Before I get into the specifics of Game 1, the guys over at NoMaas posted a very quick list of the starters' ERA+ figures that shows how evenly matched the starters are for this series. Cleaning it up a bit, it looks like this:
Game 1: Wang (118) v Johnson (65)
Game 2: Ponson (51) v Lester (115)
Game 3: Johnson (92) v Beckett (93)
Game 4: Mussina (128) v Schilling (122)
Game 5: Lidle (98*) v Wells (77)
*ERA+ with Phillies only
That chart shows what we already sort of knew, which is that the final three games are very evenly matched, while today's double-header is evenly mismatched. Given the inequity in today's pitching match-ups, Game 1 becomes unusually important for the Yankees. Because they'll be at a tremendous disadvantage in the nightcap (both because of the pitching matchup, but also because Sal Fasano will likely grab the second-game-of-a-doubleheader/night-game-before-a-day-game-start), they need to win this afternoon's contest. Of course, if they do that, then the same pressure will be applied to the Red Sox in the nightcap, but in either case, if one team gets swept today, it will need to sweep the next three days to pull out a series win.
The Yankees faced Jason Johnson in the Bronx back in mid-June when he was with the Cleveland Indians, touching him up for six runs on ten hits, including a pair of homers by Johnny Damon and Andy Phillips, in 5 2/3 innings. That was Johnson's penultimate start for Cleveland before being placed on waivers and claimed by the Red Sox. Since joining Boston, Johnson has turned in just one quality start in five tries, that coming against the post-trading deadline Devil Rays. Most recently those cheery O's tagged him for seven runs in 5 1/2 innings. All totaled, Johnson has posted a 7.20 ERA, a 1.80 WHIP, and an 0-3 record while donning the crimson hose.
As for Chien-Ming Wang, as he's passed his career high innings pitched total he's also hit something of a rough patch. Wang threw a career high 157 innings last year between the minors, majors and his lone postseason start. In his third and fourth most recent starts, both Yankee wins, Wang threw 17 scoreless innings allowing just six hits, but by the end of that stretch he had totaled 156 innings pitched on the season. In his two starts since then, both Yankee loses, he's posted this line: 10 1/3 IP, 20 H, 9 R, 2 HR, 4 BB, 4 K. That's a 7.84 ERA and a 2.32 WHIP. He's now at 166 1/3 innings pitched, a new career high.
To make matters worse, even before he got to his previous innings limit, he'd struggled on the road. Just one of those last two starts came on the road, yet his road ERA is 5.16, due in large part to a .321 opponents' batting average, which leads to a 1.60 WHIP. He's also allowed as many home runs on the road as at home despite having thrown only two-thirds as many innings away from the Bronx. This is all rather unsettling heading into something of a must-win game.
Wang has faced Boston three times this season. The first came at Fenway, where he allowed three runs on six hits and four walks in five innings. Many, including myself, argued at the time that Wang should have pitched longer in that game as he had settled down in the later innings, was victimized by several weak bloopers, and was at just 77 pitches when Joe Torre removed him from a 3-3 tie for the just-activated Aaron Small, who would go on to lose the game. The Sox then roughed Wang up but good in his next start against them at Yankee Stadium, scoring seven runs on nine hits, including a Manny Ramirez home run, in six innings. Wang got his revenge just two weeks later, however. Again pitching at home, Wang scattered eight hits while holding the Red Sox to just one run over seven innings at which point Kyle Farnsworth and Mariano Rivera shut the door on a 2-1 Yankee win. That last start and Johnson's incompetence are about the only reason's for optimism this afternoon. Here's hoping the Yankees give us a few more.
Courtesy of diligent reader Randym77, here are the line-ups:
L - Johnny Damon, CF
R - Derek Jeter, SS
L - Bobby Abreu, RF
L - Jason Giambi, DH
R - Alex Rodriguez, 3B
L - Robinson Cano, 2B
S - Jorge Posada, C
R - Craig Wilson, 1B
S - Melky Cabrera, LF
S - Coco Crisp, CF
R - Mark Loretta, 2B
L - David Ortiz, DH
R - Manny Ramirez, LF
R - Kevin Youkilis, 1B
R - Mike Lowell, 3B
L - Eric Hinske, RF
R - Javy Lopez, C
R - Alex Gonzalez, SS