In less than two seasons, Chien-Ming Wang has gone from highly touted prospect to Cy Young candidate and likely Game 1 starter in the AL division series.
Wang (18-6, 3.57 ERA) was an early season callup by the Yankees (95-62) last year when their starting rotation was beset by injuries. The right-hander allowed more than three runs just once in his first seven starts, earning a spot among a rotation of veterans featuring Mike Mussina, Randy Johnson and Kevin Brown.
Wang finished his rookie season 8-5 with a 4.02 ERA and made a playoff start, losing to the Angels in Game 2 of the ALDS.
This year, Wang has proven to be New York’s most consistent starter, leading the team in wins and with 212 innings pitched. Relying heavily on a sinker to induce ground-ball outs, Wang has only 72 strikeouts—the same amount reliever Kyle Farnsworth has in just 64 innings.
The Taiwan native has won 10 of his last 12 decisions and is coming off a solid outing Friday against Tampa Bay, which he limited to one run in seven innings in a 4-1 victory. Wang has allowed three runs or fewer in his last seven starts, going 5-1 with a 2.56 ERA in that span.
His effectiveness, coupled with Johnson battling back spasms that have forced him to miss his final scheduled start Thursday, likely will leave Wang starting the playoffs against the AL wild card winner, either Detroit or Minnesota.
Wang is 1-1 with a save and 4.73 ERA in three appearances against the Orioles this year, giving up seven runs in 13 1-3 innings.
New York kept pace with Detroit for the best record in the AL with Tuesday’s 5-4 win over Baltimore. Cory Lidle—making his final bid to be the fourth starter in the Yankees’ playoff rotation—pitched into the seventh inning, but admitted his chances of beating out Jaret Wright are slim.
“It kind of looks like that’s how it’s playing itself out,” Lidle said of being the long reliever. “They haven’t told me anything.
“If they use me out of the bullpen, I’d like to get some innings. But if I don’t get in out of the bullpen, it’s because our starters are doing good. So either way, it’s a win-win situation.”
The Yankees reached the 95-win mark for the sixth straight year, but need to win out to record their fourth 100-win season in five years.
Kris Benson (11-11, 4.49) can wrap up a winning record with a victory in his final start of the season for the Orioles (68-89). The right-hander has allowed three runs or less in his last four starts and was the beneficiary of an eighth-inning rally as Baltimore posted a 4-3 victory Thursday over Detroit.
“He finally caught a break that he deserved and got himself another win,” Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo said of Benson, who allowed three runs in the first three innings on a pair of homers before pitching five scoreless innings.
Benson is 1-0 with a 4.76 ERA in two starts against the Yankees this year, giving up seven runs and 15 hits in 11 1-3 innings.
The Orioles need to win their remaining games to avoid their fourth 90-loss season in six years.