Series Preview: Yankees (35-20) vs Rockies (21-35)

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Interleague Play! That's right, the games right before the All-Star break that have little to no bearing on pennant races against teams that you know nothing about because they play our team so infrequently! Let's face it, Interleague play is a little silly, but it's a nice distraction and gives us a chance to see what's going on in the senior circuit. With that, the Colorado Rockies bring their second-worst record to Yankee Stadium.

The Rockies have never been a truly good team during their not-so-storied 12-season existence, and 2004 is no different.  The Rockies have the second-worst record in the National League, the third-worst overall, and the only thing stopping them from being the worst team in baseball is the fact that Montreal couldn't hit the broad side of a barn with a batted ball.

The reason for the Rockies' struggles is the same as it's always been: they can't pitch.  This current team has an ERA of 6.16, ghastly even for the Rockies.  By comparison, Colorado's team ERA in 2003 was 5.20 which, while still bad, is a whole run lower than this year.  The blame can probably be placed on Colorado's thin air, which has turned even top pitchers into batting-practice "pitchers" (just ask Mike Hampton or Denny Neagle).  Only Joe Kennedy's ERA is respectable at 3.63, but he is in a horrible funk of his own (0-3, 5.18 over his last six starts). 

That being said, the Rockies can hit.  They have the third-most runs in baseball (trailing only Boston and the Yanks, who are tied with the most), they lead the majors in slugging percentage and have the second-most home runs (trailing the Yanks again).  On the road, however, the Rocks are almost as helpless as those woebegotten Expos. They have a .236 batting average away from Coors (third-worst in the majors) and just 101 runs on the road (also third-worst). 

New York, meanwhile, continues to roll.  The only real question on the team these days is what's going to happen with Jose Contreras and the fifth spot in the rotation. Mike Mussina is back in full force, Jason Giambi rejoined the team after an ankle injury and once Derek Jeter and Enrique Wilson (groin pulls) and Gary Sheffield (stomach virus) get back to full health, people can start getting really scared.  The Yanks are absolutely crushing the ball.  They lead the majors in home runs and swatted eight just against the Rangers this weekend.  All but one of those shots was a solo homer though, which implies that the Yanks aren't getting on base.  On the other hand, they are fourth in the majors with a .356 team OBP so all those solo shots mean is that the Yanks timing is a bit off.

Yankees Home Record: 18-8         Last 10: 8-2
Rockies Road Record:   8-19         Last 10: 3-7

Key Matchups:  Burnitz vs. Vazquez: 11/37, five home runs... Castilla vs. Vazquez: 12/27, two home runs... Helton vs. Brown: 9/41, nine strikeouts... Castilla vs. Brown: 8/36, eight strikeouts... Williams vs. Fassero: 7/23, two home runs, eight strikeouts... Giambi vs. Fassero: 7/22, nine strikeouts... Posada vs. Fassero: 5/11, three home runs... Posada vs. Kennedy: 8/21, four doubles... Jeter vs. Kennedy: 9/18, two home runs.

Probable Pitchers:

Tuesday: Jeff Fassero vs. Javier Vazquez
Fassero's last outing wasn't a start, but he got shelled anyway in relief of Kennedy.  He doesn't have a win this season, and he's not pitching well enough to earn one. Opponents are hitting a monstrous .348 against Fassero this season.

Over his last four starts, Vazquez is 3-0 with a 3.11 ERA.  He leads the AL with a .213 opponent's batting average and a 1.04 WHIP ratio.  He's definitely showing us the ace stuff that the Yankees wanted when they dealt Nick Johnson to Montreal, even though he hasn't been as dominant as some would like.  He is 2-2 lifetime against the Rockies.

Wednesday: Joe Kennedy vs. Kevin Brown
As mentioned before, Kennedy is in something of a rut after starting the season 4-0 with a 2.23 ERA.  It's not surprising that a pitcher with Kennedy's history (22-34, 4.80 ERA career numbers) and location (Colorado) would fall back to earth.  He's a talented pitcher, for sure, but he's not anyone's idea of a staff anchor.  A former Devil Ray, Kennedy has a 2-4 career record against the Yankees with a 5.29 ERA.

Brown was hammered by the Rangers in his last outing, surrendering six runs - five earned - in just six innings, but he won the decision anyway.  He's still undefeated at home, but something about him just doesn't look right.  He has an 11-5, 2.90 ERA line against the Rockies over his career.

Thursday: Jason Jennings vs. Jose Contreras
After an awful start, Jennings is on a serious roll.  He hasn't allowed more than three runs in any of his last six starts and is 4-1 with a 3.43 ERA over that span.  His last outing was a rocky one however, as he allowed a whopping seven walks against the Giants.  He won that game anyway, but he can't expect to do that again and get away with it.

Contreras wasn't supposed to pitch until the weekend, but Joe Torre stuck him back in the rotation for unspecified reasons.  Maybe he figures playing the Rockies at home will be like a AAA rehab start or something.  I just don't trust Contreras anymore, and wouldn't mind seeing him traded or allowed to return to Cuba to be with his family - whom he clearly misses.  I guess we'll be taking it one start at a time with him.

Predictions and Prognostications:
The Rockies are a bad, bad team, especially away from Coors Field.  They don't have the pitching to do anything, and they don't hit on the road either.  I'd call for a Yankee sweep here, but the Thursday pitching matchup clearly favors the Rocks.  Jennings is on a roll, and Contreras is in a free fall.  So the Yankees will definitely take two here, but that third one is going to be tricky.

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