Today’s column is written as a fan, not from a myopic, academic viewpoint of the media’s coverage of the team.
I’ve been traveling a bunch over the past couple of weeks, doing a lot of driving. Naturally, since radio stinks and I don’t feel like listening to the same CDs on a loop, I fall into the sports talk radio trap. All I wanted to do yesterday on my drive to Pennsylvania was get into some Yankees-Red Sox chatter and analysis, since Aug. 6 has been marked on the calendar since the two teams were tied atop the AL East at the All-Star break.
Instead, I got drivel from Craig Carton about how last night’s game was a “look-ahead” or trap game, that it was irrelevant in the grand scheme. This, we all know, is ridiculous, because the victory combined with the Sox’ loss gives a 2 1/2 game cushion heading into the weekend. On ESPN Radio, I got next to nothing on Yankees-Red Sox ALL DAY. It was so bad that for two hours during the afternoon drive, Don LaGreca and Ian O’Connor, who were pinch-hitting for Michael Kay, were discussing why Eli Manning is not a beloved quarterback in New York and comparing his numbers to Joe Namath. Yes, for two hours.
(I don’t know about you, but as a fan I can’t really get into football until the Yankees are done. Let the Met-Jet fans get excited about football season now. They’ve got nothing else to root for. At this point, I don’t care about Manning’s contract or where he ranks among other NFL quarterbacks or debating the merits of his contract. It’s all about Yankees-Red Sox, dammit. Where are the priorities?)
Thank you to WFAN’s Evan Roberts and Joe Benigno for getting me through a crawling jam on the Belt Parkway during afternoon rush hour. They didn’t spend a lot of time on Yankees-Sox, but Roberts made a point to mention that this weekend is all about CC Sabathia and AJ Burnett. One caller asked to compare the Yankees’ record during their starts to the Red Sox’ record when Josh Beckett and John Lester have started. The Sox have a four-game edge — 30-13 to 26-18. In terms of the pitchers’ records, Beckett and Lester are a combined 22-11, while Sabathia and Burnett are a combined 21-12, an even one-game difference.
Roberts, who I covered many games with and for whom I have a great deal of respect, opined that neither Sabathia nor Burnett have performed to the “ace” level at which they’re being paid to perform. I will grant that based on the aforementioned records that may be true. All but Beckett are considered to be having off-years. Roberts went on to say that Sabathia and Burnett haven’t been “lockdown guys;” that if you polled Yankee fans if they have confidence the Yankees will win when Sabathia or Burnett are pitching, they’d say no.
I disagree on both counts.
First, let’s address the “ace” comment. I raised an eyebrow at this one because superficially, it seemed that the argument was solely based on wins and losses. We as an intelligent fan base know that straight W-L record is not the best way to deem a pitcher’s effectiveness. Is Sabathia’s ERA outstanding? At 3.95, I’d say no. The fact that he’s averaged 7 innings per start this season gives me reason to think he’s been the workhorse he was advertised to be. He’s been involved in many close games where the offense has faltered. In all but four games he’s been good enough to put the team in position to win. Last Sunday’s start at Chicago was particularly impressive, not for the stats, but that he gutted out a victory when he didn’t have his best stuff. Being an “ace” is based as much on mentality as it is physical prowess and talent.
With Burnett, it all depends on his control. The concern is can he hold a lead? He blew the 5-run lead at Fenway earlier this year, in one of the many games the Yankees should have won against Boston. Does that mean he can’t beat the Red Sox? Hardly. He’s 5-1 against them in his career. He’ll have a couple more chances to beat them this year.
To say that Sabathia hasn’t beaten the Sox this year is accurate, but he’s only had one chance. Not everyone is going to do what Randy Johnson did in 2005 — go 5-0 against Boston (and he did not pitch well in some of those games). Burnett’s debacle in Chicago last Saturday broke a string of eight consecutive quality starts. Combined, he and Sabathia have 24 quality starts. Even aces aren’t going to be great every time out.
Of course, the entire discussion was based on the Yankees’ 0-8 record against the Red Sox this season. The Red Sox supposedly “have their number.” Again, to that I call B.S. Three losses were by one run — including one in extra innings — and they held leads in at least half of those games. The failure was by the team as a whole.
Here’s the set-up: Chamberlain, Burnett, Sabathia, and Pettitte. Throwing the 0-8 aside, I like the Yankees’ chances. They have the rotation aligned perfectly to increase the gap between them and the Red Sox. Now, it’s a matter of executing.
I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to see how it unfolds.