The highlight of the baseball week kicks off with another meeting between the Red Sox and Yankees for a three game series beginning Tuesday at Fenway Park.
The rivals are both almost assured of making the playoffs and are only battling for the division crown, but it should be intense as always.
Through Sunday’s games, Boston had a two game lead on New York in the AL East and New York a 6½ game lead over the Tampa Bay Rays for the wild card. If just looking at divisional play, the Red Sox are the best (31-15) while the Yankees have struggled (25-23).
The disparities between the two records rest alone with their play against each other where Boston has won all four series this season going 10-2 against the Yanks.
Taking the mound for the Yanks in Tuesday’s opener will be C.C. Sabathia (17-7, 2.99 ERA) who is 0-4 with a 7.20 ERA in four starts against Boston this season. Sabathia’s first three losses didn’t come as much of a surprise because he fell to Josh Beckett each time.
However, his last loss on Aug. 6 was a major shocker as he imploded for seven runs while going against John Lackey (12-9, 5.98 ERA), who he’ll be matched up against Tuesday.
Prior to that butchering, Sabathia was in his usual midseason form going 9-1 in his previous 10 starts and was a contender for not only the Cy Young award, but also for MVP considerations. He was the rock that kept the team excelling every fifth day amid all kinds of Yankees pitching problems.
However, the Red Sox pounding seemed to take away all his momentum away and shatter his confidence as he’s gone on to lose two of his last three starts since.
Meanwhile, the Red Sox continue to win games Lackey goes despite having the highest ERA among regular starting pitching in the majors. The Red Sox are 7-2 in his last nine starts with him putting in about six innings of work and allowing four runs a game over that stretch. In those seven wins, he’s been the good luck charm for Boston bats as they have put up 59 runs.
Even though Sabathia has struggled lately and the Red Sox have owned him, there should be plenty of value with the Yanks, especially knowing Lackey is sure to give up at least four runs.
Wednesday’s matchup has the much improved Phil Hughes (4-4, 6.46 ERA) going against Beckett (11-5, 2.43 ERA). While Beckett has a sparkling 3-0 record with an ERA of 1.00 against the Yanks in four starts – all Boston wins, his August numbers haven’t been as solid as his first four months. The Red Sox have still won four of his five starts in the month, but his ERA is 3.60.
Hughes got beat up early at home against the A’s in his last start, a game the Yankees eventually won 22-9, but overall the Yankees are 5-0 in his August starts. Outside of the Oakland game, he’s been dazzling with only three earned runs in his other four starts.
Based on the way Beckett has been giving away more runs lately and the improved pitching of Hughes, the Yankees at a very chunky plus-money price could be a nice play.
Thursday’s series finale has Andrew Miller (6-1, 4.42 ERA) tentatively going against the struggling A.J. Burnett (9-11, 5.31 ERA) who has lost his last two starts by giving up 16 combined runs. It would be one thing if the 16 runs came against a team like Texas or Boston, but getting trashed by the Twins and Orioles is an entirely different story.
Should Burnett pitch poorly again, the Yankees may not have a hard decision to make regarding his status in the rotation. In his only start against Boston this season, he gave up eight runs in 5.2 innings of work in a 11-6 loss.
As bad as Burnett has been in his last two games, Miller has been the complete opposite winning his last two starts where he shutout the Rangers for 6.1 innings in a 6-0 win and allowed only one run in 5.1 innings in a 7-1 win against the Royals. His improvement coincides with extra coaching from Boston pitching coach Curt Young who shortened his stride which has helped his command.
The only way to back Burnett in this one is if the Yankees win the first two games. These two teams have a propensity over the years to keep momentum going and sweep. Should the Red Sox win the first two or split, Boston is the easy play here.
Should Boston not fare well in this series, it could turn into a disastrous week as they’ll welcome the AL West leading Rangers in for a three game set over the weekend.
Another key series this weekend has the Diamondbacks visiting San Francisco for a key NL West matchup. Through Sunday, Arizona had expanded its lead over the Giants to four games as the D’Backs were riding a six game winning streak. The defending world champs have to win the series to avoid letting Arizona run away as the September stretch gets under way.