Series Preview: Yankees (30-19) vs Orioles (24-23)

Hideki Matsui hit .444 during the road trip.

After soundly thrashing the Baltimore Orioles just a few days ago on their home turf, the Yankees kick off a 12-game home stand by hosting the O's. The Yanks just finished taking a three-game series from the Devil Rays, and the Orioles have won four straight after dropping their previous seven in a row.

The Yankees just put the finishing touches on a long 12-game road trip, over which they went 8-4.  Some Yankees probably are sad to see the trip end, as they had officially reached "en fuego" status during the span.  Hideki Matsui hit .444 over the last 12 games to raise his average all the way up to .320, and he's walking more than he is striking out.  Yankees 2B Enrique Wilson has set a new career high with four home runs and is hitting .333 over his last nine games, with a whopping 15 RBI.  In fact, his 22 RBI are third most among AL second basemen, and he has 91 fewer at bats than Alfonso Soriano, who is second with 29.

The Yankee bats definitely caught fire during the road trip. They averaged 7.3 runs per game and scored 41 of those runs just against Baltimore, whom they now face.

Baltimore, meanwhile, probably has baseball's hottest hitter in Melvin Mora.  Mora is currently hitting .384 and just finished hitting .402 for the month of May.  He is also riding a 13-game hit streak, over which he is hitting a mind-boggling .421.  The rest of the Orioles are just as hot over the last week, with eight regular position players batting over .290, including B.J. Surhoff's .500 batting average.  But Baltimore's pitching has been equally as atrocious, with a 7.71 ERA over the same span.

Yankees Home Record: 13-7        Last 10: 7-3
Orioles Road Record: 12-10        Last 10: 4-6

2004 Series: Yankees lead, 3-0

Key Matchups:  Jeter vs. Ponson: 16/48, three home runs... Rodriguez vs. Ponson: 9/41, four home runs... Posada vs. DuBose: 3/7, home run... Tejada vs. Mussina: 9/23, three home runs... Palmeiro vs. Contreras: 2/3, home run... Lopez vs. Vazquez: 7/30, 12 strikeouts.

Probable Pitchers:

Tuesday: Sidney Ponson (3-5, 6.09) vs. Mike Mussina (5-4, 5.00)
Ponson was last seen being thrashed by these same Yankees for eight runs over just 4.2 innings.  It's not fun to start twice in a row against a team that you can't pitch well against, so I doubt Ponson is looking forward to this outing.  At least Yankee Stadium isn't the hitter's park that Camden Yards is.

Mussina continues to boggle the mind, seeming to alternate great starts with awful ones.  Baltimore touched him up for five runs in 5.1 innings in his last start, ending a four-start win streak.  Mussina still hasn't lost a game since April 22, but he's not really instilling confidence in the hearts of the Yankee faithful.

Wednesday: Eric DuBose (4-3, 4.74) vs. Jose Contreras (2-2, 6.97)
DuBose avoided the Yankee machine during the last series, and drew the Tigers instead, where he earned a five-inning, three-run victory to improve to a winning record.  DuBose, though inconsistent, has been arguably Baltimore's best starting pitcher this season.  Not exactly something to be proud of.

Contreras has finally put together two solid starts in a row, and now has a 3.00 ERA over his last two starts.  One of those starts was a win against these Orioles, a game in which he allowed three runs over six innings.  Both of those starts were on the road however, let's see if he's ready for Yankee Stadium.

Thursday: Daniel Cabrera (3-1, 4.15) vs. Javier Vazquez (5-4, 3.88)
Cabrera has been solid since joining the team earlier in May and, excluding a poor start against Anaheim, has even been good.  One alarming sign is that he's walked more guys (12) than he has struck out (9), and a 1.66 WHIP is never good for anyone.  I'd say he's in for some trouble against a patient, hot-hitting team like the Yankees.

I read somewhere that Vazquez leads the AL in hits allowed per nine innings, and he is also holding opponents to a stiny .208 batting average.  It just doesn't feel like he has been that dominant though.  The case could be made that Vazquez has been the Yankees' best starter so far, and I would probably argue for it.

Predictions and Prognostications:
I'm not going to call for the sweep here, for several reasons.  First, Baltimore is hitting the ball as well as the Yankees are at the moment, so I'm expecting some slugfests, which can really go anyone's way.  Second, I have no idea if Contreras is ready to pitch in Yankee Stadium again.  He's looked sharp - a few specific innings notwithstanding - but it's been on the road, not where the real heat is.  So there's a few too many wild cards here.  Let's just go with the Yanks taking two of three.

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