I know, I know – the Yankees have not even made the World Series yet. George Steinbrenner would file a protest if somebody told him I was already picking them to beat the Phillies.
But I speak to you as a season-long skeptic about New York, who now looks at this team and believes they should’ve swept the Angels, but for some over-managing by Joe Girardi. I still think the Yankees have some holes and I wouldn’t leave my season in the hands of A.J. Burnett and I still don’t like starting CC Sabathia on short rest.
But one set of statistics should make Phillies fans shudder:
Those are Ryan Howard’s numbers against lefthanded pitchers, during the regular season, in Citizens Bank Park, in 2009. And it’s not a small sample, it’s 107 at bats, and he struck out in 51 of them. And no matter whether Girardi is going to push the envelope on Sabathia and try him on three days’ rest again, or play it safe, there will be two games at home in which Ryan Howard will have to face Sabathia and Andy Pettitte. He has seen nothing like them individually during the post-season, and nothing like them in tandem, conceivably in consecutive starts, during the regular season. The Phillies might as well bench him in those games over Halloween weekend.
It’s not like he’s good against lefties out-of-town, either. Howard’s line this year is 6-33-.207-.298-.356. And he will open at Yankee Stadium against Sabathia, who during the season gave up twelve hits, and no home runs, to lefthanded batters, in fourteen starts. Pettitte has been less dominant than Sabathia against lefty hitters in New York, but even he has only surrendered five homers to them at home.
The other Phillies do not fold entirely against southpaws but they become less imposing. Here are their key lefthanded or switch batters versus lefty pitchers:
* better LH than RH
The problem becomes apparent when you consider the way the two ways the Yankees could set up their rotation:
Game One, Wednesday 10/28, @ New York: Sabathia*
Game Two, Thursday 10/29, @ New York: Burnett
Game Three, Saturday 10/31, @ Philadelphia: Pettitte*
Game Four, Sunday 11/1, @ Philadelphia: Sabathia* or ?
Game Five, Monday, 11/2, @ Philadelphia: Burnett, ? or Sabathia*
Game Six, Wednesday, 11/4 @ New York: Pettitte* or Burnett
Game Seven, Thursday, 11/5 @ New York: Sabathia* or Pettitte*
If the Phillies get to the seventh game, and if Joe Girardi plays it conservatively, they will have already had to face starts by three southpaws, and then beat Pettitte in the finale, with Sabathia available in the bullpen. It is absolutely plausible that Girardi will not be conservative at all, and will have already started both Sabathia and Pettitte twice each, with Sabathia gearing up for the start in the decider.
It’s a slightly more daunting task than beating the Rockies with no lefty starters, and then flummoxing a slumping Clayton Kershaw and beating, in a do-or-die game for the other team, a starter who was released by Texas two months ago and on whom you can always rely – he’ll always let you down. And they don’t have a power plug-in for the DH in The Stadium (unless Charlie Manuel were to pull a real rabbit out of his hat, like John Mayberry, Jr.).
I don’t think they can do it. Congrats on that pennant.
PS: For whatever this is worth, Howard went 2-for-14 in the three-game clash at Yankee Stadium in May. The hits were both off Sabathia, and both infield singles to the left side.