Yankees Pregame Notebook: What's in a year?
When the teams opened their three-game set at Yankee Stadium last Labor Day weekend, the Bombers were in first place in the AL East and the Birds were in second, three games behind but also clinging to a 1 1/2 game lead over Tampa Bay in the wild card race. Baltimore won two of three to cut the deficit to two and would never be further back than that the rest of the way. However they also never did overtake the Yanks and had to settle for the wild card role in their epic 2012 American League Division Series showdown.
Flash forward 365 days, and this year's nominal end-of-summer series is equally as important for both squads. Baltimore enters in third place, six behind Boston and 3 1/2 behind Oakland for the second Wild Card, while the Yankees are in fourth place, eight and 5 1/2 out in the races respectively. With the wild-card leading Rays playing the Atheltics and fellow contender Cleveland at AL Central leader Detroit, the team that wins (or sweeps) this series could start September in the driver's seat for the playoff sprint.
"I think the guys would have to be on another planet not to know how important this stretch of games is for us," manager Joe Girardi said. "The guys are used to playing in October, and that's our goal."
Mark Reynolds was huge in last year's series for Baltimore, hitting three home runs in three games, but this year, he has a chance to play a major role in pinstripes. Reynolds said it was "weird" to face the O's because of his time there, but once they're between the lines, all old bets are off.
"I have so many friends over there still, but no matter the situation, I have to do my job," Reynolds said. "It's always good to see those guys, but business is business."
And what about another potential breakout series at the Stadium to unofficially end summer?
"Streaks happen naturally and slumps happen naturally; you just have to make adjustments," Reynolds said. "I've made some adjustments lately, but you have to keep producing if you want to keep playing."
Reynolds is in the lineup hitting seventh and playing first base, and Girardi spoke about how those adjustments and their results earned the newcomer a start against a righty that would normally go to Lyle Overbay.
"He made a little adjustment in his swing and swung the bat really well for us the other night," the skipper said of Reynolds. "As I told Lyle, I'm just going to see what happens, and it doesn't mean he won't play tomorrow…I just see the adjustments Mark has made, and we know he can be extremely productive. We've seen him get really hot, and it would be huge for us if he can do what he did with Cleveland in April."
Reynolds potentially could have played second base for the second game in a row tonight, but Robinson Cano is back in the lineup after getting through a pair of batting practices - both indoors and out - and an infield session to test his bruised hand.
Girardi told the media in his pregame briefing that Cano was in the lineup, but he had to wait until after BP to confirm that would stay the same.
"I haven't talked to Robby, but since I know everyone always wants a lineup, I figured I'd put a lineup up," Girardi joked, "but I just want to see if he's okay."
Cano told the media shortly after that he felt much better, and after getting through his practice sessions okay, will make his 127th start at second base.
He'll be there behind CC Sabathia, the nominal ace of the staff who comes in with a very un-CC-like 11-11 record and 4.81 ERA. The Yankees already made a switch to the rotation on Friday, announcing they will flip-flop Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes to have Pettitte start Sunday and Hughes on Monday.
"Every game starts with your starting pitchers, and it makes it easier to win when they're on a roll - but if they're not, you need to pick them up offensively," Girardi said. "This is going to be a complete team effort if we're going to get to where we want to go, and that's October."
Sabathia is just 2-3 with a 7.30 ERA in seven starts since the All-Star break, but when asked if he's seen anything from CC or talked to the lefty at all about his recent struggles, Girardi put the onus on his pitching coach for that role.
"Without giving particulars, when I see something I feel like I need to discuss with a player, I discuss it, but when it comes to mechanics, I don't get involved," Girardi said. "As a catcher, I think your only involvement is pitch selection and getting the most out of your pitcher, so I leave that all to Larry (Rothschild). In our game, there are a lot of ups and downs."
As for Austin Romine being in the lineup to catch Sabathia, Girardi said that while a streak of three straight day games after tonight's game had some influence, Romine has caught Sabathia a lot this year and that familiarity made his choice easy.
"I try to keep things familiar with catchers. When I was in a period where I was catching two and Jorgie (Posada) was catching three, it was nice to know who you were catching and which days, so I lean towards that," Girardi said.
Other news and notes from before the Yankees' penultimate game of August:
-Eduardo Nunez said he "felt better" and thought he could play if needed, but Girardi was less committal, saying "I'm going to let him go through what he's able to go through and we'll see." Nunez has had several rounds of treatment on his twisted knee over the last 36 hours and took full batting practice, but there was no further word on his availability (or lack thereof) after that.
-Girardi was asked if he still believes 93 wins was the threshold the Yankees needed to get to - and then asked why he was confident his team could get there - and gave an interesting response: "I haven't looked at exactly how many wins the teams in front of us have, but I know we have to play awfully well. We have an opportunity to pass teams in front of us because we're playing them, but we have to play really good baseball…and I've seen our guys do it. Obviously we're a much deeper baseball team than we have been in the past, but you have to be able to put it all together."