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First Pitch: Who needs clutch hitting?

6/6/2012

Tonight could be the night the Yankees move into first place in the AL East, a remarkable accomplishment considering they have lost four key players -- Mariano Rivera and Michael Pineda for the season, and Brett Gardner and David Robertson for significant portions of it so far -- and have gotten less production than expected out of Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and to some extent, Robinson Cano.

But they have gotten more than they could have hoped out of Derek Jeter, Raul Ibanez, and, as last night's performance showed, Andy Pettitte. Certainly things could be a lot worse than they are now, with the Yankees a season-high six games over .500 (30-24) and a scant half-game behind the Tampa Bay Rays and Baltimore Orioles, who are tied atop the division.

And I haven't even mentioned their horrendous record of hitting with runners in scoring position -- they are hitting .220 w/RISP, worst in the AL -- or with the bases loaded -- .167 even after Russell Martin's grand slam last night, which places them 28th out of 30 teams in MLB.

But when you're leading baseball in HRs, and scoring an average of nearly five runs per game, such stats can be misleading, if not downright meaningless. In fact, in Tuesday night's 7-0 win over the Rays, the Yankees were 0-for-3 with the bases loaded after one inning -- and led, 2-0, when Ibanez's routine grounder to short was thrown away by Elliott Johnson, resulting in a pair of unearned runs. Sometimes, the numbers just don't correlate with the results.

Which brings us to tonight's game, in which the Yankees will be facing young Alex Cobb, a rookie right-hander whom they have never seen. In the past, this caused them quite a bit of trouble -- in fact, the only major league victory in the record of Bryan Bullington, the No. 1 pick in the nation in 2002, came at the expense of the Yankees, who had never seen him, in 2010 -- but they seem to have righted that ship, going 23-9 over the past two seasons against pitchers they are facing for the first time.

In that case, the odds would seem to be in their favor tonight, even with the inconsistent Ivan Nova on the mound, since his last really good outing came against the Rays on May 8 (7 IP, 6 H, 2 ER).

Which leads us to The Question of the Day: Which baseball stat do you find the most misleading/least useful, and why? Let us know below.

Up now: My column on Andy Pettitte's terrific Tuesday night, as well as various blog items off last night's 7-0 win.

Coming soon: You are in the capable hands of Andrew Marchand tonight. Clubhouse will open at 3:20, lineups will be up shortly thereafter, and Andrew will be scurrying around, as only he can, to fill up the blog with all sorts of tidbits for your reading pleasure, so check in early and often.

Question No. 2: We all know CC Sabathia is the nominal ace of the staff, but in whom do you have more confidence, both right now, and in the playoffs: CC or Andy? Give it up in the comments section and as always, thanks for reading.