It’s been six years since we’ve last seen a Yankee/Dodger series. It was 2004 and things were great. Both clubs were on their way to division winning seasons. Eric Gagne was in the middle of his record-setting 84 consecutive saves. And Yankee fans were still high off the Alex Rodriguez signing. The three game series took place in Los Angeles, with the Dodgers winning two of three.
But six years is a lifetime in baseball years. Joe Torre has switched sides. Gagne and Rodriguez have been scarred by steroid scandals. Yankee Stadium is no longer and Dodgers stadium has been completely renovated. Of the 46 players that appeared in the 2004 series, only six remain—Jeter, A-Rod, Posada, Rivera and Javier Vasquez for the New York and Jeff Weaver for LA.
Though just an interleague series, the sold-out 3-game stretch has some added significance. Both teams are entrenched in tight divisional races. And a good showing this weekend could solidify them atop their divisions.
The outcome will hinge on three key factors: starting pitching, bullpen play and offense.
Phil Hughes was slated to start off the series in LA. But New York is skipping his start in an effort to limit his innings. Right now, the projected pitching matchups are Vicente Padilla vs. CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda vs. A.J. Burnett and Clayton Kershaw vs. Andy Pettitte.
The first game's edge goes to Sabathia and the Yanks. Sabathia has been solid all year, going 8-3 in 15 starts. Padilla has struggled with injury and is only 1-1 in 5 starts this year, with a 6.67 ERA. In his first start back from the DL against another AL East team, he was touched for 4 runs on 5 hits in 5 1/3. Because of Hughes’ skipped start, he’s forced to go against New York’s ace.
Saturday's contest is a matchup of two overpriced pitchers. A.J. Burnett and his $16.5 million will face off against Kuroda and his $15.4 million. Both players have nearly identical numbers. But stats lie. Burnett has been absolutely terrible lately, going winless in four consecutive starts.
Kuroda has been remarkably consistent in June. Despite posting a pedestrian 2-2 record, he’s maintained a 1.80 ERA through the month. On raw talent alone, Burnett would have the advantage. Yet based on recent production, Kuroda looks to be the better pitcher.
The final game is the most intriguing and evenly matched of the series. Old Man Pettitte has been his reliable self all year. Almost a guaranteed 7 IP, 2 ER, he has been arguably the Yankees 2nd best pitcher this season. Kershaw had a tough start to the season, including a 7 run drubbing in 1 1/3 at the hands of lowly Brewers. But he’s recovered nicely, going 6-1 in 7 starts since the Milwaukee debacle.
This series features two of the best closers in baseball—Jonathan Broxton and Mariano Rivera. Broxton, has been nearly unhittable this season. He’s 3-0, with 16 saves and an ERA of 0.92. The Yankees will have a tough time squeezing late inning runs out of him.
Rivera, while generally regarded as one of the greatest closers in history, has been showing his age of late. At 40 years old, his continued production is remarkable. Yet there have been times this year when Rivera has seemed human. After he gave up a game-winning grand slam to Jason Kubel last month, Yankee fans have always been nervous when their starters leave the game.
Rivera’s age combined with Broxton’s dominance and the Yankees lack of viable options out of the bullpen (Joba Chamberlain does not count as a viable option) give the Dodgers a slight advantage here.
Batting numbers are the biggest difference between these two clubs. The Dodgers offense hasn’t been quite as dynamic as many expected. They rank 8th in batting average, 13th in RBIs, 11th in hits and a distant 22nd in HRs. The Yankees, on the other hand, have one of the most prolific offenses in the majors, ranking in the top 6 of every major category.
The New York attack is well balanced through the lineup. It’s hard to find a major league lineup as dangerous, 1-9, as the Yankees, especially when healthy. In addition to big names like Derek Jeter, A-Rod and Mark Texiera, the Yankees have been getting help from multiple role players.
Robinson Cano, in particular, has been a quiet superstar. The number five batter in the rotation, he’s averaging .365 with 14 HRs this year and leads the Yankees in average, HRs, hits and RBIs.
The Dodger’s mediocrity on offense may be attributable to Manny Ramirez’s stint on the DL. But outside of Manny, there are only two Dodgers that legitimately scare New York—Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp. Ethier is especially dangerous. He has been a late game assassin, almost Kobe-esque. With runners in scoring position, he’s batting .368 with 7 HRs. With the bases loaded, he’s hitting .667 with 2 grand slams. The man is ridiculous.
The outfield, specifically Ethier, must perform well if the Dodgers have any chance of winning this weekend. Without their contributions, it will be difficult to outscore the high-powered Yankees offense.
These two teams are far closer in talent than their records indicate. Add to that the emotions involved in the Torre/Yankee reunion, the history between the clubs and 56,000 crazy fans and we’re in for a great series.
Game 1: Yankees 6, Dodgers 3
Game 2: Dodgers 7, Yankees 5
Game 3: Yankees 3, Dodgers 2
Questions or Comments? Contact Jez Kline via email with firstname.lastname@example.org