The Yankees are 0-6 at home against the Red Sox this year, having first suffered the ignominy of being swept at New Yankee Stadium for the first time in its three-season history by Boston in mid-May, then less than a month later being on the receiving end of an even more dubious distinction, as the Red Sox administered a second straight sweep of the Bombers at home, marking both the first time in history the Sox had ever won six straight games at a structure called Yankee Stadium, not to mention the first time the Yankees had ever been swept twice at home in the same season by the same opponent at YSIII.
And of course, the Yankees are also only 4-11 against Boston on the entire season, though they did finally win a series last time out, representing their first series win at Fenway Park since May 2010.
However, following that last series that culminated at the beginning of the month, Boston has found itself in a rather calamitous freefall, having lost 15 of the 20 games it played since the Yankees took two of three, enabling both the Rays and Angels to get within striking distance of the Wild Card amid a potential historic Red Sox collapse. Time is of course running out on the Rays, and for as bad as Boston’s freefall has been, Tampa still has to make up a deficit of two over a scant six games — no easy task.
Thankfully this weekend’s Yankees-Red Sox tilt is completely devoid of any angst if you’re a Yankee fan, given that the team clinched the AL East Wednesday night, and for my money the primary drama will be whether the Bombers can actually win a game at home against their rivals in 2011. Oh, and of course, if the Yankee B-Team can continue to make life miserable for the Fenway faithful. However, something tells me Boston’s hold on its playoff spot will be just fine.
There isn’t much I can tell you about the Sox on offense that you don’t already know; they’ve been right at the top of the heap with the Yankees all season long, and even with their recent stretch of poor play they’ve still managed to pull back ahead for top wOBA in MLB, due in part to the Yankees’ relatively lackluster offensive performance in September. When both teams are healthy and on, they’re about as evenly matched on offense as it gets. For whatever reason many of Boston’s players have hit even better against New York than their already-impressive season numbers, while many members of the Yankees have hit worse against the Red Sox, though that began to change somewhat after the last series.
As far as pitching goes, both teams’ starters have pitched a good deal worse in September than they have on the season, although in Boston’s case the results have been pretty disastrous. Back in June Boston looked as though their front three of Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz were going to be as good as anyone else’s top three starters; a back injury shortly thereafter has kept Buchholz on the shelf ever since, and the team’s been forced to turn to the likes of Kyle Weiland and Andrew Miller to prop up the back end of the rotation.
Lost among all of this is that Beckett and Lester — at least for my money — are still as good as it gets as far as a one-two punch goes, and while I’ve seen numerous Yankee fans state that they’d rather face Boston given their myriad September problems instead of Tampa Bay, I say be careful what you wish for. Even with a slightly less imposing overall rotation, it’s not like the Yankees can just tee off on Beckett — who, aside from his last outing, has flat-out killed the Yankees this year — and Lester, who would combine to pitch at least four of the seven games in a hypothetical Yankees-Red Sox ALCS.
Probable Pitching Match-Ups
Tonight’s opener (7:05pm) has Sweaty Freddy Garcia toeing the rubber against Jon Lester. I love everything that Freddy’s done for the Yankees this season, and I think he can be an effective weapon in the postseason, but he’s been straight-up terrible since returning from the DL, putting up a 7.85 ERA over just 18.1 innings across four starts. He’s not giving length or being effective. Freddy did manage to hold the Sox to just one run over five innings back on August 7 — no small feat at Fenway Park — although between the Sox’s monster offense and Freddy’s current rough stretch, I can’t say I have particularly high hopes for him in this one.
It doesn’t help that he’s facing Jon Lester. Even though Lester’s been quite a bit less effective against the Bombers this year (4.30 ERA in 23 innings) than last, when he utterly dominated them, I still cringe every time he takes the hill against them. He’s also rather quietly in the midst of yet another great year, though that appears to be partly due to the lowest BABIP and highest LOB% of his career. Additionally, his K/9 is down, while his BB/9 and HR/9 are both up, leading to his highest FIP since 2007 and as a result, a season that will probably clock in around 4.0 fWAR than than 5.0-6.0-level seasons of recent vintage. Regradless, Lester remains one of the top five lefties in the AL, and not someone I’m ever happy about the Yankees facing.
Things start getting a bit weirder in this series come the FOX Saturday Afternoon Game of Death (4:05pm start), which initially appeared to have A.J. Burnett slated to face John Lackey. I’m going to borrow Pinstriped Bible’s Jay Jaffe description of what it would have been like to watch this hypothetical bloodbath unfold:
“With 10 games left in the regular season, it appears as though Burnett will get only one more start, on Saturday against the Red Sox and their own $82.5 million boondoggle, John Lackey. An afternoon of thumbscrews, waterboarding, and curdled milk chugging sounds more inviting than watching that pairing, though the Sox, who suddenly find themselves in a real fight for the AL Wild Card, might be less likely to give Lackey the ball after an eight-run Monday night start that pushed his own ERA to 6.49. Twitter could explode if the two pitchers were to face each other, and heads certainly will. Consider yourselves warned.”
However, it appears that Tim Wakefield will end up making just his second start of the season against the Yankees. Sacrificial lamb Kyle Weiland is also theoretically available on normal rest, though given that there are still things like a playoff spot at stake one would have to imagine that Boston might actually prefer John Lackey and his worst-in-MLB 6.49 ERA to Weiland.
And in the Sunday afternoon finale, the Yankees are not starting CC Sabathia on a pitch-limited outing and instead running Ivan Nova out to the mound for his second start of the year against Boston. Sabathia will instead apparently throw a simulated game on Sunday to get him properly lined up for Friday’s Game 1 of the ALDS. I initially thought the Sox might throw Josh Beckett on three days’ rest, but the Sox were apparently searching for someone — anyone, to the point of contacting the Mets about Chris Capuano‘s availability — to start on Sunday, so I guess they’re saving Beckett in case things really come down to the wire on Monday.
If not Beckett, the Sox could conceivably send one of Erik Bedard — yet to face the Yankees this season — or whoever doesn’t pitch out of the Lackey/Wakefield/Weiland triumverate on Saturday.
Even if they manage a sweep, the Yankees have already guaranteed that 2011 will represent their lowest win total at home against the Red Sox since the dawn of the unbalanced schedule ERA in 2001. For those wondering, here’s how they’ve fared against the Sox at Yankee Stadium since getting nine-plus games a season at home versus their rivals:
That’s 53-40 since 2001. Overall, the Yankees are 103-97 against the Red Sox since the beginning of the Unbalanced Schedule Era. That also means they’re 50-57 at Fenway Park since 2001.
Obviously I hope the Yankees sweep, but we know that’s not gonna happen. However, if you believe in “due,” the Yankees really should be taking two out of three this weekend.
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