Series Preview: Orioles (58-67) @ Yankees (78-47)

Due to some interesting scheduling, the Yankees and Orioles are now set to play each other 11 times during the stretch run. Four of those games will come this weekend as these two division "rivals" lock horns in Yankee Stadium. The Yankees swept the O's in a four-game series in Baltimore just last week. The Orioles would surely like to get some revenge, but will they be able to do so against the red-hot Bronx Bombers?

Last week's series between these two teams was surely one that the Orioles would love to forget. They lost all four games, were outscored 27-13, out-homered 8-6 and let's not forget the fabulous baserunning of Jack Cust at the end of Saturday night's game, oh and the little lineup mishap in that same game.

Pretty much everything that could have gone wrong for the Orioles did go wrong in that series, with every single turn of luck going the Yankees way. The Yanks haven't been successful just because of their good fortune however; they're on a seven-game win streak that doesn't show any signs of letting up anytime soon.

The Yanks have been relying on the two things that they were built to do this season: hit and pitch. More specifically, the Yankees' starting pitching has been tremendous lately. The bullpen is a completely different story and Mariano Rivera is having some kind of issue, but during the current streak, Yankee starters are 5-0 with a 3.25 ERA.

Oh, and let's not forget the Yankees' considerable prowess at the dish. Bernie Williams (hitting .447 with nine RBI in his last ten games) and Karim Garcia (.714, three homers, seven RBI in his last four games) are particularly hot at the moment. Jorge Posada (.412, 3 HR over last 10 days) and Derek Jeter (11-game hit streak) are also on tears. What this all leads up to are big cushions for the bullpen to attempt to hold onto.

Yankee fans had better get used to seeing the Orioles players, because this series is only the beginning.

Yankee Home Record: 36-24
Orioles Road Record: 26-35

Probable Pitchers:

Friday: Pat Hentgen (4-6, 4.42) vs. David Wells (12-3, 3.91)

Hentgen started the now-infamous Cust game last week and was denied a decision because of the bullpens. He left the game with a lead and could have won, but alas it was not to be. Hentgen lasted six innings in that start and finished after giving up just three runs, if he doesn't switch up his game plan from his last appearance against the Yankees, he could get lit.

Wells missed his last start due to his chronic back condition. He received an injection to handle the pain and said he's been able to throw pain-free since. Wells has probably been playing with the injury for at least eight starts, and it's been showing. His fastball is flat and his curveball lacks the bite it usually has. His hits allowed are abnormally high, and he's up to 14 walks on the season, eight of them in his last four starts. If he's healthy, Wells is almost unbeatable, but it's a very big "if".

Saturday: Rodrigo Lopez (5-8, 5.75) vs. Mike Mussina (14-6, 3.02)

Lopez was hit hard in his last start against the Yanks, allowing four runs in just four innings of work. In his start before that Lopez lost to the lowly Devil Rays, never a good sign. Alfonso Soriano hits .600 against Lopez, and Derek Jeter has a .667 batting average against him.

No pitcher in baseball is hotter than Mike Mussina right now. The Moose has pitched 21 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings and was recently named the AL Player of the Week. He also hasn't lost a decision in his last six starts and pitched a complete-game shutout against the Orioles in his last appearance.

Sunday: Eric DuBose (1-3, 3.30) vs. Jose Contreras (3-1, 4.62)

DuBose's numbers are slightly misleading. He has only started three games this season, and has a 1-2 record with a 2.79 ERA in those starts. His one win came in an excellent outing against the Red Sox on August 8. Most recently, DuBose lasted seven innings against the Devil Rays and allowed just three runs, but lost anyway. In two innings of relief work against the Yankees, DuBose has allowed three runs this year.

Contreras is finally making his return from a shoulder injury that he suffered all the way back in June. Contreras comes right in and slips into the fifth rotation spot, forcing Jeff Weaver to the bullpen. While this may not seem fair, Contreras is 2-0 with a 1.29 ERA as a starter for the Yankees, while his bullpen numbers are pitiful. Way back in 1999, Contreras faced the Orioles in an exhibition game while he was still on the Cuban National team. He struck out 10 batters in that game, pitching eight scoreless innings.

Monday: Damian Moss (10-8, 4.52) vs. Andy Pettitte (15-7, 4.12)

Moss is 1-1 with a 3.70 ERA since being acquired from the Giants on the trade deadline for former Orioles ace Sidney Ponson. He won his last start against Tampa Bay, but took a no decision last week against the Yanks. In that game, he allowed three runs on six hits and four walks in just five innings as New York went on to win.

Pettitte has been one of the best pitchers in the game for the last month and a half. Since the Cubs absolutely rocked him on June 8, Pettitte has gone 10-1 in his last 13 appearances. Andy picked up a sloppy victory two starts ago against the Orioles, allowing five runs and 11 hits, but he came back with a strong outing against the Royals in his last start. Pettitte also now has the second-most wins in the AL and is seventh in the league in strikeouts.

Predictions and Prognostications:
I don't want to jinx anything by predicting another sweep here, and winning 11 straight games is a tall order, but anything is possible here. Except for Baltimore sweeping. That won't happen. Basically, if you run down the pitching matchups, only one of them – Pettitte/Moss – has the chance to be something of a duel, and Pettitte is pitching better than his numbers show. The Yankees should get at least three wins out of this series, further extending their lead over Boston in the standings.

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