By Steve DeClue
The Baltimore Orioles avoided falling into a big and likely insurmountable hole with a Game 2 victory in front of frenzied Camden Yards crowd; now they look to take control of the series as it shifts to New York City.
Miguel Gonzalez will square off against Huroki Kuroda in a matchup of two pitchers who like to change speeds and move the ball in and out of the strike zone. Gonzalez has been almost unbeatable when pitching on extra rest, which will be the case Wednesday night.
With the Yankees starting a right-handed pitcher for the first time this series, look for some lineup changes for the O’s. Expect a more left-handed dominated lineup, with Jim Thome likely get another start at DH and Ryan Flaherty seeing his first action of the series at second base. The Orioles could also give Endy Chavez a start in left field for defensive purposes and use Davis as the DH after Thome struggled in Game 2.
The Yankees may also make a lineup change. The pressure is mounting on Alex Rodriguez, who is off to another poor start in the postseason and may be dropped from the third spot in the lineup. Nick Swisher is also struggling and could get moved around. Maybe Brett Gardner even gets a start.
Following a Game 2 victory and considering their success in New York this year, the Orioles come into Yankee Stadium brimming with confidence. Baltimore actually finished the regular season with the best road record in the American League. The Orioles played three series in the Big Apple this year and taken two out of three from the Yankees each time. If they can find a way to do it for a fourth time, the Orioles will be heading to the ALCS.
It has been a close, low-scoring affair through the first two games and it will be interesting to see if the rest of the series follows suit. The Yankees lead the majors in home runs and the Orioles weren’t far behind, yet the long ball has not been much of a factor through the first two games of the series.
Russell Martin hit New York’s only home run so far, which just so happened to be the game-winning run in Game 1. Mark Teixeira came up just short when he lined a ball off the top of the right field wall and was subsequently thrown out at second base trying to stretch a single into a double. The Orioles haven’t hit a home run yet and they really haven’t even come close, but it seems like it’s only a matter of time until some of their power bats come alive.
The weather may have played a significant factor in the lack of home runs hit in both games with the wind blowing in and the chilly temperatures not conducive to long fly balls. Rain is not expected in New York the rest of the week, and temperatures should be in the 50′s for all three games.
The Orioles really need to get more production out of the middle of their order, which has done literally nothing in the series so far. Adam Jones is hacking away and really seems to be pressing while Matt Wieters is swinging at the first pitch way too often. If it wasn’t for Chris Davis and Nate McLouth, the O’s would be in real trouble right now.
Buck Showalter has done a nice job of trying to take Robinson Cano out of the picture and force other players to come up with the big hits. Derek Jeter, Teixeira, Martin and Cano have really been the only Yankees doing any damage at the plate.
Pitch counts for both starters will be another key to the game. New York was able to get C.C. Sabathia into the ninth inning and Andy Pettitte through the eighth because the Orioles were not being patient at the plate and had trouble getting runners on base. Meanwhile, the Yankees made both Jason Hammel and Wei-Yin Chen throw a lot of pitches in the early innings to quickly elevate their pitch counts. Hammel and Chen eventually settled into a groove in the middle of the game, but the elevated pitch count ultimately lead to their early departures.
It’s becoming obvious that Joe Girardi has little confidence in his bullpen outside of setup man David Robertson and closer Rafael Soriano and will do whatever it takes to give his starters some extra rope to avoid bringing in other relievers.
The Orioles are on the flip side of that, as they are more than willing to go early and often to their deep, talented bullpen. With the off day Tuesday, Baltimore’s bullpen should be plenty rested for potentially three games in New York. Jim Johnson bounced back from his ugly outing in Game 1 to record a routine save Monday night while Darren O’ Day and Brian Matusz have proven to be nearly unhittable so far this series.
If it was up to Showalter, just about every game would play out similarly to the first two. He would like his starter to keep his team in the game, get him through six innings and then turn things over to the bullpen. In a tight game with a matchup of bullpens for the final three innings (or longer), Showalter will take his chances with that scenario every time. He always seems to push the right buttons, and he’s done well through two games.
The Yankees have an advantage because they have been here and done this before while the Orioles have not. They also hold homefield advantage the rest of the way. However, the Orioles have confidence and have received so little production so far from their star players that New York has to be a bit concerned that the bats could wake up any second. Game 3 has all the makings of a classic, which would fit right in with what we have seen already in the series.
Steve DeClue is a freelance writer covering all things Baltimore Orioles. His work can be found on Examiner.com.