Series Preview: Yankees (8-11) vs. Oakland (10-9)

The reeling Yankees look to get back on track against the reeling Athletics with a three-game series starting Tuesday at the Stadium. The Bronx floundering offense probably won't have much of a fun time dealing with all three of Oakland's fabled Big Three, but the A's aren't exactly racking up the wins these days either.

Both teams are coming off of sweeps at the hands of their division rivals.  The Yankees - if you remember, because I don't, because I'm blocking it out - were just swept away by the Red Sox at home.  The A's - similarly - were dealt three straight 'L's by the Anaheim Angels.  The major difference between the two teams is that Oakland still has a good record, while the Yankees are stuck under .500 and in third place.

The Yankees simply aren't hitting the ball the way they need to be.  Jorge Posada leads the pack with a .281 average, seven homers, 12 runs and 18 RBI, but nobody else is even close to those numbers.  Derek Jeter is mired in the worst slump of his career, with no hits in his last five games (21 at bats), and a ghastly 8:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio over that same period.  Jeter and Bernie Williams are both hitting under .200, and Jason Giambi is close to the Mendoza Line himself, ringing in at .204, though it's encouraging to note that he's walked twice as many times as he's struck out.

Oakland hasn't been faring much better at the dish, but they're being led by the red-hot Jermaine Dye (.321, seven homeruns, 18 RBI).  During the three-game set with Anaheim, they were outscored 22-8, including a 12-2 lashing that saw former Cy-Young winner Barry Zito give up nine runs in four innings. 

Both of these teams are vulnerable and seem to be more or less lost in the batter's box.  The Yanks and Oakland had a decent rivalry brewing a few years ago, maybe something will happen to spark that.  Both teams are capable of playing excellent baseball, they just need to remember that.

Yankees Home Record: 3-5
Oakland Away Record: 6-4

2003 Results: Oakland won series 6-3

Key Matchups: Alex Rodriguez vs. Barry Zito: 8/43, 14 strikeouts... Derek Jeter vs. Zito:  7/16, 1.096 OPS... Rodriguez vs. Tim Hudson: 13/34, three homeruns... Bernie Williams vs. Hudson: 2/21, .262 OPS... Jeter vs. Mark Mulder: 8/19, .924 OPS... Jermaine Dye vs. Mike Mussina: 14/33, two homeruns... Mark Kotsay vs. Kevin Brown: 5/26.

Probable Pitchers:

Tuesday: Mike Mussina (1-4, 6.67) vs. Tim Hudson (3-0, 2.15)
Mussina had easily his best start of the year in his last outing, lasting eight innings against the White Sox.  Moose still lost the game, but he showed signs of life.  He's still walking too many batters (13:16 BB:K ratio), and Oakland is an extremely patient team.  Mussina is going to have to be much more aggressive against the A's to have some kind of success.

Hudson is coming off his worst start of the season, an eight-inning, four-run performance in which he picked up a win.  So we use the term "worst" loosely.  Hudson's been dominant in the early goings of 2004, and he truly is one of the top pitchers in the league. Last year, he held the Yankees to a .156 batting average over three starts, picking up a win in the process.

Wednesday: Jose Contreras (0-2, 10.64) vs. Mark Mulder (2-1, 2.33)
Double-digit ERAs are never a good sign for a pitcher.  Contreras hasn't made it out of the sixth inning in any of his first three starts, and didn't even sniff the fifth inning in his last two.  Like Mussina, Contreras seems unconfident in his pitches, nibbling at corners and issuing walks instead of being aggressive.  Oakland, like Boston, won't stand for that.  If Contreras is to realize the potential everyone's been talking about, now would be a good time.

Mulder's been a beast so far this season, making Quality Starts in all four of his initial starts.  A win against Seattle was the latest of his accomplishments.  Scariest of his numbers is the tiny amount of batters that reach base against Mulder.  He sports a 1.07 WHIP, fifth best in the AL.

Thursday: Kevin Brown (3-0, 2.12) vs. Barry Zito (2-2, 6.26)
Brown is off to the best start by a Yankee starter, and it isn't even really close at this point.  He didn't receive a decision in his last outing (a seven-inning, one earned run performance against Boston) because the Yankees couldn't muster runs behind him.  Despite pitching well enough to win, Brown didn't get a decision in either of his last two starts. 

Zito was kicked around in his last start, giving up nine runs on ten hits against the Angels.  It was the second time so far this season that he's allowed 10 or more hits.  Looks like he's hanging around the plate a little too much.  The good news is that he hadn't allowed a homerun until his last start, when he allowed two.  Opponents are hitting .330 against Zito so far in 2004.

Predictions & Prognostications:
Kind of a confusing series since both teams have been performing so poorly lately.  One of the losing streaks has to snap after the first game, but whose?  Mussina really looked to be making progress in his last start, and we might get an old-fashioned pitcher's duel out of game one.  Contreras hasn't impressed me - or anyone for that matter - at all this year, and I'd be surprised if he didn't get smacked around on Wednesday.  Brown vs. Zito should be interesting, but Brown is the better pitcher right now.  It all depends on whose offense wakes up first, slumbering giants to say the least.

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