Home Run Watch has resumed. Alex Rodriguez, who didn't start yesterday's game against the Rays (and struck out in a pinch-hitting appearance), is back in the lineup today and batting in his usual cleanup spot. Rodriguez has had 43 plate appearances (38 at-bats) since hitting his 599th homer and is just 3-for-25 in his last seven games, but tonight provides him the opportunity to reach the milestone before a home crowd. For what it's worth, he's hit nine of his 16 homers at Yankee Stadium and 11 at night.
More importantly, the Yankees (66-38) are clinging to a one-game division lead over the Rays, who host the Twins tonight. After getting shut out yesterday and having the offense struggle in six of the last seven games, the Yankees need (as much as a first-place team needs something on Aug. 2) to rebound against the fourth-place Blue Jays (54-51).
Brandon Morrow (TOR) vs. A.J. Burnett (NYY)
Morrow is 7-6 with a 4.62 ERA and 1.43 WHIP (1.45 for his career), but he does have 125 strikeouts and has pitched to a 2.77 ERA in two starts since the All-Star break. In his two starts against the Yankees this season, he's got a 4.15 ERA and a .271 batting average against, but two no-decisions (both Yankees wins). If stats are a harbinger for anything (they often aren't), tonight doesn't look good for 26-year-old. He's got a 6.23 ERA on the road this year; he's 1-4 with a 6.65 on grass fields and an 11.25 at Yankee Stadium (old and new) over the last three seasons. Brett Gardner has done the best against him, hitting .600 with a home run and a triple (2.200 OPS). Jorge Posada is 3-for-7 with four walks, Robinson Cano 4-for-13 with two walks and Mark Teixeira 3-for-10 with two RBIs and two walks. Alex Rodriguez is 4-for-15 with a home run. Derek Jeter has trouble with Morrow, hitting 1-for-13. The hard-throwing righthander relies heavily on his four-seam fastball, which is usually between 95-97 mph. He's also got a hard slider and throws a power curve on occasion.
Burnett is 9-8 with a 4.52 ERA, a 1.47 ERA, 50 walks, a career-high 12 hit batters and 10 wild pitches. As has been the case for much of his career, the righthander has struggled with control and consistency. He has, however, bounced back from a terrible stretch with two good starts (both wins) – granted, he faced the Royals and Indians. Burnett hasn't allowed a run in 11 1/3 innings. Against the Indians on July 28, he gave up seven hits and three walks over 6 1/3 but his sharp curveball helped him wiggle out of some jams. Burnett is 0-1 with a 4.26 ERA in two games against his former team this season. He was crushed his first time out against them in June, but was solid in his second on July 2, allowing no runs over 6 2/3 in a no-decision. Overall, the Blue Jays are hitting .222 against Burnett. But that's not because of Jose Bautista. The slugger, who leads the majors with 32 longballs, is 3-for-4 with two homers and two walks off the righthander. Both homers were solo shots on June 4. Vernon Wells is 4-for-15 with a homer. Burnett has dominated Lyle Overbay (2-for-23 with nine strikeouts). Burnett features a 93-96 mph fastball, a hard “12-6” curve, a slider and an every-now-&-then changeup.