Series Preview: Yankees (14-11) @ Oakland (12-13)

Which Jose Contreras Will Show Up In Oakland?

Remember all that talk about sleeping giants? Well, good morning sirs. The Yankees have won six straight games behind, of all things, their pitching. The hitting is coming around ever so slowly as well. The Bombers bring their new and shiny winning record to the West Coast for a six-game road trip that starts with a three-game set at Oakland. The Athletics were the victims of a sweep the last time these two teams met.

Some numbers you might be interested in.  During the current six-game win streak, the Yankees have outscored their opponents 43-22.  Over the last five games of the streak, the winning pitchers have all been the starter for the Yankees, marking the first time that all of the starters have won on the same trip through the rotation.  The Yankees are hitting a lofty .311 over the span as well, and are averaging ten hits per game.  Quite the turnaround from the first part of the season.

After losing six straight, Oakland rebounded nicely with a series victory over the Devil Rays, though Tim Hudson's meltdown in the third game of the series may have shocked them.  Oakland has had trouble scoring runs all season, partly due to the fact that their only non-slumping hitter is Jermaine Dye.  Over their last nine games, they're averaging just 3.7 runs per game.

The Yankees swept Oakland out of the Bronx just last week, and not much has changed since then.  Except that the Yankees might actually be hotter than they were before.  The win streak, coupled with Boston's four-game losing streak, has left the Yanks just a game out of first place.  I'm sure a taste of the top of the mountain would feel good for George Steinbrenner right about now.  What say we give it to him?

Yankees Road Record: 5-6
Oakland Home Record: 4-5

2004 Series Results: Yankees lead 3-0

Key Matchups:  Alex Rodriguez vs. Barry Zito: 9/46, 15 strikeouts... Derek Jeter vs. Zito:  8/20, 1.129 OPS... John Flaherty vs. Zito: 3/12, 3 homeruns...  Rodriguez vs. Rich Harden: 0/3, 2 strikeouts... Jeter vs. Mark Mulder: 8/22, .800 OPS... Jason Giambi vs. Mulder: 4/10, 4 RBI... Mark Kotsay vs. Kevin Brown: 5/26... Bobby Kielty vs. Jose Contreras: 3/6, 1.738 OPS... Mark Kotsay vs. Javier Vazquez: 5/26, .569 OPS... Damian Miller vs. Vazquez: 5/13, homerun, two doubles.

Probable Pitchers:

Tuesday: Jose Contreras (1-2, 7.41) vs. Mark Mulder (2-2, 3.00)
Contreras turned in his only performance of the season that could be qualified as "good" in his last start against these same Athletics.  It's beginning to look like Contreras will be a bottom-feeder, only able to beat the teams that can't hit.  Just look at what Boston has done to him.

Mulder's last start was the only one that didn't fit into the Quality Start category, and it just barely missed.  He's made a name for himself as a model of consistency, but the Yankees showed they could beat him last time out.

Wednesday: Kevin Brown (4-0, 2.70) vs. Barry Zito (2-3, 6.83)
Brown was just named AL Pitcher of the Month for April, after his blistering start.  He handled Oakland in his last go, notching a win while allowing four runs on seven hits.  One interesting tidbit is that Brown has allowed either no walks or four walks in each of his start, nothing inbetween.

The Yankees continued to give Zito fits this season, and he's now allowed 15 runs over his last two starts, all earned.  This hardly looks like the Zito that won the Cy Young award two seasons ago, but he did strikeout nine batters in his last start.  So something's working.

Thursday: Javier Vazquez (3-2, 2.55) vs. Rich Harden (0-2, 4.37)
Vazquez has been brilliant so far this year, allowing more than two runs in a start just once.  His last outing was an absolute gem, where he allowed just two hits over eight innings against the Royals.  Vazquez has been everything the Yankees have wanted so far, and now he gets a crack at the A's.

Harden hasn't progressed as quickly as the A's were hoping, and he's still experiencing growing pains.  That said, he is a very talented pitcher with tons of potential.  This will be his first start against the Yankees, so if he can just keep the walk totals down, he should be okay.

Predictions and Prognostications:
Call me crazy, but I don't see the machine slowing down just yet.  Brown and Vazquez have been too consistently good to stop now, so the only serious threat of a hiccup is Contreras.  The big Cuban has shown the ability to dominate when he's on, so the only question will be if he's on or not.  I'll hope that he is, but Mulder might just beat him regardless.  Yanks take two of three.

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