What we're watching – June 24

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– With the Giants already 4-1 against the A’s this season, 301-game
winning Randy Johnson will face one-game winner Gio Gonzalez in
Oakland. Gonzalez, who is filling in for Josh Outman, will be making
his first start of 2009 after pitching in relief twice last month. He’s
1-4 with a 7.59 ERA in seven starts and five relief appearances during
his young career, but he had allowed just one earned run in his last
five starts for Triple-A Sacramento. Johnson beat the A’s earlier this
month by allowing two runs over seven innings. He’s 3-1 with a 2.83 ERA
in his last six starts.

– The Cubs and Tigers lived up to Tuesday’s Game of the Night
billing, with Ryan Raburn hitting a walkoff homer in the bottom of the
ninth to give Detroit a 5-4 victory. There should be another good
matchup tonight, as Rich Harden and Rick Porcello are scheduled to
start. Porcello has won all three of his interleague starts, giving up
five runs — three earned — over 18 2/3 innings in the process. With
right-handers hitting just .190 off him, it’s not going to be easy for
Derrek Lee to extend his hitting streak to 21 games.

– It’s up to Kenshin Kawakami to keep the Braves’ scoreless streak
going after back-to-back shutouts of the Cubs on Monday and the Yankees
last night. Kawakami, who has been part of one shutout this season when
he blanked the Jays for eight innings on May 22, hasn’t allowed more
than three earned runs in any of his last nine starts. The Bombers, now
surely sick of facing pitchers they’ve never seen before, have lost
five of their last six games. Joba Chamberlain will be on the mound as
they try to end the skid.

Game of the Night

Philadelphia vs. Tampa Bay – The series opener in the rematch of
last year’s World Series was over quickly, as the Phillies jumped all
over David Price on their way to a 10-1 win. The Rays will attempt to
bounce back with Matt Garza on the mound, but Garza is winless since
May 16. He’s given up eight homers in his last five starts, which seems
like good news for Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. Joe Blanton, who beat
the Rays in his World Series start last October, is also having
problems with the long ball, with 16 allowed in 76 2/3 innings for the
season. However, he hasn’t taken a loss since May 9.

In the playoffs, the Yankees’ weakness has become their strength

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Two weeks ago, when the playoffs began, the idea of “bullpenning” once again surfaced, this time with the Yankees as a focus. Because their starting pitching was believed to be a weakness — they had no obvious ace like a Dallas Keuchel or Corey Kluber — and their bullpen was a major strength, the idea of chaining relievers together starting from the first inning gained traction. The likes of Luis Severino, who struggled mightily in the AL Wild Card game, or Masahiro Tanaka (4.79 regular season ERA) couldn’t be relied upon in the postseason, the thought went.

That idea is no longer necessary for the Yankees because the starting rotation has become the club’s greatest strength. Tanaka fired seven shutout innings to help push the Yankees ahead of the Astros in the ALCS, three games to two. They are now one win away from reaching the World Series for the first time since 2009.

It hasn’t just been Tanaka. Since Game 3 of the ALDS, Yankees pitchers have made eight starts spanning 46 1/3 innings. They have allowed 10 runs (nine earned) on 25 hits and 12 walks with 45 strikeouts. That’s a 1.75 ERA with an 8.74 K/9 and 2.33 BB/9. In five of those eight starts, the starter went at least six innings, which has helped preserve the freshness and longevity of the bullpen.

Here’s the full list of performances for Yankee starters this postseason:

Game Starter IP H R ER BB SO HR
AL WC Luis Severino 1/3 4 3 3 1 0 2
ALDS 1 Sonny Gray 3 1/3 3 3 3 4 2 1
ALDS 2 CC Sabathia 5 1/3 3 4 2 3 5 0
ALDS 3 Masahiro Tanaka 7 3 0 0 1 7 0
ALDS 4 Luis Severino 7 4 3 3 1 9 2
ALDS 5 CC Sabathia 4 1/3 5 2 2 0 9 0
ALCS 1 Masahiro Tanaka 6 4 2 2 1 3 0
ALCS 2 Luis Severino 4 2 1 1 2 0 1
ALCS 3 CC Sabathia 6 3 0 0 4 5 0
ALCS 4 Sonny Gray 5 1 2 1 2 4 0
ALCS 5 Masahiro Tanaka 7 3 0 0 1 8 0
TOTAL 55 1/3 35 20 17 20 52 6

In particular, if you hone in on the ALCS starts specifically, Yankee starters have pitched 28 innings, allowing five runs (four earned) on 13 hits and 10 walks with 20 strikeouts. That’s a 1.61 ERA.

While the Yankees’ biggest weakness has become a strength, the Astros’ biggest weakness — the bullpen — has become an even bigger weakness. This is why the Yankees, who won 10 fewer games than the Astros during the regular season, are one win away from reaching the World Series and the Astros are not.