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October 10, 2012

Playoff Prospectus

ALDS Game Three Preview: Orioles at Yankees

by Matthew Kory

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Game Two, a one-run game, went the Orioles’ way. Well. You’d never have guessed. Now we have a tied series, and the question becomes, how can the Yankees get and hold a two-run lead? Here are your PECOTA odds and the projected starting lineups for Game Three:

Orioles (Miguel Gonzalez) at Yankees (Hiroki Kuroda) – 7:30 p.m. EST

PECOTA Odds of Winning: Yankees 62.0 percent, Orioles 36.6 percent, Ross Perot 0.0 percent.

Projected Starting Lineups:

Yankees vs. Gonzalez (R)

Orioles vs. Kuroda (R)

Derek Jeter (R)

Nate McLouth (L)

Ichiro Suzuki (L)

J.J. Hardy (R)

Alex Rodriguez (R)

Chris Davis (L)

Robinson Cano (L)

Adam Jones (R)

Nick Swisher (S)

Matt Wieters (S)

Mark Teixeira (S)

Jim Thome (L)

Curtis Granderson (L)

Mark Reynolds (R)

Russell Martin (R)

Manny Machado (R)

Eric Chavez (L)

Ryan Flaherty (L)

*Update* Replaced Raul Ibanez with Eric Chavez, which reduced the Yankees' odds of winning by 1.4 percent.

The common thread here is, of course, the Red Sox, who jettisoned Gonzalez after the 2011 season when he posted a 6.17 ERA in Double-A Portland, and who couldn’t afford (or chose not to afford) the certitude of excellence that one year of Kuroda offered. But on to more pressing matters.

Facing the Yankees on the road might not be the big disadvantage for Gonzalez that you would automatically conclude (what have I told you about automatically concluding things?). His road ERA is 1.34 lower than in the friendly-ish confines of what up until this season had been called Yankee Stadium South. Both times Gonzalez faced the Yankees this season came in New York, and he went 2-0 with a 2.63 ERA, holding them to a .196/.212/.373 slash line.

Kuroda has also faced his opponents twice, once on April 30 and once more on August 31. He posted numbers similar to those of Gonzalez: a 2.93 ERA against, with Baltimore getting to him to the tune of .231/.250/.346. Remarkably, considering Baltimore’s perpetual roster turnover (next thing you know, they’ll call up Steve Balboni), five members of the starting lineup Kuroda faced in late April are still on the team and will be waiting for him today. As for direct contact, the two have faced each other once this season, with Kuroda’s previously mentioned start on August 31 coming against Gonzalez. Kuroda came out on the short end after giving up four runs in 8 1/3 innings to Gonzalez’s seven shutout innings.

In a way, Gonzalez is the Orioles, a nobody pitcher who, when given the chance on the big stage, played better than ever before and certainly better than could reasonably have expected of him. Contrast that with Kuroda, the star pitcher who took the expensive ($10 million) one-year contract to come to New York to win a championship. In a way the Orioles are the Yankees’ best-case scenario for achieving that championship, and in another real way, they are their perfect nightmare.

The big news out of New York, other than their train failing them as they tried to escape Baltimore at 2 AM, was the potential move of perennial failure and future Hall of Famer Alex Rodriguez from the three-hole in the lineup. There will inevitably be comparisons to Joe Torre’s panicked dropping of A-Rod to the eighth spot in the elimination game of the 2006 Division Series versus Detroit. Shockingly moving the team’s star player out of the middle of the lineup didn’t work that time, and the Yankees lost 8-3, but this situation is different. For one thing, this isn’t an elimination game and, more importantly, this isn’t the same Alex Rodriguez. Seriously. Skin cells take seven years to turn over completely, so this Rodriguez is different. Also, he’s older and not as good a hitter.*

Matchup of the Game: Nick Swisher versus Miguel Gonzalez: 0-for-6, five strikeouts. In such a limited sample, it’s probably foolish to look for patterns, but I didn’t let that stop me. To the extent that any patterns exist, it seems Swisher has trouble with Gonzalez’s changeup, often chasing it out of the zone after falling behind on the fastball. Just about every (all six, I know) at-bat features a Swisher swing-and-miss on Gonzalez’s change. The one non-strikeout was an infield pop up.

On paper—where as we all know, games are played—this is a mismatch in favor of the Yankees, who are at home, with a star pitcher on the mound, facing an upstart team starting a minor-league cast-off. Yet that scenario comes close to describing the Orioles’ entire season. Who’s to say they can’t keep the mojo going one more day, one more series? Other than PECOTA, I mean.

*While Rodriguez’s struggles are keeping him in the spotlight, Orioles owner Peter Angelos is staying out of it. How, you ask? By being featured on the front page of Baltimore’s major newspaper, of course!

I’m not sure if this is a commentary on Angelos, on what Angelos thinks of our deductive powers ([picks up paper] “Guess that guy’s staying out of the spotlight.”), or on the newspaper industry in general (“Hmm… where to hide… Ah ha! The front page of my city’s newspaper of record! Nobody will find me there!”). In any case, if the Orioles pull this series out, you can expect to not see lots more of Angelos as he struggles to avoid all the press his press office lines up for him.

Matthew Kory is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Matthew's other articles. You can contact Matthew by clicking here

Related Content:  Playoffs,  Yankees,  Orioles

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