Series Preview: Orioles (70-88) @ Yankees (98-60)

It had to happen sooner or later. The last series of the regular season is finally upon us as the Baltimore Orioles come to New York to wrap up the 2003 season against the Yankees. The series promises to be full of emotion and will even include a double-header as the Yankees look to top 100 wins for the second straight season.

The Yankees have already clinched the AL East title and now just have to work on clinching home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Currently the Oakland Athletics have a record of 96-63 with three games left to play. The Yankees need to finish with a better record than the A's to ensure home-field advantage should the two teams meet, obviously.

Baltimore has got nothing to neither lose nor gain from this series. Right now they're playing the role of spoiler, but since there isn't much they can spoil for the Yankees, they're just serving as the final tune up before the playoffs for the Bombers.

Some things to look out for in the series for the Yanks:

- Roger Clemens will make the last regular-season start of his career, and the Rocket has a tendency to come up big in spots like that. Clemens is 1-1 with a 3.83 ERA in three starts against the Birds this season.

- Jorge DePaula will make his first career start in the nightcap of the doubleheader on Friday. DePaula, like Brandon Claussen before him, could be a name to remember for the future. The righty was 10-11 with a 4.05 ERA in 26 starts for AAA Columbus this season.

- Andy Pettitte will try to match his career-high in wins at 21 after earning his 20th win in his last start.

- Alfonso Soriano is just four homeruns away from 40, and with the way he's been hitting he just might get there. Jorge Posada is sitting on 29 homers and needs just one to achieve his first career 30-homer season. Derek Jeter also sits just seven points behind Boston's Bill Mueller for the AL Batting Title.

Yankees Home Record: 47-31
Baltimore Road Record: 30-48

Probable Pitchers:

Tuesday: Damian Moss (1-4, 5.12) vs. Andy Pettitte (20-8, 4.12)

Moss has yet to put anything together since joining the Orioles and was demoted to the bullpen after being abused by the Red Sox on September 9. He was lights out in his first relief appearance, going three innings and allowing just a hit and a walk against Toronto. He has a 4.09 ERA against the Yankees in two starts this season.

Pettitte has won his last three decisions and seven of his last eight to reach the 20-win plateau for the second time in his career. He's been an innings horse this season, lasting at least six innings in 26 of his 32 starts, which has helped him earn all those wins. The southpaw is 5-0 with a 3.41 ERA against Baltimore this year.

Tuesday: Rodrigo Lopez (7-10, 5.99) vs. Jorge DePaula (0-0, 1.80)

Lopez has been horrific in his last three starts after shutting out the Athletics on September 3. Since that time he has an ERA of 11.18 that includes a four-inning, seven-run pounding by the Yankees. Alfonso Soriano beats Lopez like a drum to the sound of a .563 batting average and ridiculous 1.674 OPS.

DePaula will make his first start for the Yankees, but he's already seen some action. He's allowed just two baserunners in his five innings of work, but one was a homerun by Shane Halter. He hasn't been in a pressure spot yet, pitching when the Yanks were either up by a lot or down by a lot, so he'll be interesting to watch.

Wednesday: Jason Johnson (10-9, 4.05) vs. Roger Clemens (16-9, 3.94)

Johnson drew the short straw to be Clemens' final regular-season opponent and gets to be the answer to a trivia question someday along with Edgar Renteria of the Cardinals. Johnson has been very average in his last four outings, allowing four or five runs in each over five or six innings. He hasn't won since August 10 however.

Clemens will get his last licks against a team he's faced many, many times before. Just since 1987 (and I use this date, because it's excessively difficult to find statistics from before then), the Rocket is 18-11 against the Orioles with a 3.47 ERA. Take your final regular-season bow, Roger.

Thursday: Sean Douglass (0-0, 13.50) vs. David Wells (14-7, 4.25)

Fitting that the Orioles starter for their season finale will be someone who hasn't started for them all year. That says a lot about a team. At any rate, Douglass is a right-hander without excellent stuff. He's got a decent slider, but that's about it. In 27 starts for AAA Ottawa, Douglass was 10-8 with a respectable 3.41 ERA.

Wells is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're going to get. Seriously though, Wells has been something of a schizophrenic this season, pitching gems one night then getting lit five days later. His issue is the walks. Everyone knows he doesn't walk anyone, but when he does, he gets hammered. That's because he allows about eight hits per outing, which isn't good to mix with too many walks. At any rate, this could be his last regular-season start as a Yankee as he could retire or be signed by the Padres next season.

Predictions: The Yankees would love some of that home-field advantage, so they've still got something to play for. Expect to see some bench players starting to spell the stars. I wouldn't be surprised to see Ruben Sierra and Juan Rivera in the outfield and Enrique Wilson or Luis Sojo at shortstop or third base at some point, particularly if Jeter gets his average up a few points. With all that in mind, the Orioles are not a good team and the Yanks should take advantage and at least get to 100 wins.

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