With 32 games left in the 2012 regular season the New York Yankees -- once 10 games in front in the American League East -- find themselves bruised, battered and in a bare-knuckle fight to hang on over the final month of the season.
The Yankees (75-55) begin a brutal closing stretch Friday when they host the second-place Baltimore Orioles (72-58) at Yankee Stadium (7:05 p.m. ET, TV: YES/MLBN). Hiroki Kuroda (12-9, 2.98 ERA) pitches for the Yankees. The Orioles have not announced a starting pitcher.
Of their final 32 games, the Yankees play 26 of those against AL East teams. New York faces the Orioles seven times, the third-place Tampa Bay Rays (4 games out) six times and the rival Boston Red Sox six times, including three to end the season.
Buck Showalter's surprising Orioles have stayed close to the Yankees when everyone figured they would eventually fade. How have they done. SB Nation DC's Sam Chamberlain says it has been because of the bullpen.
"The first or second statistic anyone looks at in reference to the Orioles is their 24-6 record in one-run games while maintaining a run differential of -46 (entering Thursday's play). The main reason for these disparate statistics is that the bullpen has, to a man, performed remarkably well (Jim Johnson, Luis Ayala, Pedro Strop, Troy Patton, and Darren O'Day all sport an ERA + of at least 142; Johnson, the ostensible closer, is the low man at 142, while Strop's ERA + is a whopping 269). By contrast, the starting rotation has been generally middling, with the struggles of Tommy Hunter, Jake Arietta, and Brian Matusz canceling out the success of Wei-Yin Chen, Jason Hammel, and more recently Chris Tillman," Chamberlain said. "The bottom line is, if you get to the Orioles starters early, you're in good shape. If you let them keep it close, they will likely win the bullpen battle, and that's when you get into trouble."
Here are the pitching matchups for the final two games of the series:
Saturday: Freddy Garcia, Yankees (7-5, 4.90) vs. Wei-Yin Chen (12-7, 3.78)
Sunday: David Phelps, Yankees (3-4, 2.96) vs. TBA