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Yankees must avoid doubleheader hangover

After an emotional high, the Bombers need to keep an even keel Thursday
09/20/2012 12:31 PM ET
By Lou DiPietro

Phil Hughes is coming off a strong start in Boston on Sept. 13.(AP)
Wednesday’s doubleheader sweep of the Toronto Blue Jays leaves the New York Yankees in a “good news/bad news” situation heading into Thursday’s series finale.

The first piece of good news for the Yankees is that they swept, and in the process got excellent pitching performances from a returning Andy Pettitte and a resurgent David Phelps.

The bad news there, somewhat, is that Baltimore also won Wednesday, topping Seattle in a second straight extra-inning affair to keep the Yankees’ lead in the AL East at a half-game…and while the Orioles are off today, the Yankees have their finale with the Jays and the very real possibility of a bit of a “doubleheader hangover.”

And, quite frankly, given that the Yankees play a crucial three-game set with Oakland this weekend that could (and likely will) make or break at least one of their seasons, that’s something they must avoid.

On the mound, the Bombers will turn to Phil Hughes (15-12, 3.96), who in both positive and negative regards has been their most consistent pitcher this season. Hughes leads the team in wins with 15, and if he reaches the second inning tonight, he will be second on the team in innings pitched (his 175 is one behind CC Sabathia at the moment) and tied with Hiroki Kuroda for the most starts on the team with 30.

So yes, Hughes has taken the ball every proverbial fifth day and given the team an average of six innings every time out. But then again, Hughes’ 33 home runs allowed ranks him second-worst in the AL – a stat that’s even more salient given that he’s pitching in Yankee Stadium against a team whose 184 homers has them tied for fifth in MLB – and he’s been consistently inconsistent against Toronto in four starts this year; Hughes has thrown two quality starts against the Jays in the Bronx, but pitched to an ERA of 8.68 in a pair of outings at Rogers Centre.

Going back to the positive, Hughes has done well at Yankee Stadium vs. the Jays, and is coming off a dominant performance in Boston last Thursday that saw him allow five hits and a walk in 7 1/3 shutout innings against the Red Sox – both trends the Yankees will need the former first-round pick to continue.

Offensively, meanwhile, the Yankees did win both games yesterday, but a lion’s share of that success was spawned by one man having a big day. In fact, Ichiro Suzuki wasn’t just the catalyst for the offense, he almost was the offense; Ichiro’s first hit of the day (leadoff single in Game 1) started the three-run first inning that won the Yankees the game, his last (eighth-inning single in Game 2) drove in the winning run, and his overall line (7-for-8, RBI, 2 R, 4 SB) accounted for half of the Yankees’ runs and 44 percent of their hits.

But, that said, there were some other key positives in the doubleheader; Nick Swisher, who had been 7-for-55 (.130) in September, was 3-for-7 with a key insurance RBI in Game 2, Derek Jeter played the field for the first time in a week, and backup catcher Chris Stewart kept the bench’s penchant for production rolling with an RBI double in Game 2.

All of the above are things to build on, and the Yankees will need to do that – and avoid leaving 12 men on base like they did in Game 2 – against Toronto starter Aaron Laffey (3-5, 4.55), a man who a year ago made 10 strong September appearances to help the Yankees win the AL East.

If they can’t, and succumb to the doubleheader hangover against a team who is now simply playing spoiler, then when the Bombers wake up Friday morning they’ll be back in a tie with the Orioles and facing what truly will be the biggest series of the year…but then again, that would be just another normal September day in a season that has now seen the Yankees claim a piece of first place for more than 100 straight wakeups.

Follow Lou DiPietro on Twitter: @LouDiPietroYES

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