The Yankees are 0-5 against the Red Sox this season, and tonight New York goes to Boston looking for some payback. Yankees-Red Sox has always been a feud filled with venom and hatred, but only recently has it become a true rivalry. Now that the Red Sox are a legitimate threat to Yankee dominance, as opposed to a feisty nail waiting to be hammered into place (1919-2003), each series between the two takes on the atmosphere of a playoff game. Even the weather will feel like October, as the forecast is calling for a rainy week in the 50’s.
That means there is a lot on the line in this three game series. The Yankees go to Fenway with the best record in the American League but only a 1 game lead over the Sox. Losing this series means the Yankees will forfeit their lead in the division, but it’s only June. Right now the Yankees need to set the tone for the rest of the season. If they take 2 of 3 or even sweep the series, they send a message to the Sox that this Yankee team is different than the team they beat up a month ago. If the Yankees lose, they’re in danger of developing the dreaded “We just can’t beat this team” mental block. The Yankees are rolling right now and as every sportswriter has pointed out at least once, they’re playing with a chemistry that few teams ever develop. The one thing the Bombers don’t need right now is the idea that they can’t beat the Sox, because they’re going to have to play Boston 10 more times in the regular season and look to be on a collision course for the AL Championship Series.
But that’s looking too far ahead. Let’s focus on the matchups at hand:
Hitting: Right now the Yankees lineup is better than the Red Sox lineup, plain and simple. We can break it down by position:
C: Posada in a landslide. I realize Varitek has his average all the way up to .247, but Posada is batting .300. By the way, did you know Varitek is the captain of the Red Sox? That’s what that gigantic C on his chest is for. Aha!
1B: Slight edge to Tex. Youkalis and Teixeira are both great fielders and better hitters, but Tex is coming in hotter and has better protection behind him (A-Rod vs. Bay).
2B: Pedroia is better than Cano, but not by as much as Red Sox fans would have you believe.
3B: Even at 75%, A-Rod is better than Lowell. This isn’t to disparage Mikey, but I’d rather have Alex at the plate.
SS: Jeter and it isn’t close. Jeter may be slow in the field, but tell me Red Sox fans wouldn’t take Jeter over Nick Green.
LF: Bay is better than Damon. Hate to break it to you Yankee Universe. Bay has almost made Bostonians forget about trading Manny last year. If it wasn’t for Papi’s struggles and the speculation that it’s Manny’s fault for not protecting Ortiz in the lineup, Manny would be an afterthought in Beantown. By the way, that theory is crap. Bay and Youkalis may not be in Manny’s class, but they’re damn good hitters.
CF: Slightest of edges to Melky/Gardner. Ellisbury is out with a strained shoulder, so it will be Baldelli or Kotsay taking his place. Besides, Melky has a post-sex tape with a Californian gubernatorial candidate.
RF: Who cares. Nick Swisher might be better than Kotsay or Baldelli at this point, but let’s not fight about it.
DH: Please. Ortiz is hitting .197. I might be a better DH than Ortiz right now.
Bullpen: Red Sox in a rout. They have the best bullpen in the majors, and the Yankees have the 2nd worst bullpen ERA in the AL. Thank god CC will give the bullpen a break in Game 3. Which brings me to the pitching matchups:
(I just watched A Few Good Men so I’m going to break down the pitching matchups in a courtroom style. It’s also because it’s a quick and easy way to do this without repeating the list I did above. It’s gimmicky, but it’ll work…)
Game 1: A.J. Burnett (4-2, 4.69 ERA) vs. Josh Beckett (6-2, 4.09 ERA)
Opening Argument: These two faced off on April 25th and battled to see who could give up the most leads in one game. When the dust settled, Burnett and Beckett both allowed 8 runs in 5 innings, but the Red Sox bullpen was much less terrible than the Yankees and Boston won 16-11. The game lasted about 9 hours and featured nearly 400 pitches (that last number is true). It had lots of offense, but was nearly unwatchable. Kind of like Transformers.
The Defendant: Since May 5th Beckett has strung together 6 quality starts and lowered his ERA by over 3 runs. He’s coming off a 2 hit, 9 strikeout performance against Detroit in which he took a no hitter into the 7th. Suffice it to say the Yanks can’t count on 8 more runs from Beckett.
The Plaintiff: AJ is tougher to figure out. He’s had great stuff in almost every start, and he’s breezed through the early innings, but Burnett seems to have one frame a game where his control vanishes. He’ll walk two guys, leave a tailing two seamer over the plate, and suddenly the Yankees trail. As the Sox proved last time AJ took the mound, one bad inning against Boston can mean 5 quick runs.
The Verdict: Over the last 3 years the Yankees have a .280 team batting average against Beckett, and they roughed him up last time the Yankees faced him. From 2006-2008 Burnett was 5-0 with a 2.56 ERA in 8 starts against the Red Sox, a major reason the Yankees signed Burnett to such a large contract. The stakes are different when you go into Boston wearing a Yankee cap, but if AJ can avoid the big inning, I think the Yankees offense can generate enough runs to get a W.
Game 2: Chien-Ming Wang (0-3, 14.46 ERA) vs. Tim Wakefield (7-3, 4.50 ERA)
Opening Argument: This is going to be the 16-11, 5 hour, 12 bullpen innings, war of attrition slugfest that inevitably happens when the Yanks and Sox hook up. Wang looks like he has less talent than Jessica Alba this season, and lately Wakefield has been worse than his ERA indicates. Expect this game to end sometime between Conan’s monologue and Dane Cook.
The Defendant: Here are Wakefield’s earned run totals since May 2nd: 5, 2, 7, 1, 5, 6, 3. This comes as no surprise, since it’s always been feast or famine with Wakefield. Either the knuckle knuckles and Wakefield cruises or his pitches start rotating and Wake gets knocked around.
The Plaintiff: I’m glad Wang is the plaintiff in this scenario because it’s hard to defend him at this point. He looked okay in the first few innings in his last start, but then his arm angle dropped, his sinker rose, and balls started leaving the yard. I’ll play the Yankee homer and chalk that up to a tired arm, since Wang got used to coming in from the pen for only a few innings at a time.
The Verdict: Unless Wang shows us something from 2007, the Red Sox should be able to win this one. The Sox are a patient team at the plate and will make Wang throw strikes, which hasn’t been his strong suit. Even if the Yanks knock Wake out early, the Red Sox have a much better bullpen, Phil Hughes or no Phil Hughes. This game might get uglier than that chick from Britain’s Got Talent. Hey-oh!
Game 3: CC Sabathia (3-1, 3.56 ERA) vs. Brad Penny (5-2, 5.85 ERA)
Opening Argument: How does CC have 2 fewer wins than Penny with an ERA over 2 runs lower? That’s baseball. On paper this isn’t much of a contest. CC hasn’t been lights out but Penny has been bad, so I would expect an easy Yankee W.
The Defendant: Brad Penny has surrendered 77 hits in 60 innings. He hasn’t made it through the 7th inning this season. He’s allowed fewer than 3 runs only once. All that said, outside of two really bad starts in April (15 ER in 5.2 IP), Penny hasn’t been terrible.
The Plaintiff: CC hasn’t been the dominant pitcher we all marveled at last season when he put the Brewers on his broad shoulders and carried them kicking and screaming into the postseason. We shouldn’t expect that from a guy who moved from the NL Central to the AL East. It’s a different game in the AL, especially in a division with 4 good to great offenses. Sabathia gives the Yankees a chance to win almost every time he starts, and more importantly he gives the bullpen a much-needed respite once every 5 days. CC threw 47 innings over his last 6 starts, including 3 complete games, and it should be more of the same at Fenway.
The Verdict: Everything points to a Yankee victory. The Yankees have their ace going against a guy with an ERA around 6. CC had great numbers against the Sox with Cleveland, but this will be his first start against Boston in a Yankees uniform. CC is the only guy that can beat CC in this game.
Game 1 tonight should be close and will set the tone for the series. If the Yankees win they get the Red Sox monkey off their back and go into Games 2 and 3 with much more confidence. If they lose, New York could start to doubt themselves against this Boston team and drop the series and the division lead.
The Yankees should take 2 of 3 from the Red Sox based on the pitching matchups. Game 3 should be a lock for the Yanks, and Game 2 will go to the Sox unless Wang stiffens up (can’t get enough). As I said before, Game 1 will be huge for New York’s confidence.
Let’s Go Yank-ees!
Follow me on Twitter and learn what’s on my mind grapes.