(Sports Network) - The New York Yankees begin their quest for a 28th World
Series title on Sunday when they open the American League Division Series
against the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards.
Even though the Yankees finished with the best record in the American League
at 94-68, under the new format they will play the first two games of this
best-of-five series on the road and will cap the set with three games in the
Bronx if needed.
Of course, New York is quite familiar with this Orioles team that is back in
the postseason for the first time since 1997. New York split 18 meetings with
Baltimore and battled for a division title with it all through September
before finally securing the crown on the final day of the regular season.
New York had been in first place since June 11, but thanks to the pesky
Orioles, needed all 162 games to nail down its 12th AL East crown in the last
15 years with a three-game sweep of the Boston Red Sox, coupled with Baltimore
losing two of three to the Tampa Bay Rays.
It's no secret that New York is driven by its offense, an attack that this
year belted a major league-high 245 home runs. Leading the charge is All-Star
second baseman Robinson Cano, who may be the hottest hitter in baseball
entering the playoffs.
Over his last nine games Cano is hitting .615 with three HRs, 14 RBI and seven
doubles. He ended the year hitting .313 with 33 home runs, 94 RBI and 105 runs
scored. His torrid stretch may continue, as he is a .338 hitter against the
Orioles with 24 home runs and 89 RBI in 135 games.
"Robbie is a huge bat for us," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "Absolutely
Cano isn't the only superstar in the Yankees' lineup, as Derek Jeter led the
majors with 216 hits, Curtis Granderson belted 43 home runs and Nick Swisher
also had a productive season. Not to mention first baseman Mark Teixeira
appears healthy after missing most of September with a calf injury.
Ichiro Suzuki has also fit the Yankees' lineup like a glove since being
acquired from Seattle on Aug. 3. In 67 games with the Yankees, Ichiro batted
.322 - 61 points higher than he hit in 95 games with the Mariners - with five
home runs, 27 RBI, 28 runs scored and stole 14 bases.
Then, there is Alex Rodriguez. The three-time AL MVP missed a few months with
a broken wrist, but had one the least productive seasons of his career,
hitting .272 with 18 home runs and 57 RBI.
Plus he hasn't homered since Sept. 14. And of course, the postseason hasn't
been kind to A-Rod, who is just 6-for-39 in his last two series with 10
CC Sabathia will get the call for the Yankees in Game 1 following a down year
by his standards, as Sabathia endured two stints on the disabled list and
ended the season 15-6 with a 3.38 ERA.
Sabathia will also be trying to exorcise some postseason demons of his own.
The big lefty has struggled in his last three playoff series and in last
year's ALDS against Detroit, pitched to a 6.23 ERA in three games (2 starts).
"It's something I'll definitely think about going into tomorrow night,"
Sabathia said. "But it being my last couple of starts going into the
offseason, of course, yeah, that's something that you think about. But it's
been a whole year, I've pitched a whole season since then. I've got more
things to worry about than how I pitched against Detroit last year. I'm going
to take that into tomorrow night, I take the last three or four starts, five
starts that I've had, and just try to build off that."
He was 0-2 in three starts against the Orioles this season, but owns a 16-4
lifetime mark against them with a 3.12 ERA in 25 starts.
"They have a great lineup, and I've faced these guys a lot, and they know what
I am trying to do," Sabathia said."It's just up to me to go out and execute
pitches, and you know, make sure I keep the ball down and get the ball in
where I need to and go out and make pitches."
Closer Rafael Soriano gave the Yankees everything they could have hoped for in
the wake of Mariano Rivera's season-ending ACL injury in May. Soriano saved 42
games and pitched to a 2.26, but has nowhere near the air of invincibility as
Rivera, especially come playoff time, where the all-time saves leader was
close to automatic.
Righties David Robertson and Joba Chamberlain will serve as the main bridges
to Soriano, while Boone Logan and Clay Rapada will be called upon to get
As good as the Yankees bullpen is, it pales in comparison to that of
Baltimore's, which is spearheaded by closer Jim Johnson, who led the majors
with team-record 51 saves. He actually had 10 less strikeouts than he had
Sidewinding Darren O'Day serves as his main setup guy and gives right-handed
hitters fits. Lefty Brian Matusz may have found a home in the bullpen after
struggling as a starter, as Buck Showalter doesn't hesitate to use him against
a lefty in a big spot.
In all, five Orioles pitched in 50 or more games this year, and all five ended
with ERAs between 2.28 and 2.64. Baltimore relievers threw 60 innings from the
10th frame on, and allowed five runs, for a 0.75 ERA.
Quite simply the bullpen is the biggest reason the Orioles posted their first
winning season in 15 years.
It's the reason they went 29-9 in one-run games, the best record in one-run
affairs since 1900. It's the reason they've captured 16 consecutive extra-
inning wins, the longest streak since the 1949 Cleveland Indians won 17 in a
It all added up to a 93-69 finish, the team's first winning record since 1997.
In Friday's wild card win over Texas, Joe Saunders tossed 5 2/3 innings of
one-run ball, while Nate McLouth tallied two RBI and a run scored and the
Orioles won, 5-1.
"He's had two good outings in a row, and felt like if he could get his feet on
the ground, all the emotion around the ballpark, you could see the experience
that he's had play out," Showalter said of Saunders.
The 31-year-old Saunders (1-0), who was 0-6 with a lofty 9.38 ERA in six
career starts at Rangers Ballpark, fanned four, surrendered six hits and
walked one for Baltimore, which is in the postseason for the first time since
"As a baseball player and an athlete, you always want to prove people wrong.
We strive on that, and I strive on that, too," Saunders said. "No one really
gave me a chance, and I wanted to go out there and prove people wrong."
Johnson left the bases loaded in the ninth.
Offensively, the young O's are led by burgeoning superstars Adam Jones and
Matt Wieters. Jones hit .287 with 32 home runs, 82 RBI and 103 runs scored,
while Wieters swatted 23 homers and knocked in 83 runs.
Getting the call for Baltimore in Sunday's Game 1 will be returning right-
hander Jason Hammel, who was the O's best pitcher in the first half before a
knee injury allowed him to make just three starts after the break.
Hammel, who hasn't pitched Sept. 11, won eight of his first 10 decisions, but
ended the year 8-6 with a 3.43 ERA.
"I wasn't trying to force a hand or anything, Hammel said. "Obviously I want
to be a part of this. The guys have done an outstanding job to get us to this
point, and I've only pitched for half the season. That shows a lot of
dedication from a lot of guys to go ahead and me put out there.
"I haven't pitched in a long time, but I'm a professional, I take care of what
I need to do to get ready, and so do the other guys in that clubhouse. We're
going to be ready to go."
For the season, Hammel is 0-1 in three starts against the Bronx Bombers,
though he's turned in a respectable 3.94 ERA.
The Orioles and Yankees are certainly no strangers to one another and in
addition to all the regular season meetings, these teams also met in the 1996
ALCS, a series won by New York, but one that was made famous by the Jeffrey
New York won that series in five games.
The Sports Network