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Phil Coke Is the Yankees’ X-Factor This Weekend

Posted by Andrew Zercie on May 22, 2009

It seems appropriate that Sunday is Umbrella Day at Yankee Stadium, because the forecast for the weekend series between the New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies calls for raining baseballs.

It stands to reason that the hot Yankees lineup and the powerful Phillies lineup will only add to the total of home runs hit in the new park.

The three game, interleague series between the 2008 World Series Champion Phillies can be seen as a measuring stick of sorts for the Yankees in their quest to become the 2009 World Series Champions.

Continuing their winning ways against a formidable Phillies lineup could legitimize the Yankees’ current play (11-2 in last 13 games), which has come against the Minnesota Twins, Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles. In fact, prior to beginning their recent hot stretch, the Yankees lost four in a row to 2008 ALCS combatants Boston and Tampa Bay.

Taking two of three from Philadelphia, or even sweeping the Phillies to run their winning streak to 12 games, would likely push the Yankees back into the spotlight as a serious World Series contender.

The Phillies present a unique challenge for the Yankees, because their most fearsome hitters (Ryan Howard, Raul Ibanez, Chase Utley) are lefties who could benefit from dimensions of Yankee Stadium, not to mention the oft-cited “jet stream” that seems to carry balls out to right field. Even struggling switch hitters Shane Victorino and Jimmy Rollins will get a few at-bats from the left side in this series, and they’ve proven in the past to be dangerous hitters as well.

The Yankees will need their pitching, particularly their bullpen, to keep the Phillies from scoring bunches of runs.

For that season, this series could become the Phil Coke Coming Out Party. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Coke has had his ups and downs this season, like every other reliever in the Yankees bullpen this year. However, with the powerful presence that the middle of the Phillies’ lineup possesses, Joe Girardi will have to strategically utilize Coke to neutralize their lefty hitters.

Despite his recent struggles, Coke has dominated lefties this year. In 33 at-bats against Coke, lefties have managed just 6 hits against him, for a .182 average. Granted, 3 of those hits have been home runs, but for the most part, Coke has made lefty hitters look silly.

If he’s given the opportunity late in the game to face Howard, Ibanez and Utley, the Yankees will learn exactly what they’ve got with Phil Coke, and whether or not their bullpen may develop into a championship-caliber unit.

If Coke comes through against the Phillies’ slugging lefties, it validates their trust in him.

If Coke falters, and with Damaso Marte on the disabled list with no timetable for a return, the Yankees could begin seriously exploring trade options for left-handed relievers.

Looking at the team matchups overall, the fact that the Yankees have AJ Burnett, Andy Pettitte and CC Sabathia lined up for this series gives them an edge over the Phillies (Brett Myers, AJ Happ, Cole Hamels).

The possibility exists that Coke will be handed leads all weekend. What he does with them will determine the Yankees’ success this weekend and, perhaps, determine how the Yankees proceed with their bullpen the rest of the season.

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