Okay, here we go. Let’s set the scene.
The Yankees and Red Sox have ten head-to-head games remaining this season. Four of them will be played at the new Yankee Stadium tonight through Sunday. The remaining six are split between the Bronx and Boston. Coming into this series, the Yankees hold a 2.5-game lead over Boston in the AL East while Boston holds a three-game lead over Texas and Tampa Bay in the Wild Card race. The Yankees have played one more game than the Red Sox and have two fewer losses.
Of course, the story of the season for both teams thus far has been that the Red Sox have won all eight previous head-to-head games between the two teams this season. Take away those eight games and here’s how the two have done against against the rest of the majors:
NYY 65-34 (.657) –
BOS 54-44 (.551) 9.5
Since their last meeting, a three-game Red Sox sweep at Fenway Park in early June, the Yankees have gone 31-16 (.660) while the Red Sox have gone 26-20 (.565).
Given the Yankees’ dominance of third-party competition, it’s tempting to contemplate all sorts of “if only” scenarios (“if only they had split those eight games with Boston . . . if only they’d just won two of them . . .”), but those eight games count, and they just might reveal something about the relative strengths of the two teams and whether or not we can expect a different result this weekend.
With that in mind, here’s a quick look back at the first eight games of the season series:
April 24 @ BOS: Yankees hand a 4-2 lead to Mariano Rivera in the bottom of the ninth, but Mo gives up a Kevin Youkilis single and two-run Jason Bay home-run that tie the game. Youkilis later wins it with a solo homer off Damaso Marte in the bottom of the 11th.
April 25 @ BOS: The Yanks take a 6-0 lead on Josh Beckett, but A.J. Burnett gives up eight runs in the fourth and fifth innings combined. The lead changes hands four more times as the two teams combined to score another 13 runs in the six, seventh, and eighth. Jose Veras, Phil Coke, Jonathan Albaladejo (who gets the loss), Edwar Ramirez, and David Robertson combine to allow eight runs in three innings and when the smoke clears, the Red Sox are the victors by a 16-11 final.
April 26 @ BOS: The Red Sox win a 4-1 game when they score three runs in the fifth off Andy Pettitte. The three runners that score all reach base on walks (one intentional), and all three score with two outs, including Jacoby Ellsbury, who steals home. The Yankees go 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position against Justin Masterson and Takashi Saito and fail to put a runner on base against Hunter Jones or Michael Bowden.
May 4 @ NY: The Red Sox score one run in each of starter Phil Hughes’ four innings. Alfredo Aceves is dominant in relief, but serves up a two-run homer to Bay in the seventh that proves to be the difference. Jon Lester holds the Yankees to a three-run fifth later supplemented by a Mark Teixeira solo homer off Ramon Ramirez (Tex’s second solo homer of the game). Sox win 6-4.
May 5 @ NY: Joba Chamberlain allows four runs in the first only to settle down and strike out 12, but those four are enough as Beckett, Hideki Okajima, and Saito limit the Yankees to a three-run dinger by Damon in the sixth. The Sox get some insurance off Albaladejo, Mark Melancon, and Robertson in the final two innings to win 7-3.
June 9 @ BOS: Josh Beckett allows just one hit in six innings and Manny Delcarmen, Ramirez, and Daniel Bard allow just one more in the final three. Meanwhile, Burnett is bounced in the third and the Sox cruise to a 7-0 win.
June 10 @ BOS: In just his second start since April, Chien-Ming Wang matches Burnett by lasting just 2 2/3 innings. Phil Hughes struggles in long relief and the Sox are up 6-2 after four. The Yankees scrape out three more runs against Tim Wakefield and Ramirez, but fall short, losing 6-5 after going 2-for-15 with runners in scoring position.
June 11 @ BOS: Trailing 1-0 for most of the game due to a second-inning solo shot by David Ortiz, the Yankees break open a pitchers duel between CC Sabathia and Brad Penny with three off Ramirez in the seventh keyed by doubles by Francisco Cervelli and Alex Rodriguez. On his way to throwing 123 pitches, CC Sabathia gives one run back in the top of the eighth. Aceves then comes in with the tying and winning runs on base and lets them both in as the Yanks fall 4-3.
Boston offense: .287/.406/.515, 13 HR, 10-for-13 SB, 6.88 R/G
Yankee offense: .267/.347/.420, 10 HR, 9-for-9 SB, 3.88 R/G
Jason Bay (.448/.568/.897, 3 HR)
Kevin Youkilis (.375/.531/.667)
David Ortiz (.321/.432/.679)
Jacoby Ellsbury (.400/.455/.650, 6 SB)
Mark Teixeira (.290/.436/.645, 3 HR)
Hideki Matsui (.450/.500/.550)
Jorge Posada (.350/.500/.500)
. . .
Alex Rodriguez (.100/.308/.200, 1-for-10)
Jason Varitek (.074/.188/.185, 2-for-27)
Boston pitching: 3.53 ERA, 1.49 WHIP, 8.15 K/9, 4.01 BB/9, 1.2 HR/9, 2.03 K/BB
Yankee pitching: 6.06 ERA, 1.84 WHIP, 8.56 K/9, 6.32 BB/9, 1.7 HR/9, 1.35 K/BB
Takashi Saito (4 1/3 IP, 0 R, 0.69 WHIP)
Phil Coke (4 1/3 IP, 0 R, 0.69 WHIP)
Jonathan Papelbon (5 2/3 IP, 0 R, 3 SV)
. . .
A.J. Burnett (2 GS, 12.91 ERA, 2.74 WHIP)
Ramon Ramirez (3 1/3 IP, 8.10 ERA, 2.70 WHIP, 3 HR)
Hideki Okajima (4 IP, 6.75 ERA, 1.75 WHIP)
Manny Delcarmen (4 2/3 IP, 5.79 ERA, 2.14 WHIP)
What’s the take away here? You can blame the Yankee bullpen for the first two losses and the last (or Joe Girardi for going too long with his starter in the second and last games), and blame the offense for the third, but the Red Sox were the better team in every way for the other four. Meanwhile, the aggregate stats show that the Yankee hurlers have been walking too many men and giving up too many home runs, while the Yankee bats have performed poorly with runners on base given the Red Sox’s weak WHIP but strong ERA.
The good news is that the Yankees won’t be throwing their fifth starter in this series, and Jason Bay, the best hitter in the series to this point, is out for at least the first two games with a sore hamstring. Then again, if Terry Francona wants to get really creative, he could use Kevin Youkilis in the outfield (where he’s played 20 errorless games in his career) and Victor Martinez at first base to make up for the loss of Bay. Martinez has started three of four games at first base since joining the Sox, with Youkilis shifting to third on those occasions and Martinez catching in the one exception. Martinez is 10-for-21 with two doubles and a homer as a Red Sock. You can read my thoughts on the Martinez deal and the other players it impacts (Youkilis, Lowell, Ortiz, and Varitek) here.
Finally, before I get to the Red Sox roster, here’s how the Yankees have changed since last leaving Boston on June 11:
- Eric Hinske has replaced Brett Gardner (DL)
- Jerry Hairston Jr. has replaced Angel Berroa
- Jose Molina (DL) has replaced Francisco Cervelli (minors)
- Anthony Claggett (minors) has replaced Ramiro Peña (minors) unless Peña is brought back before game time tonight
- Brian Bruney (DL) has replaced Jose Veras
- Sergio Mitre (minors) has replaced Chien-Ming Wang (DL)
- Mark Melancon (minors) has replaced Brett Tomko
Boston Red Sox
2009 Record: 62-44 (.585)
2009 Pythagorean Record: 62-44 (.585)
Manager: Terry Francona
General Manager: Theo Epstein
Home Ballpark (multi-year Park Factors): Fenway Park (108/106)
Who’s Replaced Whom:
- Victor Martinez has replaced George Kottaras (DL)
- Jed Lowrie (DL) has replaced Julio Lugo
- Casey Kotchman has replaced Mark Kotsay
- John Smoltz (DL) has replaced Tim Wakefield (DL)
- Clay Buchholz (minors) has replaced Daisuke Matsuzaka (DL)
- Billy Traber (minors) has replaced Justin Masterson
1B – Victor Martinez (R)
2B – Dustin Pedroia (R)
SS – Jed Lowrie (S)
3B – Kevin Youkilis (R)
C – Jason Varitek (C)
RF – J.D. Drew (L)
CF – Jacoby Ellsbury (L)
LF – Jason Bay (R)
DH – David Ortiz (L)
R – Mike Lowell (3B)
R – Nick Green (SS)
R – Rocco Baldelli (OF)
L – Casey Kotchman (1B)
R – Josh Beckett
R – Clay Buchholz
L – Jon Lester
R – Brad Penny
R – John Smoltz
R – Jonathan Papelbon
L – Hideki Okajima
R – Manny Delcarmen
R – Ramon Ramirez
R – Takashi Saito
R – Dan Bard
L – Billy Traber
RHP – Tim Wakefield (old)
1B – Jeff Bailey
C – George Kottaras
RHP – Daisuke Matsuzaka (suck)
RHP – Miguel Gonzalez (TJ)
L – Jacoby Ellsbury (CF)
R – Dustin Pedroia (2B)
S – Victor Martinez (1B/C)
R – Kevin Youkilis (1B/3B)
L – David Ortiz (DH)
R – Jason Bay (LF)
L – J.D. Drew (RF)
S – Jason Varitek (C)
S – Jed Lowrie (SS)
As for tonight’s pitching matchup, Joba Chamberlain has been nails since the All-Star break, going 3-0 with a 0.83 ERA and just eight hits in 21 2/3 innings. I still think he’s been a bit hit-lucky, but you can’t argue with success. It was Joba who was in line for the win in the first game of this series before Mo blew the save, and his last 4 2/3 innings against Boston produced this line: 4 2/3 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 12 K. On his career, Joba is 2-1 with a 3.49 ERA in four relief appearances and four starts against the Red Sox. He’s as good a choice as anyone to help break the spell tonight.
Opposing Joba is a pitcher 18-years his senior, John Smoltz. The 42-year-old Smoltz’s Red Sox career has thus far had the feel of Joe Namath on the Rams, or in baseball terms, Warren Spahn on the Mets. He has yet to turn in a quality start in seven tries and the Red Sox are 2-5 in games he has started. Over his last three starts, two of which came against the Orioles, he’s posted a 9.18 ERA and allowed six home runs. Opponents are hitting .323/.356/.535 against him on the season. He’s not walking anyone, and he’s still getting his strikeouts, but he’s also throwing a whole lot of hittable pitches that his opponents aren’t missing. It could be that Smoltz has been a bit hit-unlucky. It certainly wouldn’t surprise me to see the future Hall of Famer and legendary big-game stud (15-4, 2.65 ERA, 194 Ks in 207 postseason innings) find his old form against the Yankees tonight, but that would be a decided divergence from his performance to this point.
Usual suspects in the Yankee lineup tonight. Francona has indeed put Youkilis in left field, but Martinez is catching with fellow deadline addition Casey Kotchman playing first base. Varitek rides pine.