The Week Ahead: Hey, isn't that Johnny Damon?

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damon-100509.jpgIt’s reunion time in Detroit as the New York Yankees come to town to take on the Tigers. And this means the Yankees get a chance to see Johnny Damon and show him how little they miss him.

OK, so that’s a bit harsh, but at 21-9, New York is cruising right along. Remember the hand wringing when the Bronx Bombers decided to save their Damon money and go with Brett Gardner/Marcus Thames/Randy Winn in left field? Yeah, that was all for a whole lot of nothing wasn’t it?

The Yankees and Tigers already met up in spring training, but the contests in this four-game series count, so I doubt we’ll see any applause from A-Rod this time around.

Damon, who played a huge role in the Yankees’ championship run last season, is having a fine year so for in Detroit, hitting .302/.409/.443 with 22 runs and 14 RBIs as the Tigers sit at 17-14.

Curtis Granderson, the former Tiger acquired by the Yankees in the offseason, will reluctantly miss the trip as he works to heal from a strained groin.

“I was looking forward to seeing friends and teammates that I haven’t talked to over there,” Granderson said. “I’ve got to stay back and get better. I probably wouldn’t have been able to do anything; I’d still be inside getting treatment.”

In addition to a reunion with Damon, the Yankees will get a nice up-close look at Austin Jackson, the player they sent to Detroit in the Granderson deal. Jackson is hitting .370 with nine doubles, three triples and a home run in 29 games for the Tigers.

FIVE SERIES TO WATCH
Nationals at Mets, May 10-12:
Believe it or not, this is a good matchup in the standings, as both teams are 17-14, two games behind the NL East-leading Phillies. Enjoy it while you can, fellas.

A’s at Rangers, May 11-13: Where are the Angels and Mariners? Battling it out for cellar space, that’s where. These two are your top two AL West teams – at least for the moment – with  the Rangers (18-14) holding a slim lead over the A’s (17-15). Both teams are getting some surprisingly good pitching.

Padres at Giants, May 11-13: Neither of these teams figured to have enough offense to compete this season, but that should only serve to teach us not to figure. San Diego (19-12) is tied for the second best record in the NL, with the Giants just a half-game behind.

Twins at Yankees, May 14-16: The Yankees can’t go after Joe Mauer anymore, so they’ll just try to be unfriendly hosts and steal some games over the weekend instead. These Twins, however, don’t look like the same old team the Yankees always seem to beat up on in the playoffs.

Indians at Orioles, May 14-16: They can’t all be Yankees-Red Sox, right? Both of these teams are pretty bad, but that could make for some entertaining viewing in itself. And if the game itself doesn’t make you laugh, maybe the postgame show will.

ON THE TUBE
Monday, 7:05 p.m. ET: Yankees at Tigers (ESPN)
Wednesday, 7:05 p.m.: Yankees at Tigers (ESPN)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Phillies at Brewers (FOX)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Astros at Giants (FOX)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Mariners at Rays (FOX)
Sunday, 1:05 p.m.: Twins at Yankees (TBS)
Sunday, 8:05 p.m.: Phillies at Brewers (ESPN)
*Check local listings

And for those of you who have asked for a schedule of MLB Network games, you may find that here.

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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.