Series Preview: Yankees (38-20) vs. Padres (32-27)

I'll level with you, the San Diego Padres are one of my favorite teams in the MLB, falling in right behind the Cubs (who are a distant, distant second to the Yanks). Now, those Padres come to town to face our Yankees in a three-game Interleague series, and they come bearing gifts. Or at least one gift in the form of former Yankee pitcher David Wells, who makes his return to Yankee Stadium on Sunday.

To me, there's just something loveable about the Padres.  They've got some hard-nosed players on the team, especially right-fielder Brian Giles - whom the Yankees were trying to trade for a few years ago - and some young and exciting talent like shortstop Khalil Greene and third baseman Sean Burroughs.  They're also a very well-balanced squad, with good hitting, good starting pitching and an excellent bullpen.  They're hard not to like, and they're hard to beat too, as they sit at the top of the NL West standings, tied with the Dodgers.

Some people are going to call this a rematch of the 1998 World Series, but they'll be lying to you.  The only players left on the Yankees from that World Series are Bernie, Jeter, Rivera and Posada (and Homer Bush, but he doesn't count).  The only players left on the Padres from that World Series are Trevor Hoffman and, well, that's it really.  Sterling Hitchcock is technically a Padre, but he's been on the disabled list all season.  Kevin Brown pitched in that World Series, but as a Padre, so he doesn't count either.

At any rate, the Padres just dropped a three-game series with the Red Sox by losing two out of three games.  It was the odd series in that both teams scored 11 runs, but only the first game was a nail-biter.  Pedro Martinez outlasted David Wells and the Sox scored an unlikely run against Akinori Otsuka - the Japanese reliever who, if you've never heard of, you should go find out about - to take a 1-0 victory. 

The Yankees, meanwhile, continued their hot streak with a sweep of the last-place Rockies.  The Yankees pitching staff is starting to become a concern, but right now the offense is scoring more runs than the pitchers can allow.  That's all well and good, but it won't fly in the postseason and against teams with stronger rotations like Boston and Oakland.  Something needs to happen, but at least Mike Mussina looked amazing in his last start.

Yankees Home Record: 21-8        Last 10:  8-2
Padres Road Record: 16-15          Last 10:  5-5

Key Matchups:  Giles vs. Mussina: 5/13, home run... Long vs. Mussina: 7/20, two home runs... Nevin vs. Mussina: 2/12... Klesko vs. Lieber: 15/35, four home runs... Giles vs. Lieber: 9/26, home run... Loretta vs. Lieber: 3/23... Kleso vs. Vazquez: 3/27, five strikeouts... Payton vs. Vazquez: 8/20... Sheffield vs. Eaton: 4/12, two home runs, five walks... Sheffield vs. Tankersley: 2/4, two home runs... Rodriguez vs. Wells: 19/53, seven home runs... Jeter vs. Wells: 14/39, two home runs... Sierra vs. Wells: 23/62, two home runs.

Probable Pitchers:

Friday: Adam Eaton (2-6, 5.65) vs. Mike Mussina (7-4, 4.59)
Eaton broke a nine-start streak without a win when he notched one against the Brewers in his last start.  He's been erratic all season and has been downright poor for some starts, but his strikeout to walk ratio of 55:16 is of high quality.  Eaton has never faced the Yankees during his five-year career.

Mussina is coming off what was far and away his best start of the season.  If he can continue that trend with a good win here, we can finally officially announce his return (even though, yes, I know, I already did that).  Mussina struck out 10 Rangers over eight one-run innings in his last start, and he hasn't lost a game since April 22.

Saturday: Dennis Tankersley (0-2, 2.35) vs. Jon Lieber (4-3, 5.01)
Tankersley has worked mainly out of the bullpen this year, but he was put into the starting rotation with the injuries to Wells and Jake Peavy.  As a starter, he is 0-2 with a 1.46 ERA this year, but he has allowed an oddly high four unearned runs.  Tankersley is a talented, young pitcher that the Yankees shouldn't take lightly.

Lieber has now allowed six runs in each of his last two starts, jumping his ERA up to over five.  He's not allowing baserunners, as his WHIP is just 1.13, but he has already allowed seven home runs, including four in his last two starts.  He's hanging too many pitches, and that's not going to be pretty if he continues to do so.

Sunday: David Wells (2-4, 3.40) vs. Javier Vazquez (7-4, 3.54)
Welcome back Boomer, now prepare to be dusted.  Strolling through the stats, several Yankees have absolutely demolished Wells during their careers.  It's no wonder he wanted to play here.  Heck, Homer Bush hits him.  I read somewhere recently that Wells' injury during the World Series cost the Yankees the championship and, while that seems somewhat far-fetched, its not altogether untrue.  How about a little redemption?

Is anyone else amused the Vazquez is the Yankee currently wearing Wells' old number of 33?  Javy has been the Yankees' best pitcher this season and he absolutely shut down the Rockies in his last start.  If Mussina returns to form, the Yankees will have quite the two-headed ace at the top of their rotation.

Predictions and Prognostications:
It's hard to tell for this series. I like Mussina in game one, but Lieber confuses the heck out of me.  He doesn't walk anyone, he's not allowing a lot of hits, but he's been getting hammered on the hits he does allow.  Tankersley isn't this good, so this one could turn into a shootout.  Wells has a way of stepping up when he feels like it, but I don't think he'll be able to step it up far enough to beat Vazquez.  Yanks should take two of three here, but it's not entirely safe.

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