Boston Red Sox
2008 Record: 95-67 (.586)
2008 Pythagorean Record: 95-67 (.586)
Manager: Terry Francona
General Manager: Theo Epstein
Home Ballpark (multi-year Park Factors): Fenway Park (108/106)
Who’s Replaced Whom:
- Jason Bay replaces Manny Ramirez
- Jonathan Van Every is filling in for Rocco Baldelli (DL), who replaces Coco Crisp
- Jeff Bailey is filling in for Mark Kotsay (DL), who replaces Sean Casey
- George Kottaras replaces Kevin Cash
- Nick Green is filling in for Jed Lowrie (DL) and Julio Lugo (DL), thus Gil Velazquez is replacing Alex Cora
- Brad Penny replaces Clay Buchholz (minors), Paul Byrd, and Bartolo Colon
- Ramon Ramirez replaces Mike Timlin
- Takashi Saito replaces David Aardsma
- Justin Masterson is filling in for Daisuke Matsuzaka (DL)
- Hunter Jones is filling in for Masterson in the bullpen
1B – Kevin Youkilis (R)
2B – Dustin Pedroia (R)
SS – Nick Green (R)
3B – Mike Lowell (R)
C – Jason Varitek (C)
RF – J.D. Drew (L)
CF – Jacoby Ellsbury (L)
LF – Jason Bay (R)
DH – David Ortiz (L)
R – Jeff Bailey (OF/1B)
L – Jonathan Van Every (OF)
R – Gil Velazquez (IF)
L – George Kottaras (C)
L – Jon Lester
R – Josh Beckett
R – Justin Masterson
R – Tim Wakefield
R – Brad Penny
R – Jonathan Papelbon
L – Hideki Okajima
R – Manny Delcarmen
L – Javier Lopez
R – Ramon Ramirez
R – Takashi Saito
L – Hunter Jones
RHP – Daisuke Matsuzaka (shoulder strain)
SS – Jed Lowrie (wrist surgery)
SS – Julio Lugo (meniscus surgery)
OF – Rocco Baldelli (hamstring)
RHP – John Smoltz (shoulder surgery)
OF/1B – Mark Kotsay (back)
RHP – Miguel Gonzalez (TJ)
L – Jacoby Ellsbury (CF)
R – Dustin Pedroia (2B)
L – David Ortiz (DH)
R – Kevin Youkilis (1B)
L – J.D. Drew (RF)
R – Jason Bay (LF)
R – Mike Lowell (3B)
S – Jason Varitek (C)
R – Nick Green (SS)
If it feels as though the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry swung decidedly in the the Sox’s direction following their unprecedented comeback in the 2004 ALCS, you might be surprised to learn that Boston hasn’t won the regular-season series between the two teams since. Over the last four seasons, the Yankees have held the lead in the regular season series by a 40-34 tally, winning the series in 2005, 2006, and 2007, and splitting it 9-9 last year. Of course, Boston fans will point out that the Red Sox lead the Yankees over the last five years in the only stat that matters, world championships, by a 2-0 margin. They’re right. They’d also be correct to point out that, while the Red Sox missed the playoffs in 2006 and the Yankees missed it in 2008, the Red Sox’s record in postseason series dating back to the 2004 ALCS is 4-2, while the Yankees’ is 0-4.
All of which goes to show just how much the 18 games the two teams will play against each other this year are likely to mean. Yes, the Yankees and Red Sox are each other’s primary rival for both the division and/or the Wild Card, but they’ll most likely come close to splitting the 18 games once again. The most lop-sided the series has been over the last four years was in 2006 when the Yankees won 11 and the Sox won 8. The Red Sox missed the playoffs by nine games that year. Last year, the Yankees missed the playoffs by six games after splitting the series with the Sox. From 2003 to 2005 and in 2007, both teams made the playoffs, and I, along with many others, expect that both will make the playoffs again this year despite the emergence of the defending American League champion Rays (I’d say it’s how each performs against the Rays that’s more important, but the Yankees went 11-7 against Tampa Bay last year and still missed the postseason, while the Red Sox went 10-8 against the Rays and still had to settle for the Wild Card).
Indeed, with the Yankees having upgraded significantly over the winter, the Yankees and Red Sox are once again both equally matched and similarly constructed. Both enter this weekend’s game with 9-6 records and 84 runs scored (5.6 per game). Both are starting a weak-hitting minor league veteran due to an injury in their infield. Both have pulled their returning Asian ace from the rotation due to extremely poor performance. Both have deep, talented bullpens, but in part due to injuries elsewhere, short-handed and unimpressive benches. Both have prematurely aging designated hitters who strike fear in the opponent’s fan base but are struggling to prove that they can remain healthy and productive. Both have speedy 25-year-old center fielders who are struggling to hit for power. Both have expensive, 37-year-old catchers trying to rebound from awful, injury-plagued seasons. Both have been buoyed in the early going by the inning-eating veterans who first joined their respective teams in 1995 and the erratic, injury-prone former Florida Marlins in their rotations. Both have endured disappointing starts from their young, left-handed would-be aces.
Despite all of these similarities, I picked the Red Sox to take the division because of the relative stability of their lineup and the depth of their rotation. The Yankees appear likely to turn to Phil Hughes to fill Chien-Ming Wang’s rotation spot on Tuesday. The Red Sox have a Hughes equivalent in Triple-A in Clay Buchholz, but they filled Daisuke Matsuzaka’s rotation spot by taking Justin Masterson out of the bullpen and were quickly rewarded with a solid start (5 1/3 IP, 4 H, 1 R) and a win over the Orioles. That makes Buchholz their seventh, not sixth, starter, and if they need an eighth man in the second half of the season, John Smoltz lurks on the disabled list, where he’s recovering from off-season shoulder surgery, and prospect Michael Bowden lurks beside Buchholz in Triple-A. By comparison, the Yankees’ rotation depth chart behind Hughes, features head-case prospect Ian Kennedy, middling Mexican League find Alfredo Aceves, and human lighter fluid Kei Igawa.
As for the lineup, if everyone on both teams stays healthy and hits, the Yankees will have the better offense, but that’s not going to happen, and the Yankees entered the year with far too many question marks, including the health of Jorge Posada, Hideki Matsui, and now Alex Rodriguez, the advancing ages of those three as well as Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon, and the erratic or unestablished production of Robinson Cano and the team’s center fielders. One could even put Nick Swisher in that last category coming off his miserable 2008 season, and Xavier Nady has since been thrown on the injury pile. Due to Alex Rodriguez’s hip injury, the only sure thing in the Yankee lineup is Mark Teixeira, who himself has already suffered a minor wrist injury.
As for the Red Sox, they have age and injury concerns with David Ortiz, Mike Lowell, J.D. Drew, and Jason Varitek, and concerns about production from shortstop and center field, but Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, and Jason Bay are all sure things in their prime.
The good news for the Yankees is that the early returns have been positive on everyone but Gardner. Even Hideki Matsui has come around of late, going 6-for-14 with three walks and three extra-base hits in his last four games. The Red Sox, meanwhile, have seen only Jacoby Ellsbury and Ortiz struggle significantly in the early going. Thus the two teams’ matching runs-scored totals.
The Red Sox enter this weekend’s series red hot having won seven straight against the A’s, O’s, and Twins, and having outscored Baltimore and Minnesota 29-5 over their last three games, one of which was shortened by rain but still saw the Sox win 10-1 over the Twins.
The Yankees arrive in Boston on a three-game winning streak kept alive by their 14-inning 9-7 victory over the A’s on Wednesday. The hero of that game, Melky Cabrera, starts in center again tonight with the left-handed Jon Lester on the mound for the Red Sox (in the smallest of small samples, Melky is 3-for-7 with a homer and two walks from the right side of the plate this year). With Nady on the DL, Melky has reestablished himself on the team, though it’s informative to compare what he’s doing this April with what he did last April:
Melky April ’08: .299/.370/.494, 5 HR, 11 BB (101 PA)
Melky April ’09: .304/.385/.826, 4 HR, 3 BB (26 PA)
Then remember what he did over the remainder of 2008:
.235/.281/.300, 3 HR, 18 BB (352 PA)
After playing all 14 innings on Wednesday, Hideki Matsui has a day off against the lefty Lester. Jorge Posada, who caught all of both Oakland games, will DH as Jose Molina (.265/.306/.401 career vs. LHP and 3-for-7 career vs. Lester) gets the start behind the plate. Jorge bats cleanup again and Cabrera, Molina, and Cody Ransom form the bottom third of the order.
Lester dominated the Yankees in three starts last year (1.19 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 24 K, 3 BB, and 0 HR in 22 2/3 IP) and after starting the season with two rough outings, dominated the Orioles in his last start (7 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 9 K). He’ll oppose Joba Chamberlain, who pitched well in two starts against Boston last year (13 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 0 HR, 5 BB, 14 K), dominating them in Fenway in the latter (7 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 9 K). Joba pitched well in his first start this year, but wasn’t sharp in his last (4 2/3 IP, 5 BB). With CC Sabathia suffering through his annual April doldrums, and Chien-Ming Wang on the verge of a performance-motivated DL stint, the Yankees have more than the usual reasons to hope Joba will make that last outing look like the exception rather than the rule.