It seems like the Yankees have to make the trek up to Fenway Park in April every season, and indeed, the Bombers have had a tilt at Fenway in April during six of the last eight years. This is rather unfortunate, as for whatever reason they have a tendency to play some of their worst baseball when forced to go to Boston during the first month of the season, having tallied a 5-14 record at the Fens in April since 2003.
As you’ll recall, the Bombers began their 2010 season up in Boston, and after losing the first game of the year I assumed they’d suffer their regularly scheduled beating; however, the Yankees made me eat my words, taking the next two games and winning a series at Fenway Park in April for the first time since 1975.
Today marks the rivals’ first meeting of the 2011 season, and it will undoubtedly be an interesting weekend. In addition to the usual hoopla surrounding any Yankees-Red Sox series, this set will be even more hyped up by the local media than usual, with Boston — seemingly everyone in the Milky Way Galaxy’s pick to win the 2011 World Series — having stumbled out of the gate to a highly unexpected 0-6 start.
Now obviously it’s still incredibly early, and I fully expect Boston to turn it around and get back on track — there’s simply too much talent for this team to not perform extremely well. Every team hits at least one rough patch over the course of a season, and for Boston it just happens to have occurred at the beginning of the year. That being said, the Sox can’t really afford to lose too much more ground to their division rivals, and an unexpected sweep by the Yankees would likely throw many a denizen of Boston into panic mode.
However, depending on your perspective, a set with the Yankees at home is likely just what the doctor ordered for the Red Sox, as, in addition to Boston’s aforementioned dominance of the Bombers at Fenway in April, the Sox also get to face a questionably effective Phil Hughes and the still-green Ivan Nova in the set’s first two games.
If there’s any saving grace for the Yankees, it’s that they don’t have to face Jon Lester, who has simply been death to the Yankee offense, tossing 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. Oh, and he carried no-hitters into the sixth inning in both his August and September starts against New York last season. So yeah, the Yanks are catching a pretty big break in not seeing Lester.
In today’s 2pm start, the Yankees send Hughes (2011 CAIRO-projected 4.22 ERA/4.17 FIP) to the mound against John Lackey (4.37 ERA/4.11 FIP). Obviously the story with Hughes was both the alarming lack of velocity on his fastballs as well as a lack of command and bite on his curveball in his season debut. As Hughes himself said after the game, “I make too many mistakes over the plate to live at that velocity.” I’m actually somewhat surprised more wasn’t made out of Hughes’ admission that he knows he gets by with apparently a lot of mistake pitches simply because he usually throws them too hard. I’d imagine the MLB landscape is dotted with pitchers who could probably say the same thing; it just seemed funny to actually read a quote from pitcher admitting as much.
Anyway, all eyes will be on Hughes to see if he can start getting the four-seamer back up to the 91-92 range where it needs to be, and, just as critically, the cutter up from a pitiful 83.5mph back to around 88mph. As many have noted, Hughes didn’t make his first start of the season last year until April 15, and so it’s not ultra-troubling that he doesn’t have his velocity yet, but if he goes out against Boston throwing 89mph fastballs, he’s going to be in for a short outing today.
As for Lackey, anecdotally I feel like he generally pitches pretty well against the Yankees, though statistically that’s not necessarily the case, as he owns a career 4.43 ERA against New York. Obviously his results from a large portion of that tally came from facing completely different lineups and hitters, and aren’t necessarily indicative of how he’ll fare against the 2011 iteration of the Yankees, but it seems like a fair benchmark. In three starts against the Yankees last year he shut them out over 6 innings in the second game of the season, gave up five earned runs over 6 on August 7 and threw 7.2 innings of two-earned-run ball in the last game of the season.
In the FOX Saturday Afternoon Game of Death (though maybe the uncharacteristic 1pm start will somehow serve as a reverse jinx), Nova (5.24 ERA, 5.03 FIP) faces Clay Buchholz (3.87 ERA/4.16 FIP), who only saw the Yankees twice last year. In the first game, the Bombers battered Buchholz for five earned runs in five innings on May 8; in the second he was far more in control, yielding only three runs over an impressive 7 1/3 innings. Nova started against Boston at the Stadium back in September and was bad, only going 4.2 innings and giving up four runs. I can’t say I have a great feeling about the unproven Nova facing Boston at home; but perhaps he’ll pleasantly surprise.
In the ESPN Sunday Night Marathon Heartbreaker, the Yankees send the Big Stoppa, CC Sabathia, to the hill against a still-trying-to-find-his-way Josh Beckett. Sabathia’s been outstanding against Boston as a Yankee, with a 2.22 ERA across 107 plate appearances in 2009, and a 3.96 mark over 100 PAs last season (2.81 if you strip out the 5 ER in 5.1 IP he allowed on Opening Day). Josh Beckett, outside of manhandling the Yankees in the 2003 World Series, has had a fairly rough go of it against the Bombers over his career, with a 6.26 ERA accumulated across 595 plate appearances. While Beckett is certainly capable of putting together a gem against the Yankees at any given time, for whatever reason they seem to have his number more often than not.
As it’s still too early to start comparing overall team stats, here are the presumed lineups along with their 2011 CAIRO-projected slash lines:
1 LF Brett Gardner – .270/.358/.372
2 SS Derek Jeter – .290/.360/.406
3 1B Mark Teixeira – .276/.377/.515
4 3B Alex Rodriguez – .281/.372/.526
5 2B Robinson Cano – .306/.355/.511
6 RF Nick Swisher – .260/.354/.470
7 DH Jorge Posada – .267/.355/.460
8 CF Curtis Granderson – .252/.335/.462
9 C Russell Martin – .263/.362/.380
1 CF Jacoby Ellsbury – .277/.332/.387
2 2B Dustin Pedroia – .293/.360/.453
3 LF Carl Crawford – .311/.364/.478
4 1B Adrian Gonzalez – .305/.399/.555
5 3B Kevin Youkilis – .298/.393/.525
6 DH David Ortiz – .265/.364/.503
7 RF J.D. Drew .266/.367/.470
8 C Jarrod Saltalamacchia – .247/.320/.403
9 SS Marco Scutaro – .279/.349/.399
The worst thing for the Yankees about Boston’s curious start is that they are way overdue for some wins. I picked the Sox to make it the World Series, and a minor blip at the beginning of the season doesn’t change that for me. This is probably the only lineup in the game that’s as strong as the Yankees’ one through nine (although Texas is pretty close), and I expect their bats to come to life now that they finally get to play some home games.
I can’t pick a Hughes win until he shows us that his velocity’s back, and so this afternoon’s game seems like a foregone Boston win. The Nova-Buchholz match-up tomorrow should be an interesting one; though Nova did well in his first outing, I can’t say I’m a believer just yet — I just don’t see Nova getting through six innings at Fenway Park yielding only three runs — and Buchholz seems to vary from awful to great against the Yanks. I do like Sabathia in the Sunday night game quite a bit, though I wouldn’t sleep on Beckett, either. The call here? While, as always, a Yankee-Red Sox set will undoubtedly contain its share of surprises, I’d expect Boston to take two of three this weekend.
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