As the pennant races continue, Big League Stew is there to take a closer look at some of the biggest series down the stretch.
New York Yankees
The situation: The Detroit Tigers and Chicago White Sox will start a BIG series in Motown Friday night with the Sunday night series finale scheduled to feature a great Chris Sale-Justin Verlander matchup. But however titanic that matchup might prove to be, the fact is that Detroit-Chicago have staged more than a few BIG series over the past few years. When's the last time we saw an important Orioles-Yankees series this late in the season? You probably have to go all the way back to 1997, when the Orioles bought some insurance in the AL East race by taking three of four games in early September to open an 8 1/2-game lead in the division. Though the Yankees would stage a late threat and win the AL wild card with 96 wins, the O's took home 98 victories for the last division title (and winning season) before their current 14-year period of darkness.
With 72 victories already to their name, Baltimore looks to be in a good position to end that sub-.500 streak. And thanks to a recent slump from the Yankees — who have dropped six of their last nine — it can still harbor hopes for an AL East title, too. The O's enter this weekend's series trailing New York by only three games, which seems pretty slim when you consider that the deficit was a season-high 10 games as recently as July 18. (The Orioles, who have won five of their last six, also hold a 1 1/2-game lead over the Rays for the American League's second wild-card spot.) Is this the series where the Orioles make their big swoop? Or can the Yankees put a decent-sized crimp into what has been a magical season in Baltimore?
Previously on: The Yankees lead the season series by the narrow margin of 6-5. The two teams last met in a series at Yankee Stadium at the end of July with the O's taking two of three games.
What's left: A four-game series at Camden Yards that starts next Thursday will cap the regular-season series between the Orioles and Yankees.
For starters: Miguel Gonzales (5-3, 3.66) and Hiroki Kuroda (12-9, 2.98) will kick off the action on Friday night, followed by Wei-Yen Chen (12-7, 3.78) and Freddy Garcia (7-5, 4.90) on Saturday and Chris Tillman (7-2 3.26) and David Phelps (3-4, 2.96) on Sunday.
Kuroda the stopper: When all is said and done, the Yankees team MVP ball might be headed to Hiroki Kuroda. The 37-year-old righty has been Mr. Consistency for a rotation in dire need of stability and he's running on a current streak in which he's 4-2 with a 1.66 ERA over his last eight starts. He's been even better at Yankee Stadium, going 3-1 with an 0.94 ERA over his last five appearances. If the Yankees are to pop the O's in the mouth and instill some doubts from the get-go, they'll need Kuroda to step up big. It's not too hard to imagine that he'll be up for the challenge.
Nate McLouth! It's certainly not going to last forever, but McLouth has been on fire his last 10 games, posting a line of .297/.381/.541 with two homers, seven RBIs and 10 runs scored. The O's signed the outfielder to a minor-league contract earlier this summer and has been indicative of the all-hands approach that Baltimore has ridden to success. His go-ahead two-run homer off Brett Myers in Monday's win over the White Sox set the tone for a series that saw the Orioles win three of four.
Close ones: A lot has been made about Baltimore's 24-6 record in one-run games, a stunning mark that has allowed the O's to wildly outperform a -44 run differential. They're 1-2 against the Yankees in such games, though, despite New York holding an overall record of 16-19 in one-run contests. It'll be fun to watch Buck Showalter and Joe Girardi's binder play battle of the bullpens all weekend.