Series Preview: Yankees (25-18) @ Orioles (20-20)

Has anyone noticed that it's almost June, and the Yankees haven't played the Orioles yet? Wasn't this a rivalry-in-the-making just a few years ago (I'm looking at you, Armando Benitez)? Now the two teams don't face off until the last week of May? Travesty, I say. It might be a good thing though, because Baltimore is in something of a slump right now.

The O-Birds have lost their last four straight, including a sweep at the hands of the Anaheim Angels.  During the losing streak, they've been averaging a paltry two runs per game.  Their offensive output is down, regardless of losing as well.  During the month of May, the Orioles are batting just .265 with 24 home runs and are averaging 4.7 runs per game.  They averaged 5.7 during the month of April.

This relative lack of scoring, coupled with their obvious lack of pitching, doesn't bode well for Baltimore.  They have a team ERA of 4.84, and that jumps to 5.28 in May.  The only starter in their rotation with a winning record is someone named Daniel Cabrera, a rookie with three starts and a 2-1 record.  Cabrera also has the lowest ERA of Baltimore pitchers with mostly starts, at 4.32.  Staff "ace" Sidney Ponson has a 5.40 ERA and the formerly-much-heralded prospect Kurt Ainsworth had a ghastly 9.68 ERA in seven starts before being removed from the rotation.

The hitting hasn't been all bad, however.  Melvin Mora is doing his first-half thing again.  He's hitting .500 over the last six games, including five doubles and a 1.403 OPS.  Jay Gibbons and Larry Bigbie are also hitting over the last week, with averages of .318 and .381, respectively.

The Yankees, meanwhile, finally lost a series against someone.  They dropped two of three against Texas before winning the last game.  Someone out there noted that all of the games the Yankees lost lately have been close ones.  Their last four losses, were all decided by two or fewer runs, except for that 13-7 extra-inning affair that was blown open in overtime against the Angels.  That's encouraging, really. 

Jason Giambi is on the DL for the first time in his career now.  I was surprised when I heard that, given his reputation for being "brittle" and "injury prone".  Look for Tony Clark to play first base for a week or so, which isn't necessarily bad.  Bernie and Lofton get to play at the same time now, since the DH slot is wide open.  Don't be surprised to see Ruben Sierra out there as well. 

Yankees Road Record:   12-11    Last 10:    6-4
Orioles Home Record:     12-10    Last 10:    3-7

2003 Series Results: Yankees won, 14-6-1

Key Matchups:  J. Lopez vs. Lieber: 5/22, home run, six strikeouts...  Palmiero vs. Mussina: 12/47 (.255), four home runs... Tejada vs. Mussina: 8/21, three home runs... Lopez vs. Mussina: 5/9, two home runs... Surhoff vs. Brown: 6/44, three strikeouts... Lopez vs. Brown: 4/25, seven strikeouts... Posada vs. DuBose: 3/7, home runs... Jeter vs. DuBose: 2/9... Jeter vs. Ponson: 14/45 (.311), three home runs... Rodriguez vs. Ponson: 8/38, three home runs, 12 strikeouts... Flaherty vs. Ponson: 10/30, home run.

Probable Pitchers:

Tuesday: Jon Lieber (3-1, 4.40) vs. Erik Bedard (1-1, 4.97)
Lieber finally walked a batter in his last start, but that was just a tiny blemish on an otherwise excellent performance.  He allowed two runs in 7.2 innings and grabbed his second straight win against the Angels.  He has now walked one batter in 28.2 innings this season, quite the impressive feat.

Bedard has impressive strikeout numbers (27 whiffs in 29 innings), but the rest of his numbers don't speak too highly.  He's allowed 18 walks and 29 hits in the same span, not sure what to make of that.  His last start was impressive - two runs on four hits against Seattle - but the Mariners are awful.  Let's see how he handles a real offense.

Wednesday: Mike Mussina (5-4, 4.71) vs. Eric DuBose (3-3, 4.67)
Mussina finally looks right.  During May, he is 4-0 with a 2.51 ERA in four starts.  His last outing was against the Angels, when he allowed just one run over 7.2 innings and fanned six.  Moose is 6-3 with a 3.60 ERA against his former team, and is 76-40 with a 3.54 ERA at Camden Yards in his career.

DuBose got off to a hot start this year, but has since returned to earth.  He is winless in four May starts, with a 7.32 ERA, but his last outing was a very good one.  He allowed just one run over seven innings against the Angels, and struck out six batters.  DuBose was 1-3 with an 8.10 ERA against the Yankees last year.

Thursday: Kevin Brown (5-1, 3.60) vs. Sidney Ponson (3-4, 5.40)
Brown finally lost a game, in his tenth start of the season, in his last outing against the Rangers.  He allowed five runs in just 4.2 innings and saw his ERA jump almost fifty points.  Six of Brown's ten starts have been Quality Starts, but his May ERA is an unimpressive 5.04.

Ponson has been among the worst free agent signings this season, but has been sharp in his last two starts.  He allowed three runs over eight innings against the Angels in his last start, and whirled a shutout against the Halos in the start before that.  His ERA is actually down significantly from a season-high of 6.80.

Predictions and Prognostications:
Honestly, I don't see a good reason why the Yankees shouldn't sweep here.  Baltimore is a team on the ropes, their starting pitching isn't scaring anyone and their offense has been pretty poor as well.  Only the Thursday match up could be unfavorable for the Yanks, since Brown is relatively cold and Ponson is relatively hot, but even that doesn't look good for the O's.  I'll be bold and call for the sweep.

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