First Pitch: National Showdown
June, 14, 2012
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com
The Yankees are at their high-water mark of the season: six wins in a row, two consecutive series sweeps, a dozen games over .500 and, for the second day in a row, alone atop the AL East.
They are, without question, the hottest team in the American League. So what better time could there be than to travel to Washington, D.C., and test themselves against the hottest team in the National League?
Well, how about tomorrow?
Fresh off their sweep of the Braves in Atlanta, which came on the heels of their sweep of the Mets at home, the Yankees will start a three-game series against the NL East-leading Nationals -- who, like the Bombers, are coming off consecutive series sweeps, over the Blue Jays and Red Sox. The Nats have won nine of their last 11, have the second-best record in all of baseball (38-23) and a five-game lead over the second-place Braves.
It might be too early to call this one a possible World Series preview. Or it might not. In any case, it should make for a great weekend of baseball, which just one disappointment: The Yankees will not get to face Stephen Strasburg, who pitched Wednesday and will miss the series.
But they will get a look at 19-year-old slugger Bryce Harper and a couple of pitchers they know rather well, Edwin Jackson and Gio Gonzalez, and one they do not, Jordan Zimmerman.
"I'm excited about it," Joe Girardi said. "They're playing great right now and it's a lot of young kids that seem to be aggressive. They've pitched extremely well. I think they're No. 1 in pitching, No. 1 in defense. They're just playing good baseball, so it should be an exciting weekend."
Alex Rodriguez is particularly interested to get a look at Harper, who he said reminds him of himself at the same age.
"I love big talent. I love unique talent," A-Rod said. "I'm just a baseball fan like you guys are. To see a 19-year-old do some of the things that he's doing, it's pretty darn special. I'm excited to see him."
Rodriguez has obviously watched a lot of highlights, because he was able to break down Harper like a scout: "He's got power, he's electric, a very good baserunner. He reminds me a little bit of Larry Walker as a very good baserunner -- fearless. He's the kind of guy I would pay my money to watch play. I'm sure well after I'm done, I'll be paying my money to watch him play and break all the records."
But one guy A-Rod said he will not mind not seeing live is Strasburg. "I said I'd pay to watch these guys play," he said. "I don't need to be that close."
The Yankees have Phil Hughes going Friday night against Gonzalez, Andy Pettitte going Saturday against Zimmerman and Ivan Nova on Sunday against Jackson.
"They're playing extremely well. We're playing well," Girardi said. "We've got a day to rest up and think about it, and then we'll go at it."
Question: Who do you think is the best team in the National League right now, Davey Johnson's Nationals, or Don Mattingly's Dodgers?
Up now: A bunch of blog items on last night's game, including the Home Run Hitter Who Really Isn't, the starting pitcher pitching like his old self, and the young bullpen coming into its own.
On deck: The fabulous Katie Sharp will have another fine Yankeemetrics post later this morning, and the one and only Andrew Marchand will have an off-day story projecting the performances of some key Yankees off what they've done so far this season. I'll be joining you tomorrow night at Nationals Park to take you through the weekend.
Question No. 2: With David Robertson due to be reactivated tomorrow, which of the relief pitchers would you send down? Cody Eppley? Clay Rapada? David Phelps? Freddy Garcia? Let us know below. (My money's on Phelps). As always, thanks for reading.