Here’s what we know so far:
- The Yankees are 2-10 against the Red Sox in 2011. They are 78-42 against everyone else.
- The Red Sox have hit a superb .292/.375/.462 as a team against the Yankees in 2011, compared to .279/.349/.458 on the 2011 season as whole. Nearly every member of Boston’s everyday lineup has outhit their career averages against the Yankees this season.
- The Yankees have hit an anemic .225/.320/.375 against Boston, compared with .269/.348/.455 on the 2011 season. Nearly every member of New York’s everyday lineup has underperformed their career averages against the Red Sox this season.
- Boston ace Josh Beckett has done his best Felix Hernandez impression this season, having given up three runs across 27 innings against the Yankees, good for a 1.00 ERA.
- Yankee ace CC Sabathia has pitched like a Cy Young candidate for much of the season, except when facing the Red Sox, who have depantsed him to the tune of a 7.20 ERA over four starts and 25 innings.
Something’s gotta give, right?
One would hope so, as the Yankees head into their fifth of six series with Boston, this one mercifully representing the last time they’ll have to trek up to Fenway this season unless these teams meet in the ALCS.
The Sox and Yankees have traded first and second place a few times since the last series in Boston, though the Sox enter this one back in first place. Boston’s offense has cooled off a bit in August after a scorching-hot July, while the Yankees have been raking like it’s going out of style. On the flip side, the Yankee rotation has been terrible in August, while the Sox’s starters have had the second-best ERA in the AL on the month.
On Tuesday evening (7:05pm) , CC Sabathia will look for his first win of the season against the Red Sox in a rematch against an apparently fixed John Lackey. After a terrible start to the season (a 7.47 ERA over his first 13 starts) Lackey seems to have remembered that he’s actually not a bad pitcher, with a 4.11 ERA over his last nine outings including six innings of three-run ball against the Yanks on August 6. For some reason I have it in my head that the Yankees haven’t had much trouble with Lackey in a Boston uniform, but he was always tough on them as a Halo, and given his repertoire I wouldn’t be surprised if he has another strong outing against them. Lackey features a low-90s four-seamer, two-seamer and cutter, a mid-80s slider and changeup and that high-70s curveball that, when he’s locating it, is very difficult to hit.
In Wednesday night’s (7:05pm) game the Yanks will send Phil Hughes to the mound in hopes that he can recover from his second straight beatdown by the A’s against Josh Beckett. Hughes of course was terrible against the Sox back in April at Fenway during his second start of the season, and the ballpark has not been kind to him over the years, with an 8.83 ERA over 17.1 career innings that represents his worst career road ERA.
On the flip side, you’re already familiar with how dominant Beckett’s been against the Yankees this season. A big reason for his success appears to be the emergence of a newly effective cutter. Per Fangraphs, Beckett had never thrown the pitch more than 5% of the time until last season, when he jumped up to 15.3%, and he’s now throwing it a career-high 18.1% of the time. It’s been worth 9.4 runs above average, the 4th-best mark in the American League and right behind teammate Jon Lester. Beckett’s also increased the use of his changeup, throwing it more frequently than he has since 2004, and it’s been worth 7.5 runs above average, 10th-best in the AL. Given the Yankees’ struggles against both the cutter (-5.2 runs above average) and changeup (-6.0 runs above average) this season — along with the fact that Beckett’s three other pitches, the four-seamer, two-seamer (15.1 wFB) and curveball (5.1 wCB), are also solidly above-average — this would appear to explain a lot of Beckett’s overwhelming success against the Yankees this season.
And Thursday night’s (7:05pm) game features what on paper is perhaps the most guaranteed loss of the season, as Jon Lester faces A.J. Burnett. The Yankees might actually be better off skipping this one entirely and sending a bunch of little leaguers out onto the field in their stead. Lester’s been slightly more hittable this season, but that’s like saying one season of The Wire was slightly better than another. Though he’s lost more than a strikeout per nine and yielding nearly one home run per nine, he’s still one of the top southpaws in the game, and despite the fact that the Yankees actually beat him on August 5 and have also scored 10 runs on him over 18 innings this season, I fully expect him to come out and dominate the Bombers every time.
If it wasn’t bad enough Lester is a lefty featuring four killer pitches — 93mph four-seamer, 92mph sinker, 84mph change and 76mph curveball — his best pitch is a high-80s cutter, which has been the most effective cutter in the American League by far since 2008. This is, again, bad news for the Yankees, who as I noted a couple of weeks ago have been on a three-year decline against the cutter, and one can’t help but wonder whether the Bombers’ recent cutter problems stem in part from facing Lester as frequently as they have.
Though the Sox’s insane hitting against the Yankees seems overdue to cool off, while the Yankee bats would seem poised to finally do some damage against Boston pitching, between two more starts against Beckett and Lester, along with the Yankees’ futility at Fenway over the years — 37-40 since the beginning of 2003 — Bombers fans should probably brace themselves for at least two more losses and be pleasantly surprised if the Yanks manage to take the series.