The three-game series is baseball's perfect package. It exposes enough of each team's pitching to prevent any single hurler from dominating the competition, but doesn't go on so long as to overstay is welcome. Five games may not be enough for a postseason series, but they are way too many for a regular-season confrontation, particularly when a team such as the 2006 Royals, Orioles, Mariners or Devil Rays is involved. Two games are unrewarding, over too fast and often without exposing the true nature of the teams involved. Baseball is a game for people who savor the moment and chew their food before swallowing. Until recently it wasn't uncommon for teams to have two games scheduled on the same day. A two-game "series" is as big an affront to the game as artificial turf (which may be why the Yankees always seem to play two against Toronto). Four games are fun for marquee matchups, such as when the Red Sox come to town, but the possibility of a 2-2 series split just doesn't belong in a game that refuses to end in a tie. Indeed, it's the fact that a three-game series must have a winner that, above all else, makes it baseball's ideal regular season sample size.
Tonight, the Yankees play their third rubber game of the year, having previously dropped their first in Oakland and won their second this past Sunday against the Orioles. I guess that makes it something of a rubber rubber game. At any rate, they'll be digging in against lefty Mark Hendrickson, who needed just 106 pitches to hurl a three-hit, one-walk shutout against the O's in his first start, but has been on the DL with tendonitis in his pitching shoulder ever since.
Last year, Hendrickson made a whopping five starts against the Yankees, posting an ERA more than a full run better than his overall mark. As one might expect from a 6'9" lefty, Hendrickson is murder on fellow southpaws (career .225 GPA), but he's rather useless against right-handed hitters, who hit him to the tune of .312/.356/.504. Taking a closer look at his five starts against the Yanks last year, he gave up at least four runs in four of them, but only once gave up as many as five. He also lasted a minimum 6 2/3 innings in four of those starts, pitching a full five in the one exception. That surprisingly consistent, and suggests that, if Hendrickson is fully healthy and on his game coming off the DL, Shawn Chacon will have to do his part tonight.
Chacon, meanwhile, is coming off a tremendously lucky outing against the Orioles in which he held the O's to one run over seven innings due almost entirely to a .182 opponent's average on balls in play. Prior to that, Chacon had racked up a representative 8.03 ERA across two disappointing starts and a pair of ugly relief outings. Here's hoping he gets a few lucky bounces tonight.