Hughes, who won't pitch this weekend, had the best outing of the weekend against the ChiSox. In fact, none of the pitchers the Yankees threw against the Sox last time out will be facing them this time around.
Though the White Sox almost certainly think they're still in the playoff hunt, barring a Minnesota collapse there's little chance they'll make it. The 3.5-game gap certainly isn't insurmountable, but the Twins are just better than the White Sox. That being said, the White Sox aren't exactly a bad team, and much to the detriment of the Yankee offense they feature two of the top ten starters in the American League in John Danks (4.1 WAR, 6th-best) and Gavin Floyd (3.9, 8th-best). Not only are the pitching match-ups unfavorable to the Yankees yet again, but we all know what tends to happen to the Yankees' bats when facing elite starters, so this could be another frustrating three-game set.
In tonight's game A.J. Burnett (4.80 ERA; 4.79 FIP; 4.70 xFIP), fresh off a full week's rest, gets Freddy Garcia (5.08 ERA; 4.98 FIP; 4.65 xFIP). Burnett may be having a lousy year, but Garcia appears to be the Sox's version of Burnett, so it's anyone's guess as to what happens in this one. The Yankees better do whatever they can to get to Garcia -- who they were able to tag for four runs in six innings back on April 30 -- as the next two games aren't going to be pretty.
The second game features a beauty of a pitching match-up, CC Sabathia (3.02 ERA; 3.59 FIP; 3.88 xFIP) vs. John Danks (3.31 ERA; 3.37 FIP; 4.05 xFIP). Sabathia hasn't seen the Sox this year while Danks held the Yankees to two runs in five innings last time out, though they seemed close to breaking through several times. Sabathia's been the rock of the Yankee rotation all year, and should be well-equipped to handle the Sox with an extra day of rest and having only thrown 76 pitches during his last start. Danks is having a great year, but I expect CC and the Yanks to prevail.
The finale has Ivan Nova (2.16 ERA; 4.06 FIP; 3.98 xFIP) making his second career start against Gavin Floyd (3.91 ERA; 3.40 FIP; 3.76 xFIP). Nova impressed in his debut, an outing that many felt Joe Girardi may have ended prematurely. Floyd's having a remarkable year, and hasn't faced the Yankees since last July, when he hurled 7 2/3 innings of one-run ball while racking up 10 strikeouts, good for a .362(!) WPA. Eek. I suppose that's better than the Yankees having never seen Floyd at all, but if last year's much-higher-powered offense got that shut down, I can't say I have a ton of optimism in this year's lighter-hitting group doing much better. This game likely goes to the White Sox.
Here are the two teams' offense and pitching numbers (click on the image for a larger version):
The White Sox on the whole are actually a better team than I initially thought. They boast a top-five offense (with a better team wOBA than the Rays) and have a pretty stellar pitching staff, with the 2nd-best overall FIP in the AL. They're certainly not going to let you beat them with the home run, as they give up the least bombs per nine of all 14 teams. The ChiSox bullpen in particular is very strong, with the best K/9 and second-best FIP in the league.
Despite losing two of three to the Jays, the Yankees quietly crept back into the top wOBA slot, so that's always nice to see. The Yankee bullpen, as we all know, has been quite good and arguably the best in the AL during the last month, posting a 1.87 ERA and 3.59 FIP.
Overall the Yankees and White Sox match-up pretty closely, with the Yankees having the edge on offense while Chicago probably has a slight advantage with its overall pitching numbers. The Yankees are a better team and should take two of three, but it wouldn't be surprising to see a series loss here, especially with Danks and Floyd on back-to-back days. Of course, the scale could tip even further in Chicago's direction if they do end up pulling off a trade for Manny Ramirez, who as we all know has treated the Yankees as his personal batting practice pitcher throughout his career.