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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Tuesday, June 12, 2012 at 10:42 PM

The New York Yankees visit the Atlanta Braves Wednesday Night in a game to be nationally televised by ESPN. On the mound for the Bronx Bombers will be Hiroki Kuroda, a pitcher who had success with the Los Angeles Dodgers but who was far from a sure thing to star for the Yankees in 2012.

*He was moving from the inferior National League to the superior American League (and, the toughest division in the superior league…the AL East!)

*He was moving from a home stadium that was great for pitchers to a home stadium that can be very tough for righthanders who don’t know now to discourage the home run ball.

*He was moving from laid back Southern California to high pressure New York…where the media really jumps on you if you’re not performing up to expectations.

Yankees fans know that the team has mostly failed with experiments on Asian pitchers, outside of a nice temporary run from ground ball machine Chien-Ming Wang. You couldn’t blame them if they weren’t very enthusiastic about Kuroda helping the cause this year.

Well, to this point in the season, Kuroda has basically been C.C. Sabathia!

 

STATS ENTERING ATLANTA SERIES

Kuroda: 3.46 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 11 home runs, 7 quality starts

Sabathia: 3.69 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 10 home runs, 8 quality starts

If the acquisition of Kuroda doubled the number of Sabathia’s that the Yankees can throw at you…they move into the driver’s seat in the American League. Unfortunately, there is a stat that suggests Kuroda won’t be able to maintain the same pace.

 

STRIKEOUT RATES

Sabathia: 9.07 K’s per 9 innings

Kuroda: 5.73 K’s per 9 innings

Sabathia gets a lot more punchouts than Kuroda does, which allows him to get out of jams more easily. Kurdoa is more of a pitch-to-contact guy, which gives him very little margin for error. Through the current 2012 sample size, there’s been negligible difference between the two in terms of ERA and WHIP. But, strikeout rate is a fantastic indicator for future success, and that is telling us that Kuroda may be living on borrowed time in terms of consistently thriving in the tough AL East, in a home park that may not suit his skill set.

Tonight though…Kuroda is facing a National League team on the road…which puts him in position to be a significant factor. We’ll be watching the game in Atlanta very closely because we think Kuroda could be the linchpin player that determines how far the Yankees go this season.

*New York has learned in recent years that having Sabathia and a bunch of hitters isn’t enough in terms of winning a championship. They keep searching for depth in the starting rotation. Consistency from Kuroda could be the factor that puts them over the top. Instead of a 90-win team that loses in the playoffs, Kuroda can make them a 95-win that takes the pennant in the postseason.

*Come playoff time, it’s very important to have quality arms in the rotation. The best starting pitchers have a disproportionate impact because they’re on the field for so many innings. The #5 guys don’t even pitch. Some teams try to do everything with their best three. Sabathia-Kuroda-Pettitte is looking like a nice trio based on how well everyone’s playing lately. Note that the Yankees had won 8 of 10, 14 of 20, and 19 of 30 heading into Tuesday Night’s game in Atlanta. Those runs correspond to when the rotation settled in.

*Should Kuroda fall apart, drifting back to the worst expectations of skeptics who were concerned about changing leagues and pitching environments, then it’s very hard to take the Yankees seriously as a meaningful threat. Sabathia-Pettitte-Cross Your Fingers isn’t a way to win in the postseason. Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova are definitely cross-your-fingers throwers at this point, even though they do have some strong outings every so often. Their ERA’s are in the high 4’s right now rather than the mid 3’s.

There’s still plenty of baseball to be played. Injuries can throw a monkey wrench into the outlook for many contenders in the AL East and the league as a whole. For now…Kuroda looks like he’s going to matter more than you might have expected earlier this season. He’s either going to be the straw that stirs the drink, or the straw that breaks the camel’s back if he struggles. Keep that in mind as you watch the game tonight.

Other games we’ll be monitoring very closely Wednesday Night here at JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK

 

Boston at Miami (Doubront vs. Nolasco)

It looked like Bobby Valentine had weathered the early storms. But, the team has been reeling again in recent days just as Tampa Bay and New York caught fire. Storms seem to follow Ozzie Guillen around too. Neither team could afford their slow starts in Interleague…and both are trying to overcome weekend sweeps.

 

Cleveland at Cincinnati (Lowe vs. Leake)

The battle of Ohio means a lot to these teams, but this year it’s also a big series in the pennant races. Both teams are fighting for Central Division crowns. What happens within their Interleague rivalry could end up being a difference-maker in the year-end standings.

 

NY Mets at Tampa Bay (Dickey vs. Price)

Basically any game matching “East” teams from the two leagues right now is going to be important. Tampa Bay made a statement last weekend with a sweep in Miami. But, they’re prone to lose focus as big home favorites. We’ve been seeing good stuff from the best teams in the AL the past several days. No margin for error amongst the elite.

 

Chicago White Sox at St. Louis (Peavy vs. Lynn)

Jake Peavy had mostly been a disappointment since coming over to the White Sox from San Diego (which is part of why there was skepticism about Kuroda making a similar move). Peavy has really found his form in recent weeks though…which is a big reason the Sox surged to the top of the Central standings.

 

LA Angels at LA Dodgers (Wilson vs. Eovaldi)

Ever since Albert Pujols started hitting, the Halos have been on fire. He still isn’t the Pujols of old. But, he’s no longer the anvil that was dragging them down every night. The Angels have been one of the best teams in baseball the past five weeks, while the Dodgers have been one of the best all year. Don’t lose site of the Western powers just because they’re not on TV as much as the East!

It’s going to be a night of BLOCKBUSTERS from JIM HURLEY with this great schedule. You can purchase NETWORK’S top plays right here at this website with your credit card. If you have any questions, call the office at 1-800-323-4453. Be sure to ask about combination packages for baseball and basketball when you call. 

Back with you Thursday in the NOTEBOOK to preview Game Two of the NBA Finals. We’ll crunch the numbers from Game One, and talk about the possibilities for reversals in key categories after the head coaches make adjustments. Every game day in the Miami-Oklahoma City series will feature stat preview coverage on these pages. We’ll focus on baseball on the non-basketball days. Coming up in July we’ll be starting up our annual college football conference previews. Be sure you’re with us EVERY DAY so you know what’s REALLY going on in the world of sports!

Hiroki Kuroda may be the key guy in determining how things go for the Yankees this year. The key guy in determining your financial future is JIM HURLEY!

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