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Series Preview: Astros @ Yankees

Interleague play. Love it or hate it, you have to admit, it brings us some interesting series from time to time. This is one of them--the Astros are heading up to New York to play their first-ever series in the new Yankee Stadium.

The Yankees have been as good this year as they were the last, which is to say that they have a better win/loss percentage than any team in the National League. There's just one key difference: The Tampa Bay Rays have been even better.

Who do we got?

Offensively, the Yankees have the best on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) in baseball, at .812. Needless to say, Astros pitchers will have their work cut out for them. Just as foreboding is the high-scoring environment at the new Yankee Stadium. According to ESPN, it has been the most hitter-friendly park in baseball this season, driven by a 1.488 homerun factor (where 1.000 is average). That means there are almost 50% more homeruns at Yankee Stadium than average. For a team like the Astros which hits a high percentage of groundballs, this does not bode well. Simply put, balls in the air at Yankee Stadium often leave the park, and the Astros don't put as many balls in the air as do the Yankees.

Yankees pitching has been good, too. They have the third best Earned Run Average in the American League, at 3.83. This is significantly lower than advanced pitching statistics like FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) would suggest they should have, though, so either their defense has been very good (defensive metrics suggest it has been a little above average), they've been lucky, or both.

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that this is the anniversary of that one time.  You know, that time, when the Astros did that thing, to the Yankees?

Pitching Matchups

Brett Myers vs. Andy Pettitte - Friday. Myers has been very good this season, but a strong argument could be made that Pettitte has been even better. Pettitte's sparkling 2.48 ERA is driven partly by luck on balls in play and by leaving an unusually high number of runners on base, and advanced statistics suggest that he is due for some regression over the rest of the season, but he has still pitched well. Myers, too, is outpitching his peripherals at 3.01 ERA, but not by as much, although keep in mind that he is doing it in a lower-scoring league without the Designated Hitter.

Wandy Rodriguez vs. Javier Vasquez - Saturday. A tale of two pitchers who had career years in 2009, struggled early this season, and have shown signs of improvement in their past two starts. Both Wandy and Vasquez have been lowering their high earned run averages of late, and both have been underachieving throughout the season, according to advanced statistics. Wandy has the clear edge statistically, but again, he's been pitching in a lower-scoring league. Wandy has also always been much better at home than on the road, and this season is no exception. This should be an interesting matchup as we watch two pitchers try to bring back that 2009 magic which made them look like true top of the rotation starters.

Brian Moehler vs. Phil Hughes - Sunday. Leaving aside the massive difference between the Yankees' and Astros' offenses, this is the only truly lopsided confrontation in this series. It's a good thing baseball is so unpredictable! Moehler has been well below average this season, although he hasn't been as bad as his 6.12 ERA suggests, and he did turn in a decent start filling in for Bud Norris last time out. Phil Hughes' return to the Yankees rotation has gone swimmingly, on the other hand, and he has been lights out all season long. His 2.71 ERA isn't much below where advanced stats suggest it should be; he's striking out plenty of batters and walking very few. His homerun/flyball rate is unsustainably low, however, and since Hughes is a flyball pitcher, the Astros should be looking to take advantage of the homer-friendly confines of Yankee Stadium in this matchup and knock a few balls out of there.