The Yankees kick off a three-gamer in Fenway Park this weekend, and while on the face of it this series isn’t any more or less important than any other, from a “we’-re 1-8 against our archrival and haven’t beaten Boston since the 8th game of the season” perspective, it’s perhaps a tad bigger of a deal than it otherwise would be. However, despite the fact that it’s only early August, both the Yankees and Red Sox are already near-locks to make the playoffs. The only remaining questions for these two franchises are (1) which team will win the division, and (2) do the Bombers have any chance of beating Boston (if you’re convinced the answer’s an easy “no,” you just might be surprised) if the Yankees and Red Sox meet up in the ALCS?
Since completing their historic second straight sweep of the Yankees in the Bronx back on June 9, the Red Sox have been out of control, having gone 31-15 (note: all numbers cited in this post are through games of Tuesday, August 2) since leaving Yankee Stadium, during which time they actually fell back into second place, but recaptured first on July 7 and haven’t looked back. In those 46 games the Red Sox offense has gone insane, averaging 6.09 runs per game and seemingly dropping 10-plus-run hurtings on opponents as if they were copies of AM New York.
The offensive explosion has been spearheaded by the lightning-hot bats of Dustin Pedroia (151 wRC+) and Jacoby Ellsbury (146 wRC+), both currently in the midst of career years; David Ortiz (145 wRC+), who’s partying like it’s 2005; Kevin Youkilis (143 wRC+); and of course, MVP candidate Adrian Gonzalez (166 wRC+). And if that weren’t enough, Josh Reddick, called up for good on June 19, is the sixth Red Sock in the everyday lineup with a wRC+ over 140. In case you were wondering, the Yankee lineup currently features two hitters raking at a 140-plus wRC+ clip in Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira.
It’s a good thing the hitting has been out of this world, because outside of Josh Beckett‘s career year, the Boston rotation’s been a bit less of a sure thing. Jon Lester is once again having an outstanding year, though he was roughed up a few more times than you’d expect during the first two months of the season and also spent some time on the DL; and Clay Buchholz is still on the shelf (and may be for the remainder of the year), which has forced the Sox to turn to the likes of Kyle Weiland, Andrew Miller and old friend Alfredo Aceves for a number of starts, as well as trade for potentially-devastating-yet-often-injured Erik Bedard at the non-waiver trade deadline. However, despite any starting woes, the bullpen has significantly righted itself after a severe April, and currently has the 2nd-best FIP and 3rd-best xFIP in the AL. You know the deal — once Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon come in, it’s basically like Mariano Rivera and John Wetteland circa 1996.
Interestingly, this is the third straight year that the Yankees and Sox are facing off on this particular August weekend. As you’ll recall, two years ago the teams embarked on a huge four-game set at the Stadium that was even bigger than this weekend’s affair not to mention a major turning point of the 2009 season as the Yankees hadn’t even beaten the Red Sox once at that point; the Yankees would of course go on to administer an emphatic sweep of the Sox to push their division lead to an insurmountable 6.5 games and eventually bludgeon their way to the division crown and their 27th World Series championship. Last year the Sox again showed up to the Stadium for an early August four-gamer, only that time Boston entered the series 6.5 games out of first instead of 2.5, and the stakes simply weren’t as high, and the teams wound up splitting the set.
This time the Sox have the upper hand, with a one-game lead on the Yankees for first place, although as mentioned in the first paragraph, the stakes once again aren’t particularly high outside of the Yankees trying to salvage some sense of pride having lost to their nemesis seven times in a row. Not only that, but Boston has actually won 12 of the last 15 games the two teams have played, and the Yankees’ last series win against the Sox was back in May 2010. So yeah, it’d be nice to see the Yankees actually take a couple of games this weekend.
Unfortunately, with the aforementioned trade-deadline acquisition of Bedard, the Sox were able to juggle their rotation so that not only will the Yankees not get to face Andrew Miller — he of the 5.36 ERA/5.38 FIP/5.13 xFIP line — but instead will face their own personal kryptonite, Jon Lester, who’s being pushed back an extra day just so he can face the Bombers. However, the Bombers’ current oversupply of starters will enable them to line their best up to start against the BoSox as well.
Probable Pitching Match-Ups
Things kick off tonight with Bartolo Colon facing Jon Lester. Colon saw the Red Sox once back in May and held them to two runs over six; unfortunately it came against what may have been Clay Buchholz’s best ever start against the Yanks. Lester’s in the midst of another typically great season — though he missed a couple of weeks last month due to a back injury — and has been an absolute terror against the Yankees these last few seasons. Prior to this year, Lester tossed to a 1.19 ERA across 87 Yankee plate appearances in 2008, a 4.43 ERA in 100 PAs in 2009 (if you take out the aberrant 2.1-inning, five-run outing on September 25 of that year, the ERA drops to 2.70) and a 2.13 ERA over 102 PAs last season. The Yankees actually hit him much harder than usual both times they saw him earlier this season at the Stadium, getting him for an uncharacteristic 4 runs over six on May 15, and another three runs over 6 on June 7, but unfortunately they lost both of those games. It’d have to be considered nothing short of an outrageous success if the Yankees are able to match either of those run totals against Lester again; he’s basically become the East Coast version of Felix Hernandez when facing the Yankees.
The FOX Saturday Afternoon Game of Death sees CC Sabathia taking on John Lackey. Though Lackey’s been better of late he’s had a pretty rough season and has also gotten touched up by the Yanks here and there, and hopefully the Yankees can capitalize on this 6.23 ERA/4.71 FIP/4.49 xFIP version of Lackey. Sabathia, in the midst of perhaps his finest professional season, has seen three of his five losses come in the three starts he’s made against Boston this season (all against Josh Beckett, to boot), and one could probably make the case that those three losses have been his three worst starts of the season. In the first he went 5.2 innings and gave up one in a laborious affair back at the beginning of the year; in the second he went 6.2 innings and gave up 6 on May 14; and then he kept the Sox scoreless for six innings before completely unraveling in the 7th on June 9, for another 6.2-inning, six-run line. Given how beastly Sabathia’s been, along with the fact that he is long overdue for a strong start against Boston (his last win against them was, ironically enough, last August 7 — almost exactly a year ago), it’d be great to see him come up huge in this one.
And in the ESPN Sunday Night Marathon Heartbreaker finale, we get Freddy Garcia vs. Josh Beckett. Beckett of course is in the midst of a fantastic year, and he can thank the Yankees in part for his gaudy stat line, as he’s pulled a 2010-2011 Felix Hernandez (1.35 ERA over his last 40 innings)/2011 James Shields (1.62 ERA in 22.2 innings) against the Bombers this season, having allowed two measly runs over 21 innings (0.86 ERA) in the aforementioned three victories over CC Sabathia. If Beckett’s on, the Yankees are toast. If he’s off, then they should be able to go to town on him. Garcia’s started twice against the Sox this season and given up 8 runs over 7 innings. In fact, the Sox (and to a lesser extent, the Blue Jays) are really the only mar on what’s been a stellar season for Freddy; as they are responsible for his worst two outings by far. This one looks rather lopsided on paper, although it would seem like Beckett is finally due for a clunker against the Yankees while Freddy is (hopefully) due to not get beaten about like a pinata by the Sox.
I refuse to call the outcome of this set. The Yankees are way overdue to beat Boston, but given that (a) Boston’s manhandled them (and everyone else) this season, (b) they’re facing two pitchers in Lester and Beckett that both seem to pitch like Felix Hernandez every time they face the Bombers, and (c) they’ll be playing in Fenway Park — a place that they’re 36-38 at since the beginning of 2003 — I think you almost have to go into this set expecting just one win and being pleasantly surprised if they’re able to take two. However, they better win at least one. I think I’d be pretty inconsolable if the Sox swept the Yanks for a third straight series (which would also mean they’d have won 10 times in a row).