The Red Sox (62-46, 2nd in the AL East as of this writing, 6.5 GB) come to the Bronx to face the Yankees (67-40, T-1st in the AL East, 6.5 GA) tomorrow evening for a four-game series, almost a year to the day when Boston came to town for a crucial four-game set that the Yankees would end up gloriously sweeping and more or less putting the Red Sox's AL East crown hopes to bed by extending their division lead from 2.5 to 6.5 games.
The circumstances are a tad different this year -- although not overwhelmingly so -- as the Yankees have primarily had to deal with battling the Tampa Bay Rays for the top spot in the East, while the Red Sox, despite a strong late-June charge, have since fallen somewhat by the wayside in the division race.
The Red Sox have had some difficulty with Cleveland this past week while the Yankees had their issues with the Toronto Extra Base Hits of Canada, and Boston will enter this series either 6.5 or 6 games behind the Yankees depending on what the Red Sox do tonight. That's a pretty nice cushion. A Boston sweep of the Yankees would cause quite a bit of consternation in New York, especially given the team's recent stretch of fairly lackluster play, while a second-straight Yankee sweep would basically knock the Red Sox out of the playoff picture for good. But no pressure or anything, fellas.
In tomorrow night's opener, Javier Vazquez (4.61 ERA; 4.91 FIP; 4.62 xFIP) faces Clay Buchholz (2.59 ERA; 3.73 FIP; 4.26 FIP). This will be Home Run Javy's first start of the year against Boston -- here's hoping he can make like a rookie making his debut against the Yanks and stymie the Sox. Buchholz last faced the Yankees at home on May 8 and gave up six runs in five innings. Incredibly, that was one of only three starts the entire season that Buchholz has given up more than three runs. As much as Boston has missed Dustin Pedroia, losing Buchholz for most of July was a big reason why the Sox began to slip somewhat out of the picture. The Yankees, for whatever reason, historically haven't seemed to struggle against Buchholz as much as other teams, and while I'm not sure how much faith I have in Javy against the best offense in the Majors, this seems like a game the Yanks figure out a way to win.
CC Sabathia (3.19 ERA; 3.61 FIP; 3.93 xFIP) gets John Lackey (4.48 ERA; 4.16 FIP; 4.80 xFIP) in the Fox Saturday Afternoon Game of Death, only the FSAGoD is finally at Yankee Stadium for once. Sabathia has yet to regain his usual lights-out form since returning from the All-Star Break, but despite a bit of scuffling (at least by his standards) he's still kept the Yanks within the games he's started, with a 3.67 ERA since the break. A year ago Sabathia tossed 7 2/3 innings of shutout ball with nine strikeouts against the Sox at home; if he can come close to approximating that line again the Yankees will win this game too.
A.J. Burnett (4.93 ERA; 4.79 FIP; 4.73 xFIP) faces Josh Beckett (5.70 ERA; 4.05 FIP; 4.10 xFIP) in the ESPN Sunday Night Marathon Heartbreaker. Beckett's had three starts since coming back from the disabled list and pitched very well, surrendering five runs over 20 2/3 innings. His last two starts before hitting the DL were both against the Yankees, and they pretty much pounded him both times -- on May 7 in Boston Beckett did a total Jekyll & Hyde routine, looking absolutely unhittable through three before completely and totally unraveling; and 11 days later at the Stadium the Yanks tagged him for five runs (only three earned) in 4 2/3 innings. Burnett's faced Boston twice this year and was OK in the second game of the season and awful on May 9. As you may recall, Burnett pitched 7 and 2/3 scoreless innings and Beckett 7 scoreless innings of his own last August 7 in the 15-inning Alex Rodriguez walk-off home run game. Given both Beckett's and Burnett's tendencies to either dominate or get destroyed, this game seems like the definition of a push.
And in the Monday afternoon finale, which randomly starts at 2pm for no apparent reason, Dustin Moseley (4.13 ERA; 5.49 FIP; 4.57 xFIP) faces Jon Lester (3.07 ERA; 3.11 FIP; 3.27 xFIP), who I recently anointed the best pitcher in the American League. I initially thought the Yanks might juggle the rotation and give Phil Hughes (3.96 ERA; 3.95 FIP; 4.15 xFIP) the start here, given Hughes' results on normal rest, but for whatever reason Girardi's going with Moseley. This is the one pitching match-up of the weekend that significantly favors the Sox, although Buchholz v. Vazquez is also probably a slight Boston edge.
Here are the two teams' offense and pitching numbers:
As always, the Yankees and Red Sox are ridiculously evenly matched on offense, with the Red Sox back on top in team wOBA. I suspect that may change as Lance Berkman becomes more comfortable in pinstripes. The Yankees are also catching a rather huge break with Kevin Youkilis landing on the 15-day disabled list, considering that Youk has torched New York to the tune of a .356/.455(!)/.516 batting line during his career, not to mention an obscene .462/.559/.885 in eight games this season alone.
The Sox's starting rotation has been excellent, with a 3.86 FIP, good for 3rd-best in the AL (the Yanks' starters have a 4.27, which is 8th). However, despite a spectacular year from Daniel Bard, Boston's 'pen remains a considerable weak link, with the worst FIP in the AL (4.75). For as much as we like to gripe about the Yankee bullpen, it's actually been something of a strength on the year (though that's still primarily due to Mariano Rivera), with a 4.02 FIP, fifth-best in the AL. The Yankee bullpen's been even better of late, with a 3.24 ERA over the last 30 days.
Calling the outcome of a four-game series between these two teams is most likely an effort in futility. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that the Yanks would sweep the Sox a year ago. Of course, I thought it was even less possible for the Yanks to take five straight at Fenway back in 2006. I'm going to go the safe route here and call a split.
However, if the Yankee bats finally start heating back up -- and given that they hit to the tune of .286/.366/.483 at home vs. a puny .252/.335/.397 on the road, there's no reason to think they can't -- and they take advantage of a weakened Youkilis-less Red Sox lineup, then the team should have a pretty good chance of taking three of four against Boston this weekend.