The Yankees and Mets close the 2012 Interleague slate out this weekend with three games at Citi Field in beautiful Flushing, New York. With 11 Interleague wins, the Yankees come into this series with an opportunity to not only secure their highest-ever win tally ever in Interleague play (their previous high-water mark was 13 wins, done once in 1998 when the Interleague schedule was 16 games, and also in 2003 and 2011), but also an opportunity for a rare Subway Series sweep, which has only ever happened once (2003, the only other season the Yankees swept the Mets at home) in the prior 15 seasons of Interleague play.
Despite getting swept by the Yankees in the Bronx two weeks ago, the Mets have continued to outperform expectations, sweeping the Rays at Tampa Bay last week before getting swept at home by the NL Central-leading Reds this past weekend, and then sweeping a surprisingly strong Baltimore team.
With Johan’s no-hitter but a memory, the Mets’ hype machine has gone into overdrive thanks to R.A. Dickey’s recent stretch of masterfully historical starting pitching. With his complete-game one-hitter on Monday, he not only became the first pitcher to throw two straight one-hitters since Dave Steib in 1988, but the first pitcher ever to allow no earned runs and strike out at least eight batters in five consecutive starts. Over his past six starts, Dickey is 6-0 with a 0.18 ERA (one earned run in 48 2/3 innings), 63 strikeouts, five walks and a .131 average allowed (h/t ESPN). Bananas.
This domination has unsurprisingly vaulted him into early conversation for Cy Young, and if the season ended today you’d be hard-pressed to find a more deserving candidate in the National League. The Yankees, as I noted prior to the last go-round with the Metropolitans, were fortunate to miss Dickey two weeks ago, as he has the lowest ERA against the Yankees, minimum two starts, of every starter the Bombers have faced since the beginning of 2010. Unfortunately they won’t be so lucky this go-round, as Dickey will meet CC Sabathia Sunday evening on national television in what will be one of the most overhyped games of the year. Both men have been great, but prepare to wring the crap out of your hands as Dickey induces harmless groundball after groundball off the Yankee bats. While it stands to reason that Dickey can’t possibly continue to pitch this well — and if any team was going to finally knock him off his perch, it may as well be one of the hottest teams in baseball — between both Dickey’s recent history against the Yanks along with his total domination of any and all comers, Sabathia is probably going to have to be close to flawless for the Bombers to topple Dickey on Sunday night.
In addition to Dickey, the Mets’ starting pitching has continued to turn in strong performance after strong performance. Dillon Gee held the Yankees to three runs over seven innings two weeks ago and also turned ina quality start against Cincinnati, though they won’t see either him or Johan this weekend. They do get another shot at Jonathon Niese — who was extremely tough against the Bombers on Sunday, June 10 — tonight, and, like fellow lefthander-who-bizarrely-stymied-the-Yankees-in-his-initial-go-round Mike Minor, one would hope the Yankees will figure Niese out this time. The Yankees will also see Chris Young, who has been effective in his three starts since coming off the DL.
A number of Mets have been wielding significantly potent bats of late, with Ike Davis seemingly awoken from his season-long slumber with a 167 wRC+ over the last two weeks, Jordany Valdespin playing over his head (116 wRC+), David Wright continuing to mash (163 wRC+), and Lucas Duda, Scott Hairston, Vinny Rotino and Kirk Nieuwenhuis all providing at or above-average offensive production. That makes for an unexpectedly deep Mets lineup.
The Yankees haven’t exactly been offensive slouches of late either, though the bulk of their production over the last 14 days has been more top heavy, with Robinson Cano (188 wRC+), Nick Swisher (173), Mark Teixeira (158), Russell Martin (109) and Curtis Granderson (126) leading the charge. Despite the huge grand slam last week and another home run yesterday, A-Rod’s been pretty quiet at the plate (81 wRC+), hitting a sad .239/.320/.422 over his last 29 games, while Raul Ibanez (30) has been mired in a protracted slump.
Bullpen-wise the Yankees’ relief corps continues to be among the class of MLB, with a 2.60 ERA/3.11 FIP over the last two weeks, while the Met bullpen has continued to struggle, at 4.91/4.96 over the same timeframe.
The Pitching Match-Ups
Friday, June 22, 2012 at 7:10 p.m. LHP Andy Pettitte vs. LHP Jonathon Niese
A rematch of two Sundays ago. Both southpaws pitched well last time out, with Niese slightly outdueling Pettitte until the Mets bullpen blew the lead in the 8th, followed by a rare Rafael Soriano blown save in the 9th, followed by a Russell Martin walkoff home run bailing the team out and securing the sweep. Niese in theory seems like the type of pitcher the Yankees should feast on — lefthander with a 91mph fastball, but he mixes in a top-10-in-the-NL (by wCT/C) cutter and solid curve (0.39 wCU/C) to make his fastball (also 10th-best in the NL by wFA/C) that much more effective. You know that stat I linked to earlier showing Dickey as ERA leader against the Yankees since 2010? Well Niese is fifth on that list. Again, two starts isn’t a whole heck of a lot to go on, but to date the Yanks haven’t shown much punch against either Niese or Dickey.
Saturday, June 23, 2012 at 7:15 p.m. RHP Ivan Nova vs. RHP Chris Young
Chris Young has two career starts against the Yankees, and they both came as a member of the Texas Rangers, the last being on August 12, 2005, in a game the Yankees tagged him for five runs in three innings. For all intents and purposes Young may as well be a starter-they’ve-never-faced.
Young is a bit of a slop artist, with an 88mph fastball he throws nearly 75% of the time, and a 79mph slider. How he has lived off essentially two pitches, neither of which are thrown very hard, is a bit hard to discern, though anecdotally I’ve read that his height — 6’10” — makes his pitches appear faster than they actually are as his exaggerated wingspan allows for a shorter delivery time to the plate. As mentioned earlier, Young has been solid enough in his three starts thus far, though he’s also gotten hit fairly hard (.353 BABIP) and gives up a ton of fly balls (29% GB%). He probably represents the Yanks’ best shot at putting up a crooked number this weekend.
Nova saw the Mets twice last year and was good at Yankee Stadium (6.2 innings, three ER) and good at Citi Field if a bit lacking in distance (5 IP, 1 ER).
Sunday, June 24, 2012 at 8:00 p.m. LHP CC Sabathia vs. RHP R.A. Dickey
I mostly covered this match-up in the preamble above, but in case you weren’t aware, Dickey is a knuckleballer extraordinaire, throwing the pitch 80% of the time. You’d think hitters might have had some modicum of success against a hurler when they know what they’re getting, but two of the primary keys to Dickey’s success are his ability to not only hit his spots with arguably the toughest pitch to command, but also change speeds.
In addition to that lowest-ERA-since-2010 stat I keep citing, Dickey also has, believe it or not, the lowest ERA (2.30) among all pitchers with 30 or more IP against the Yankees (min. 1 start) since the start of the 2003 season. This year’s Yankee team has really been quite good at dispelling many a preconceived notion about pitchers they can or can’t hit, and so I’m reluctant to cast doubt, but the deck seems awfully stacked against the Yankees doing anything significant while facing Dickey in this contest.
Of course, Dickey’s mound opponent isn’t exactly chopped liver. Sabathia has once again been one of the very best pitchers in the Majors this year, though has been a bit up-and-down against the Mets in his Yankee career, throwing 7 innings of one-run ball in his lone start against them in 2009, getting lit up five ER in 5 innings during an ESPN Sunday Night telecast on May 23, 2010, and then firing eight shutout innings against the same lineup a month later on Father’s Day.
Though the win train came to a screeching halt this week against the Barves, the Yankees have still played excellent baseball in June, and should be able to win this weekend’s series.
That said, don’t be surprised to see Niese and Dickey totally own, especially given that they’ll each be pitching in their home ballpark, where they’ve both unsurprisingly done their best work. Oh, and in case you aren’t tired yet of Dickey stats, the man owns a 1.20 ERA at Citi Field this year.
On the flip side, with any luck, perhaps all of this Dickey nonsense will result in the biggest reverse jinx of all time, with the Yanks knocking him out after three innings on the strength of a 9-10 performance with RISP, moonshots to the deepest part of Citi Field and several amazing defensive plays by Raul Ibanez, forcing everyone’s heads to collectively explode.