Despite the horrible weather in the Northeast over the weekend, the Yankees were able to split the four games they did play with the Baltimore Orioles. Now, the gap between the Yanks and the Red Sox stands at just 1.5 games with a crucial three game series this week. Boston has had two days off due to the weather complications and everyone knows they have the psychological edge on the Bombers, being 10-2 against them this season. Today, we did 2 things: I talked with Derek Stykalo of BoSoxInjection.com and got his thoughts on the Red Sox and I included my podcast about the series for you guys to listen too.
You can also check out my answers to Derek’s Yankee questions over on their site as well.
First, the questions I asked Derek about the Red Sox:
1. Since Boston last saw the Yankees, Kevin Youkilis has been on the DL and David Ortiz has been banged up as well. Yet, the Red Sox have played well without them on the offensive side. How have they been able to do that without two of the key players in that clubhouse?
A. Two weeks ago the offense was like patch work. Every night it was a different couple of guys who would contribute for the win, which is always nice when two of your biggest bats are out of the lineup. Last week however it was back to the regular crew doing the damage; Ellsbury, Pedroia, Gonzalez with some other character players pitching in (Saltalamacchia, Varitek, Reddick, Scutaro). That’s been the nice thing about this team this year; every night it seems there is another hero when the big three are off. The series in Texas, it was really Adrian Gonzalez who stole the show, belting 5 home runs in 10 at bats over the last three games. Since Big Papi has come back from his injury, he too has been a torrid pace, belting 4 homers, 3 doubles amidst a 13 game hitting streak. So really, it’s timely hitting by everyone and some breakthrough offensive outbursts by the usual suspects that has kept this team rolling.
2. I want to focus on two young kids the NY media might not know about. The first is RF Josh Reddick. Do you think he is the future right fielder in Boston and that JD Drew’s days are numbered? The second is young catcher Ryan Lavarnway. Can you tell us a little bit about him?
A. Reddick: Absolutely, 100% he is the future right fielder in Boston. He has matured right in front of our eyes this year and while his numbers have dipped over the past month, he has proven he can play at the elite level. He’s also managed to flash some leather to save some runs. His only downfall from comparing him to Drew is his arm. JD Drew has an exceptional arm in right field and Reddick’s is average. As far as Drew is concerned, his contract is up at the end of this year which will free up $14 million a year to spend on guys like Papelbon or Ortiz, should the Red Sox choose to keep one or both of them. Drew has been hurt more than he’s played in the last couple seasons and when he is in the lineup, his offensive output is few and far between. Again, his defensive play is very solid, but he’s almost a liability at the plate. Drew has often talked about retiring at the end of this season and whether he does or not, it’s a known fact he’s finished as member of the Red Sox.
Lavarnway: this kid has been smashing the ball in AA Portland and AAA Pawtucket prior to his call up this month. In the minors this year, Lavarnway has 30 home runs and is batting .291 overall between the two levels. Through 55 games in Pawtucket he was batting .301 despite a cool August where he was just 5 for 44. So it’s clear this kid can hit and he’s done that during his short stay in Boston, going 7 for 23 with 3 double and 3 RBI’s. Is he ready to be the backup catcher next season? Probably not on opening day, but look for him to get recalled in September when the rosters expand. He’s not in Boston for his defensive abilities, at least not yet, but he will be the catcher of the future.
3. We talked about earlier this month about the importance of this series. If Boston dominates this week, do you feel that the AL East race is over?
A. I don’t think it is. Boston’s schedule in September is against all AL East teams and given how tough the Orioles and Rays play against Boston, throw in a scrappy Jays team, I’d say even a 5 game lead over New York is never safe until game 162 is completed. I think a nice 5 game lead would certainly help and given the Yankees grueling schedule due to the amount of rainouts they’ve had, it may cause Girardi to push his rotation a little more to try and get closer to the Red Sox. But this Yankees team has played great all year despite their record against Boston, so I expect a dog fight for the division right until the end of September. Hey, it’s the Yankees and Red Sox. It wouldn’t be the same without any drama. Who knows, maybe Ortiz will flip his bat again, causing another few intentional hit batsman, only this time the dugouts should clear. Talk about setting the stage for the final series of the year!
4. Do you think that the Red Sox have an advantage this week because they got two days off before this series due to the Hurricane Irene cancellations?
A. Yes I think the two days off will help the Red Sox. It has been a grueling and taxing month of baseball for this club. They recently went 18 days, played 17 games, 14 of which were on the road, with a brief 3 games in 2 days sandwiched in the middle at home against Tampa Bay. 3 time zones and 5 states later, this club returned home only to have another doubleheader on Saturday before trying to survive Hurricane Irene. It’s rare for a baseball team to get two days off at any point in the season, let alone in August but this will do wonders for the Red Sox. They’ve got a couple key injuries to Kevin Youkilis and JD Drew, who are both close to returning and this little break will help them buy some more time. More importantly, it’ll give the regulars like Pedroia, Gonzalez, Ellsbury and Crawford two days of rest to get ready for the stretch run. Also, the bullpen will be fresh and the rotation set so Jon Lester can pitch in the finale of the series unlike New York where they’ll be coming off three games in two days. Advantage Boston, although when these two teams meet anything is possible, so we can throw out all the stats and microscopic analysis.
5. We know about Ellsbury, Gonzalez, Pedroia and company. Give us an X-Factor to watch in this series either with the arms or the bats.
A. I’m thinking David Ortiz will be part of the afore mentioned company so I’ll leave him out of this, despite him crushing the ball as of late. My X-Factor is John Lackey believe it or not and I say that for two reasons. 1). Since he got a cortisone shot over a month ago, Lackey has looked and pitched like the Lackey of old despite an ERA almost of 6.00. Over his last 9 starts he’s gone 7-1 and only allowed more than 5 earned runs in one game. Sure he’s given up 3 or 4 earned runs a few times, but the offense has backed him up to the point where if Lackey can go 6+ innings with a lead, the bullpen can come in and do it’s thing. More importantly, his control appears to be much better as he’s only walked 13 batters in his last 10 outings while striking out 48 in over 58 IP.
The second reason Big John is the X-Factor is because he’s matched up against CC Sabathia. Should Lackey pitch well enough to win and the Red Sox once again get to and beat CC, then I don’t care what anyone says, it has to be a huge confidence blow to not only Sabathia, but also the Yankees. This is a bit of a double edged sword though, which is why I’m calling it the X-Factor. Should the Yankees and CC finally beat the Red Sox on Tuesday night, you’ll see a different CC from here on out. It’ll do wonders for both the big lefty and his teammates and they’ll feel like a piano was lifted off their backs. Despite what happens in the next two nights of baseball, Tuesday night and John Lackey are the X-Factor in this series.
6. I’m sure I will ask this at the end of the month, but who would you rather face in the ALDS, Rangers or Tigers?
A. If you had asked me this prior to the Texas trip, I would’ve instantly said the Detroit Tigers. Since then, with Boston going into Texas and not only taking three of four, but really making a statement, it gave Red Sox Nation a lot of confidence with the postseason lingering. Both clubs are great ballclubs and both can upset either Boston or New York. But if I had to pick one, I’d prefer to face the Tigers in the opening round and here’s why: The Red Sox were able to beat the Tigers despite the incredible Justin Verlander not taking the loss back on May 19. The Red Sox managed 6 hits and 3 earned runs against the Cy Young favorite, which is a lot more than they’ve done against Texas ace, CJ Wilson. After that, the Sox have been able to get to both team’s other starters, but having Wilson pitch in 2 of the possible 5 games, I’d rather take Verlander. I know it sounds crazy, but the best predictor of future performance, is past behavior.
Bonus: Give us your pitching breakdown and who do you think wins the series and why?
A. I like the way the matchups line up for the Red Sox and should Lackey keep Granderson and Cano in order and the offense pummel CC once more, than I think it could be a Red Sox sweep. Oh how sweet a sweep would be, but I don’t think it’ll happen. For CC to go 0-5 against Boston is asking for the moon in my opinion. The media has already built his up to something way bigger than what it is, and Sabathia is far too good to let it get out of hand. Look for CC to bounce back and the Yankees win Tuesday night 6-4.
Wednesday night favors the Red Sox with having Josh Beckett on the mound. He’s 3-0 against New York with all three wins coming against Sabathia. Beckett is at his best when it’s the Yankees and I look for that to continue. Phil Hughes counters for the Bronx Bombers and while he’s been better is his last 3 starts, I think the Red Sox get the best of Hughes and will give Beckett the offense he needs. Red Sox win 7-4.
Thursday night, finale night. In all likely hood, it’ll be Jon Lester against AJ Burnett. Despite a winning record during his career against Boston, Burnett has been shaky of late and his little outburst with Girardi doesn’t make Burnett appear that he’s overly happy with his skipper or his own performances as of late. Lester has been typical Jon Lester lately, so I give the nod to the Red Sox. Sox win 8-2, taking two of three from the rival Yankees.
On the next page, you will find my breakdown of the series in usual podcast form!