Series Preview: Yankees (2-2) vs. White Sox (1-1)

Finally, the last of the three Yankees' "openers" is going to happen. This time it's the home opener, and the first series at Yankee Stadium in 2004 will see the Yanks host the Chicago White Sox in a four-game set. Javier Vazquez will make his long-awaited debut, and the Bleacher Creatures can finally chant A-Rod's name.

Last season, the Yankees didn't see the White Sox until August 26th, now they're going to see them before any team without a fish on their logo.  The White Sox are a confusing team, for the most part.  Their pitching staff is either in total shambles or solid, depending on who you ask (and what they think about Esteban Loaiza), while their lineup features two of the most feared hitters in the league - Magglio Ordonez and Frank Thomas - and not much else.  Any way you slice it, Chicago can do some damage if opposing pitchers aren't careful.

We haven't been able to get a full feel for the Yankees yet, considering only two starters have taken the mound and Mike Mussina isn't really this bad - we hope.  How Vazquez and Contreras - and DePaula to a lesser extent - perform in these initial outings will give us some insight as to how the Yankee season is going to shape up.  If both pitchers answer the call and shape up to be the kinds of pitchers they can be, it's going to be a long season for the rest of the American League.

Things to expect:  The Stadium will be electric with the home debuts of Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield and Vazquez... I wouldn't put it past Hideki Matsui to hit another well-timed homerun at some point in game one... Vazquez is the real deal, look for strikeouts early and often... Pay careful attention to Jorge DePaula, he has a real chance of sticking around... Mussina needs to start getting his game in order, or it's going to be along season for him (and his fantasy owners)... OF Carlos Lee already has two homeruns for the Sox and has serious power.

Pitching Probables:

Thursday: Javier Vazquez vs. Scott Schoenweis
The much-anticipated debut of Vazquez will happen Thursday afternoon in New York.  The acquisition of Vazquez will turn out to be way more important than A-Rod or Sheffield - possibly even combined - for the Yankees.  It's pitching that wins championships, and Yankee fans will be holding their breath that Vazquez doesn't turn into "Jeff Weaver: The Sequel".

Schoenweis spent all of last season in the bullpen, and was 1-2 with a 9.31 ERA in five spring starts.  He's talented, for sure, and should have been in the rotation last year, but he isn't going to wow anyone.  Bernie Williams is a career .538 hitter against Schoenweis in 13 at bats, with a 1.416 OPS.

Friday: Jose Contreras vs. Jon Garland
Contreras was filthy this spring, striking out 30 batters in just 19.1 innings pitched.  He's another key to the Yankees' success this season, and questions about his ability to start 30-35 games in a season need to be answered.

Garland is about as average as starting pitchers get.  Unimpressive strikeout numbers, a .260 opponent's batting average in '03, and almost completely average numbers straight across the board.  One number that's not average is A-Rod's 1.158 OPS against him in 16 at bats.  John Flaherty might get his first start of the year in this game, since he hits Garland like a drum (1.181 OPS against).

Saturday: Jorge DePaula vs. Dan Wright
Joe Torre announced that DePaula would get this start over Donovan Osborne just recently, negating what was previously believed.  DePaula clearly has more potential than the veteran Osborne, and he looked excellent in his lone start against the Mets last year.  This will be just the second major-league start in the 25-year-old's career.

Wright probably wouldn't start for a lot of the teams in the majors, and his 1-7 record and 6.15 ERA last year do nothing to refute that.  He's got a knuckle curveball, however, that is a good out pitch.  He just needs to set it up better, apparently.

Sunday: Mike Mussina (0-2, 11.00) vs. Mark Buehrle (0-0, 2.70)
Moose is probably praying that the old "third time's a charm" saying holds true for this start.  He's been sitting on 199 wins since last season, and the Yankees absolutely need him to pitch like he's capable of and turn in a Moose-like performance.  That 11 ERA looks like it should be next to Jose Mesa's name, not Mike Mussina's.

Buehrle is the de facto ace of the White Sox staff, now that Bartolo Colon has gone off to greener pastures.  He won 19 games just two years ago, and wasn't as bad as his numbers may indicate in 2003.  His plummeting strikeout numbers don't speak very highly, but Buehrle's as close to a real challenge as the White Sox are going to be bringing out for this series.

Predictions and Prognostications:
In a perfect world, Vazquez would be brilliant in his Yankee debut, and Mike Mussina will pitch his behind off to make fans forget his first two starts.  I'm going to pencil those two things in for now.  Saturday's game could be a shootout - any of these games could, actually - and I'll go ahead and predict at least one double-figures game for each team.  Sunday has a good chance of being a good-old-fashioned pitcher's duel.  Bold Prediction:  Yankees take three of four.

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