It was an interesting decision that Buck Showalter made to start Joe Saunders over Chris Tillman tonight in Game 4 at New York.
I will guess that the combination of Saunders pitching so well down the stretch, his strong outing on Friday at Texas and the Yankees' performance this year vs. left-handed pitching all factored into the decision.
Tillman, you have to figure, will be ready to come into the game on short notice in this must-win situation for the Orioles.
This year, the Yankees batted .263 with a .438 slugging percentage against southpaws and those numbers were .266/.461 vs. right-handers.
Robinson Cano's OPS this year was 1.108 against right-handed pitching, but just .646 against lefties. Curtis Granderson goes from .839 to .762 vs. lefties. Last night's Yankees hero, Raul Ibanez, goes from an .812 OPS to .492 against lefties. Switch-hitter Nick Swisher loses about 100 points on his OPS when facing lefties.
Maybe the biggest factor, though, was how Saunders handled that win or go home game on Friday. Over 5 2/3 innings, he gave up just one run. He got that huge first-inning double play from Josh Hamilton and Texas went 0-for-3 against him with runners in scoring position.
Saunders gave up seven runs on Aug. 29 in his first O's start. But in seven starts since then, counting the Texas game, he has an ERA of 2.60. In four road starts this year, he is 2-1 with an ERA of 1.73. The Orioles are 5-3 when he starts.
He already has a win this year against the Yankees and that was Sept. 8 at Camden Yards, when he gave up two runs over 5 1/3 frames.
Saunders has a career ERA of 5.82 against New York, but that looks good compared to his 9.38 ERA in six career games at Texas until he beat them Friday.
Once again, it is not so much about Saunders' career stats that were compiled years ago, but how he is throwing now for the Orioles. Showalter clearly has a lot of confidence in him to give him the ball tonight.