Bring on the (ugh) Nationals
TWO OF THREE…
As with everyone else under the sun, I figured the Yankees could take two of three games from a poorly planned and injury-depleted Mets team, I just figured they would win Game 1 on their own merits and Game 2 by feasting on a journeyman starter before losing Game 3 to one of the best pitchers in baseball. I didn’t figure on them winning Game 1 because a veteran made a Little League misplay, losing game two by being shut down by the fringe-y guy, and then annihilating the Cy Young winner in Game 3. Let’s not even predict what the Yankees might do against the Nats… Then again, it’s sort of my job, so let’s give ‘er a go.
The Nationals are obviously a miserable ballclub, one with a chance to rank with the worst of all time. Their current .262 winning percentage works out to 42-118 over a full season. Just a few teams have been that bad. Here’s the bottom 10 since 1900:
|T10 Red Sox||1932||.279||43||111|
If they continue along their present path, the Nats would slot in right next to the 2003 Tigers. However, the Nationals are not like the 2003 Tigers. Those Tigers couldn’t hit, pitch, or field. The Nats are bad at two out of three, but they have average hitting. They don’t catch the ball, their starting pitching is the worst in the league, allowing nearly six runs per game, and their bullpen may yet prove to be the worst in the history of relief pitching.
That doesn’t necessarily mean the Yankees will get off easy. Their best bet for an easy win is Tuesday, when CC Sabathia takes on the Curacao-born 22-year-old Shairon Martis (with a name like Shairon, I keep thinking he must be Israeli). As the Nationals go, he’s pitched very well, with five quality starts in 12 tries, including a complete game, one-run win over the Cardinals. What works in the Yankees’ favor, particularly because this series is being contested in New York, is that Martis gives up a lot of fly balls and has a low strikeout rate. That suggests the Yankees making good contact and hitting balls in the air, and we know what happens when they do that at home. In addition, two of their three best hitters, Nick Johnson and Adam Dunn, are left-handed, which should be helpful to Mr. Sabathia.
Wednesday’s game has to be rated a toss-up. First, Washington lefty John Lannan can actually pitch. He’s not an extreme ground ball pitcher, but he gets enough of them to keep the ball in the park. On the downside, he doesn’t get a lot of strikeouts, meaning (again) those deadly balls in play. Lefties have also hit him well, slugging .493 against him in his career with a home run every 21.2 at-bats. The Yankees, who list seven left-handers or switch-hitters most days, should be able to do some damage. Unfortunately, much will also depend on whether Chien-Ming Wang can overcome his mechanical difficulties and put in a good start. Thursday’s match-up should again favor the Yankees, as the rookie Craig Stammen will face Joba Chamberlain. Of course, much will depend on Chamberlain throwing strikes. Stammen is no pistol (please pardon the bad horticultural pun), but does have good control. Like Lannon, he has an above-average groundball rate and his strikeout rate is on the low side.
The great thing about the Nationals from the point of view of the opposition is that they can blow a lead at any time. Even if the Yankees trail in these games, they have more than a fair chance at coming back against the bullpen. Their relievers have an aggregate ERA of 5.59. Reliever ERA isn’t the most accurate way to look at bullpen performance, but in this case, it makes a fine proxy for better measures, as it fairly depicts how miserable they’ve been. That should take some pressure off of Wang and Chamberlain — though not all of it, particularly for Wang. One question that arises out of Joe Girardi’s “pitch well or else” edict to Wang is, what about the start after?
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