Last season, the Yankees didn't see the White Sox until August 26th, now
they're going to see them before any team without a fish on their logo.
The White Sox are a confusing team, for the most part. Their pitching
staff is either in total shambles or solid, depending on who you ask (and what
they think about Esteban Loaiza), while their lineup features two of the most
feared hitters in the league - Magglio Ordonez and Frank Thomas - and not much
else. Any way you slice it, Chicago can do some damage if opposing
pitchers aren't careful.
We haven't been able to get a full feel for the Yankees yet, considering only
two starters have taken the mound and Mike Mussina isn't really this bad - we
hope. How Vazquez and Contreras - and DePaula to a lesser extent - perform
in these initial outings will give us some insight as to how the Yankee season
is going to shape up. If both pitchers answer the call and shape up to be
the kinds of pitchers they can be, it's going to be a long season for the rest
of the American League.
Things to expect: The Stadium will be electric with the home debuts of
Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield and Vazquez... I wouldn't put it past Hideki Matsui to
hit another well-timed homerun at some point in game one... Vazquez is the real
deal, look for strikeouts early and often... Pay careful attention to Jorge DePaula, he has a real chance of sticking around... Mussina needs to start
getting his game in order, or it's going to be along season for him (and his
fantasy owners)... OF Carlos Lee already has two homeruns for the Sox and has
Thursday: Javier Vazquez vs. Scott Schoenweis
The much-anticipated debut of Vazquez will happen Thursday afternoon in New
York. The acquisition of Vazquez will turn out to be way more important
than A-Rod or Sheffield - possibly even combined - for the Yankees. It's
pitching that wins championships, and Yankee fans will be holding their breath
that Vazquez doesn't turn into "Jeff Weaver: The Sequel".
Schoenweis spent all of last season in the bullpen, and was 1-2 with a 9.31 ERA
in five spring starts. He's talented, for sure, and should have been in
the rotation last year, but he isn't going to wow anyone. Bernie Williams
is a career .538 hitter against Schoenweis in 13 at bats, with a 1.416 OPS.
Friday: Jose Contreras vs. Jon Garland
Contreras was filthy this spring, striking out 30 batters in just 19.1
innings pitched. He's another key to the Yankees' success this season, and
questions about his ability to start 30-35 games in a season need to be
Garland is about as average as starting pitchers get. Unimpressive
strikeout numbers, a .260 opponent's batting average in '03, and almost
completely average numbers straight across the board. One number that's
not average is A-Rod's 1.158 OPS against him in 16 at bats. John Flaherty
might get his first start of the year in this game, since he hits Garland like a
drum (1.181 OPS against).
Saturday: Jorge DePaula vs. Dan Wright
Joe Torre announced that DePaula would get this start over Donovan Osborne
just recently, negating what was previously believed. DePaula clearly has
more potential than the veteran Osborne, and he looked excellent in his lone
start against the Mets last year. This will be just the second
major-league start in the 25-year-old's career.
Wright probably wouldn't start for a lot of the teams in the majors, and his 1-7
record and 6.15 ERA last year do nothing to refute that. He's got a
knuckle curveball, however, that is a good out pitch. He just needs to set
it up better, apparently.
Sunday: Mike Mussina (0-2, 11.00) vs. Mark Buehrle (0-0, 2.70)
Moose is probably praying that the old "third time's a charm"
saying holds true for this start. He's been sitting on 199 wins since last
season, and the Yankees absolutely need him to pitch like he's capable of and
turn in a Moose-like performance. That 11 ERA looks like it should be next
to Jose Mesa's name, not Mike Mussina's.
Buehrle is the de facto ace of the White Sox staff, now that Bartolo Colon has
gone off to greener pastures. He won 19 games just two years ago, and
wasn't as bad as his numbers may indicate in 2003. His plummeting
strikeout numbers don't speak very highly, but Buehrle's as close to a real
challenge as the White Sox are going to be bringing out for this series.
Predictions and Prognostications:
In a perfect world, Vazquez would be brilliant in his Yankee debut, and Mike
Mussina will pitch his behind off to make fans forget his first two
starts. I'm going to pencil those two things in for now. Saturday's
game could be a shootout - any of these games could, actually - and I'll go
ahead and predict at least one double-figures game for each team. Sunday
has a good chance of being a good-old-fashioned pitcher's duel. Bold
Prediction: Yankees take three of four.
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