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Tag: Boston Red Sox

What a Bargain

boston-globe-paper

Leigh Montville on John Henry buying the Globe:

The news last week that The Boston Globe was sold was not a great surprise. The New York Times had been shopping the newspaper for a couple of years and various bidders had been mentioned in a number of stories. The news that John Henry, principal owner of the Red Sox, was the winning bidder also was not a great surprise. He has become part of the fabric of the city, a 63-year-old rich man about town, a close-lipped maker and shaker, lives in a mansion, is married (again) to a younger local woman. This was another addition to an interesting business portfolio.

The price that he paid for this addition was the great surprise.

“I can’t believe he bought our newspaper for $70 million,” I, a one-time sportswriter at The Globe, said to another one-time sportswriter at The Globe. “He gets all that real estate. He gets all of those trucks. He gets the rights to all of the stories, all of the pictures, the 22 Pulitzers, all of the past, plus the computer present and future of the pre-eminent voice in all of New England. The Times paid $1.1 billion for The Globe 20 years ago. He gets it for $70 million? The stories say that’s about four percent of whatThe Times paid.”

“He just gave Dustin Pedroia a $110 million contract extension for eight years,” the other one-time sportswriter said. “So he’s paying $50 million more for the starting Red Sox second baseman than he is for the pre-eminent voice in New England…”

This fact made the two of us feel very old.

Magic Number Shmagic Number

Freddy Garcia

Freddy Garcia suffered his first loss since July 15th. (Photo Credit / Darren Calabrese - Canadian Press)

Author’s Note / Excuse: Apologies for the delayed post. If you need further proof that the NFL, not Major League Baseball, is the National Pastime, try getting online between 1 and 4 p.m. on a Sunday to access photos from a baseball game to include in a recap. The requisite sites were performing at speeds not seen since 1997.

Threads in this space, elsewhere in the Blogosphere, the Twitterverse, Facebook — basically anywhere you search for Yankees information — have featured criticism of Joe Girardi for managing passively over the past week and a half. That judgment was typically reserved for his bullpen maneuvering, specifically in the one-run losses in Baltimore, Anaheim and Seattle, and then again in the series opener at Rogers Centre Friday night. Not as prevalent in those threads was that the “A” lineup, while physically present on the field, was doing little to help the winning cause.

Then on Sunday, with the Yankees’ magic number to clinch a playoff spot at five, the starting lineup looked more like one you’d see in mid-March than mid-September. Girardi has stated publicly that he’s been looking for places to give the regulars some rest. The counter, “Win the games, win the division, secure the playoff spot and then rest people.” And so it was that the only regulars in the starting lineup were Brett Gardner, Nick Swisher, A-Rod and J Martin.

The result was a feeble, fundamentally unsound 3-0 defeat that left the Yankees 4-6 on this season-long 10-game, four-city road trip. Brandon Morrow dominated the Yankees, striking out seven and walking only one. The Yankees had five hits, only two of which left the infield. Like in the early going Saturday, they ran themselves out of potential scoring opportunities. In the first inning, with Eduardo Nuñez Nuñez on second and Robinson Canó on first, Canó was thrown out on the tail end of a double steal. Later, in the top of the sixth, Nuñez, who Michael Kay and John Flaherty lauded on the YES telecast during his first at-bat, once again incited fans’ ire by inexplicably trying to turn a single into a double. Nuñez hit a clean single to rightfield. Nuñez tried to catch Jose Bautista napping, but it didn’t work. Bautista fired behind the runner to first base, where Edwin Encarnación fired to second to catch Nuñez by a mile. Inning over, potential rally over. Nuñez’s one-out double in the ninth inning marked the only other time in the game the Yankees had a runner in scoring position.

Meanwhile, Freddy Garcia surrendered three runs on five hits and three walks in 4 2/3 innings, and he made a throwing error that contributed to one of the three runs. In short, Garcia did little to pitch himself into consideration for either five-man rotation over the final two weeks of the regular season, or the playoff rotation.

Other things we learned …

* The Ghost of Raul Valdes, who pitched out of a bases-loaded jam in the seventh, may have shown that he could be the Yankees’ LOOGY over the next two weeks and into the postseason.

* The Yankees’ bullpen, in the last two games, pitched 9 1/3 innings of shutout ball. The group allowed just two hits and walked four — three by Scott Proctor — in that span.

* The Rays are white-hot. They beat up the Red Sox again and are surging toward a September comeback to rival the 2007 Colorado Rockies. The Yankees have a six-game edge over the Rays in the loss column, which may seem cushy with only 10 games left, but this week’s series at Yankee Stadium cannot be taken lightly. Depending on Monday’s result against the Minnesota Twins, sweeping the Rays would clinch that coveted playoff spot for the Yankees, leaving next weekend’s series against the Red Sox open for clinching the division.

This week features the games the regulars get paid the big money to play. Let’s see how the manager and the team respond.

Magic kit

 

Thank Heaven for Little Guillens

Thank the Baseball Gods for the Guillen family; in a cold quiet winter they bring us sparks and adventure. Yesterday White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen’s son Oney absolutely lit into former White Sox and current Red Sox reliever Bobby Jenks on Twitter. Highlights are many, but include:

hahah memo to bobby jenks get a clue u drink to much and u have had marital problems hugeee ones and the sox stood behind u

they did not air out ur dirty laundry, u came to srping not drinking and then u sucked and started srinking again be a man

be a man and tell the manager or the coaching staff how u feel or the organization when u were with the sox not when u leave

u cried in the managers office bc u have problems now u go and talk bad about the sox after they protected u for 7 years ungrateful

if it wasnt for u and mainly u freddy garcia would have like 17 wins and the sox would have beat the twins …

…oh and yes i remember clearly u blowing a hugee game in 09 and u laughing ur bearded ass off while everyone busting there tail…

…one little story remember when u couldnt handle ur drinking and u hit a poor arizona clubby in the face i do. and later u covered it wit

Im sorry thats ur answer to everything. How can u disrespect ur ex team like that

Uh, yikes. The comments from Jenks that brought this on were obnoxious, but fairly tame in comparison. He told reporters that he wanted “to play for a manager who trusts his relievers, regardless of what’s going on,” and said “Why would I come back to that negativity? I’m looking forward to playing for a manager who knows how to run a bullpen.” He also felt that the White Sox didn’t handle their decision not to re-sign him particularly well, which is debatable, but a common enough sentiment when teams and players part ways.

Jim Margalus of South Side Sox writes,

I wouldn’t be surprised if most, if not all, of what Oney Guillen tweeted about Jenks was true. There were a couple of weird tongue-holding episodes at the end of the season; Jenks creating an uneasy scene by spitting on the clubhouse floor, Kenny Williams saying “there are certain things I’m not going to talk about right now.” To this point, Williams has resisted kicking Jenks out the door, but Oney seems to have filled in at least some of the blanks. None of it was necessary.

OK, nothing Guillen’s middle son does is necessary when it comes to White Sox Business, but this was bringing a grenade to a pillow fight. Jenks only criticized Ozzie the Manager, and that brings only Bobby the Pitcher into play. There’s lots of room for insult there. His attitude, his inconsistent performance, which may have been attributable to his inconsistent conditioning … pick one and hammer away if you please. That’s an eye for an eye, and all in a day’s work for these highly compensated professionals.

That would accomplish far more than taking private information and making it public.

This isn’t the first time Jenks’ personal issues went public; in Jerry Crasnick’s “License to Deal: A Season on the Run With a Maverick Baseball Agent”, Crasnick and Jenks’ former representative Matt Sosnick describe the pitcher as “an agent’s nightmare – the type of player who constantly tests management’s patience and rarely takes responsibility for his actions,” whose “drinking and capacity for self-destruction… soiled just about everything he touched,” a “reclamation project” who “couldn’t be reclaimed.” Ouch again.

I’m sure the Red Sox knew what they were getting into and if Jenks pitches well, as he has in the past, no one on the team or in the stands will care much about the guy’s flaws, whatever they might be. If he doesn’t, though, Boston is not a place where it takes very long for things to get ugly.

Anyway, Oney Guillen’s rant was clearly unprofessional and inappropriate, but in these days of corporate-speak, careful PR men, and dull canned quotes, I’ve gotta say I’m glad somebody is still able to go off the reservation like that.

Photo via Chicago Now

Witch-King of Angmar To Re-Sign With Barad-dûr*

According to Peter Gammons, our unfriendly neighbors to the north are close to re-signing Jason Varitek to a two million dollar, one-year deal. Good news for the base stealers of the AL East.

Of course, yesterday Gammons tweeted “Cp L”. Still, this is about the easiest thing in the world to believe. The day the Red Sox don’t offer Jason Varitek a contract is the day we all peer anxiously towards the east to make sure the sun will still be rising there.

***

*Alternate title: Grand Moff Varitek To Re-Sign With Death Star. Yeah. My nerdiness is running amok today. By way of apology, here’s a photo of Jason Varitek and a dolphin.

Don't ask me.

Absolute Truth

That’s the only word that will do. The Yanks are playing like horsesh**. Jon Lester is a stud and he was in peak form on Saturday, true. Give him credit. But listen, the Yankees have lost four games in a row at home and are doing their best to make us squirm. Final score this afternoon: Red Sox 7, Yanks 3.

They’ve got Dustin Moseley pitching against Clay Buchholz tomorrow night. Anyone inspired with a sudden burst of confidence? Okay, so let’s say they get swept. There will be six games left, Magic Number stuck on stupid at three. You’ve still got to love their chances to make it to October, which looks like it’ll start in Minnie against that sombitch Pavano (the Rays already have a 4-0 first inning lead tonight).

But c’mon now, enough is enough already. The sky isn’t falling yet, of course, but that doesn’t mean we’ve got to be happy about this horsesh**, either.

Boston Red Sox IV: Kick ‘Em While They’re Down

The Yankees and Red Sox last met for a two-game set in the Bronx in mid-May. At the time, the big story surrounding the Red Sox was their poor start. In splitting those two games, the Sox held tight at .500. Almost immediately after, they finally found their groove. Including that last win against the Yankees, the Red Sox went 30-12 coming out of that series. That’s a blistering .714 pace that brought them within a half-game of the first place Bombers on July 3. Since then, however . . . meh, not so much. The Sox have gone 13-15 since that high-water mark, and seem to be rotating through the disabled list more often than they’re rotating through their lineup.

You might have heard that the Red Sox have been dealing with some injuries this season. Prior to returning Wednesday night, Jacoby Ellsbury had played just nine games all year due to various problems related to broken ribs suffered in an April collision with Adrian Beltre. He’s back, but he might have been the worst hitter in their opening day lineup and was moved to left field this spring because the Red Sox had major concerns about his defense in center. However, Mike Cameron, his intended replacement in center, is back on the DL for the second time this season with an abdominal strain, making Ellsbury the team’s center fielder and leadoff hitter, which may or may not be any better than having Ellsbury back on the DL. That also leaves J.D. Drew, who routinely misses games with a strained this and a sore that, as the only Boston outfielder having a “healthy” season.

Among those who have joined Ellsbury on the DL this season were Dustin Pedroia and Jason Varitek (both still out with broken feet), Victor Martinez (recently returned), Kevin Youkilis (more than countering Martinez’s return by hitting the DL the day before Cameron with a thumb injury that will require season-ending surgery), Daisuke Matsuzaka (of course), Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz (both recently returned), and Manny Delcarmen (returned, but to low-leverage innings). Did I miss anyone? Boof Bonser doesn’t count, and I’m not sure Mike Lowell does either, though he’s suddenly become a very important player in the wake of Youkilis’s injury.

The good news for Boston fans is that, assuming Jon Lester’s Wednesday night leg cramp isn’t anything, the rotation is back at full strength. Buchholz and Beckett, who start tonight and Sunday, respectively, each enter this series coming off a pair of quality starts. Less encouraging has been the fact that Lester, who pitches Monday, has been off his game for four straight outings, and John Lackey, who faces CC Sabathia on Saturday, has been little more than a league-average-innings eater in his first season with the team. The Sox’s bullpen has been as problematic as the Yankees’, and the pitching staff as a whole, which has surely been undermined by the drop in the quality of team defense resulting from the many injuries to the starting lineup, something unlikely to be helped by Ellsbury’s return, has been below average in keeping runs off the board.

Whatever winning the Red Sox have been doing this season has been due to a few stretches of sharp starting pitching and their lineup, which has been buoyed by David Ortiz’s rejuvination and by a fantastic season by Adrian Beltre, but Youkilis has been the team’s best hitter, and Pedroia was in the top four, and without those two bats, this is a very different ballclub.

The best-case scenario for the Red Sox this weekend is to sweep a four game set in the Bronx and pull within two games of the Yankees for the Wild Card. I don’t see that happening, though the Yankees would be advised to win at least one of the first two as the pitching matchups become more favorable for Boston as the series progresses. The Sox will have 50 games left after this series, enough to overcome any deficit, but if the Yankees simply split, they will have robbed the Sox of a prime opportunity to make up ground and will take control of their rival’s fate by having a six-game lead over the Sox with just six head-to-head games left to play. All of that may take the edge of this series, but it’s worth noting that beating the Rays does the Yankees little good as both teams are likely to make the postseason. It’s burying the second place team in the Wild Card chase that will secure the Yankees’ playoff berth, and that second-place team is the Boston Red Sox.

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The Fugly Follies

Random thoughts from a crazy 11-9 Yankees victory that had highs, lows, and a lot of agita in between…

The lead-up to this quickie two-game set between the Yankees and the Red Sox featured several back stories:

1) The Red Sox were not a threat. They entered Monday night’s action in fourth place, three and a half games behind the Blue Jays, the starting pitching reduced to mediocrity, the bullpen reduced to tatters, and riddled by the combined struggles of David Ortiz and Victor Martinez, and injuries to Mike Cameron and Jacoby Ellsbury.

“The Red Sox don’t scare me,” so said 1050′s Seth Everett on Sunday. “They’re not a threat. David Ortiz doesn’t scare me. Not even now that he’s started to hit a little bit.”

“It’s not a rivalry right now,” said Mike Francesa. “It’s not a rivalry until the standings dictate that it’s a rivalry.”

To paraphrase Buster Olney, who subbed on “Mike and Mike in the Morning”: “By the end of May, Theo Epstein will evaluate and look at this team and restructure with 2011 in mind.”

Thank you, Cliff Corcoran, for bringing some sanity to the matter and giving the “Sox are dead” sayers a nice punch to the stomach. The Red Sox don’t suck and they proved it. (More on this later.)

2) Because Mariano Rivera hadn’t given up a run to date and was inhumanly infallible at Age 40, the fact that he yielded his first grand slam at home since 1995 and first grand slam since Bill Selby in July of 2002 to blow the save Sunday meant that something was wrong and the end was near. The likes of Olney, Craig Carton, and Mike Francesa all thankfully decried this notion. Olney said Rivera was allowed to have a bad day, Carton pointed to Teixeira’s drop of a line drive that would have ended the inning, and Francesa downplayed the importance of a Sunday game in May against a team the Yankees have owned in recent years.

3) Javier Vazquez is incapable of starting against the Red Sox, regardless of location. Monday morning, stories appeared stating that manager Joe Girardi planned on using Vazquez in the bullpen this week against the Sox and Rays to supplement a start. He struck out Kevin Youkilis on four pitches in the ninth inning — and was the winning pitcher — but even with that appearance, there’s a chance he may not start against the Mets at Citi Field Friday, in favor of the inimitable Sergio Meat Tray. If Vazquez is not good enough as a starter to get the Mets lineup out, in a National League ballpark, then why trot him out to the mound at all? That might be the kind of situation to get his confidence back.

In his postgame presser, Girardi got testy when the words “Javy Vazquez,” “skipped,” and “because of the Red Sox” were used in the same sentence.

“Absolutely not,” Girardi said. “I want to make this clear, OK?” His voice was stern and he was waving his hand in a karate chop motion. “He was not skipped because of that situation. Our bullpen is a mess. I needed a long guy today. We could not activate Chan Ho Park if you didn’t have a long man.”

Fine, but he was still skipped a second time during a Red Sox series. The reporter was right to ask the question. Girardi, to his credit, added that he didn’t want to use Vazquez because he still wanted to be able to start Vazquez on Friday, but with Joba Chamberlain unavailable after getting up twice to warm up on Saturday, and David Robertson unavailable, he had few options. After throwing just four pitches, Vazquez can still go Friday.

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Boston Red Sox III: Don’t Let Up

When the Yankees arrived in Boston a little more than a week ago, I wrote about how the Red Sox didn’t suck and were getting their season back on track. Then the Yankees went out and beat them 24-6 in the first two games of that series. Thing is, I still believe what I wrote. Even with those two games included, the Sox arrive in the Bronx tonight having won eight of their last 13 and 15 of their last 25. That’s not a breakneck pace, but it is a .600 winning percentage, which translates to 97 wins and, typically, a postseason berth.

The big news in Boston is that Big Papi is back, hitting .387/.412/.710 over his last eight games and having launched five home runs already in May with the month just half over. The big news in the Bronx is that Phil Hughes is the best pitcher in the American League right now. Hughes takes on Daisuke Matsuzaka tonight, which sounds like a mismatch except Matsuzaka just twirled a gem against the Blue Jays in his last start (7 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 9 K). CC Sabathia takes on an achy Josh Beckett tomorrow. The Yankees should sweep this quick two-game set, but even if the do, the Red Sox still don’t suck.

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Boston Red Sox II: The Red Sox Are Coming

This just in: the Red Sox don’t suck. Sure, they stumbled out of the gate, losing the opening series to the Yankees and falling six games out of first place just 13 games into the season after being swept by the Rays and falling to 4-9. Sure, they suffered an embarrassing sweep at the hands of the Orioles last weekend that dropped them to seven games behind the surging Rays.

Yet, over their last 15 games, the Red Sox are 10-5, the exact same record as the Yankees over their last 15, and if you push it to 16 games, the Sox are 11-5 to the Yankees’ 10-6. Setting aside the fluky Baltimore series, in which two of the O’s wins were one-run victories in extra innings, the Sox have lost just three other series all year, to the Yankees, Rays, and Twins, the cream of the American League who enter today’s action with a combined .702 winning percentage. The Sox followed up their embarrassment in Baltimore by sweeping a four game set at home against the Angels, which pushed their record over .500 for the first time since the second day of the season, and prior to their trip to Baltimore, the Sox had won seven of their last nine games. Oh, and they’re doing all of that with two thirds of their outfield on the disabled list.

Yes, the Sox got off to a bad start, but they’re not a bad team, and the Yankees and the rest of baseball would be foolish to write them off this early. Remember when everyone was wondering what was wrong with Jon Lester? Well he’s a perennial slow starter (5.40 ERA through six starts in 2008, 6.07 ERA through ten starts last year). After three duds, he has put up the following line over his last three starts: 3-0, 0.44 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, 20 2/3 IP, 10 H, 1R, 8 BB, 23 K, 0 HR. He faces A.J. Burnett on Sunday.

Josh Beckett, who starts against Phil Hughes tonight, got off to an even worst start, but his last time out he held the O’s to two runs over seven innings, striking out six against no walks or homers. Twenty-five-year-old Clay Buchholz, who starts Saturday against CC Sabathia, has been very good for a fourth starter, posting a 2.97 ERA with solid peripherals. The Yankees are going to miss John Lackey in this series, but five of his six starts this season have been quaility, and if you take out his one dud against the Rays, his ERA drops to 2.14.

At the plate, J.D. Drew got off to a miserable start, but has hit .352/.422/.667 over his last 14 games. David Ortiz homered just once in April, but has three jacks already in May and is finally being platooned with Mike Lowell (a move I had been expecting all winter). Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia remain among the most productive players at their positions (Robinson Cano has nine homers and 21 RBIs, Pedroia has seven taters and has driven in 21 as well). Adrian Beltre is hitting .343, and Jason Varitek has found new life coming off the bench (11-for-34 with five homers), which is important as Victor Martinez is one of the few Boston hitters still scuffling (though he did go 6-for-17 with two doubles and a homer in the Angels series).

Mike Cameron, out with a sports hernia, and Jacoby Ellsbury, out with broken ribs, have both resumed baseball activities, and though he hasn’t pitched well in two starts, Daisuke Matsuzaka has returned from the disabled list, pushing Tim Wakefield to the bullpen and assorted detritus (Scott Atchison, Fabio Castro, Alan Embree) off the roster. The Red Sox are righting their ship. Given that they’ve been keeping pace with the Yankees for more than half of the season despite the struggles of various individual players, that’s a legitimate concern.

The Yankees enter this weekend’s series in Boston with a five-game lead on the Sox, but there are 135 games left on the Yankees’ schedule. Certainly those five games give the Yankees some margin for error, but with injuries cascading through the roster, they just might need it. Meanwhile, with the Rays off to a blinding start (in addition to their major league best 21-7 record and .750 winning percentage, they have tied the 1984 Tigers with the best run differential after 28 games by any team since 1961 [hat tip: @lonestarball]), the three-way battle in the AL East that we expected each of the last two years but didn’t get due to the shortcomings of the Yankees and Rays, respectively, looks like it will be a reality this year.

I still like the Yankees’ chances of taking this series, because of the starters they have lined up and because of how well they’ve been playing all year, but any thoughts of being able to kick Boston while they’re down are misguided. The Red Sox are good. You heard it here first. (more…)

The Rivalry: 2010 Edition

If the Yankees and Red Sox met for the first time this season in late April, I might complain that it was too soon to feel meaningful, but Opening Day feels just right . . . or it would if it wasn’t actually Opening Night. [shakes fist at ESPN]

Given that I expect the battle between the Yankees and Red Sox to define this season, ideally climaxing in an American League Championship Series battle that will send the eventual world champion to the World Series, this gives me a great opportunity to whip out that hoary-yet-eternally-enjoyable tale-of-the-tape standby, the position-by-position comparison.

As is my usual style, I handle the everyday players by position in the lineup rather than position in the field, making some small swaps where a better match can be made, and comparing only offense, reserving fielding for a separate team-wide category.

Also, this is bound to be a long post, so I’ve put the two Opening Day Night rosters in the previous post.

And awaaaay we go . . .

Lineup:

Derek Jeter
2009: .334/.406/.465, .310 EqA; career: .317/.388/.459, .293 EqA
Dustin Pedroia
2009: .296/.371/.447, .280; career: .307/.370/.455, .283

Already fudging the lineups, I start my comparison with the Red Sox’s second-place hitter and the Yankee lead-off man who used to hit second because they’re such similar offensive players. Both hit for average, get on base, have modest pop, and will swipe a fair number of bases at a roughly 80 percent success rate (over the last two years, Jeter has stolen 41 of 51, Pedrioa 40 of 49). Both also hit into a fair amount of double plays, though Jeter is far more likely to strike out.

Pedroia has had a significant home/road split in his career, and it was downright severe in 2009 as he hit .318/.388/.514 at Fenway but just .273/.355/.381 on the road, but then Jeter lost nearly 60 points of slugging away from the New Yankee Stadium last year.

The big difference between Pedroia’s 2008 American League Most Valuable Player season and his still-solid 2009 campaign was his performance against left-handed pitching. In 2008, he hit .313/.376/.528 against lefties. In 2009, he hit just .277/.366/.399 against them. Given that he’s a right-handed hitter, I’d expect some rebound from Pedroia there. Combine that with some expected regression from Jeter coming off one of his most productive seasons and factor in the relative age of the two players (Pedroia is 26, Jeter will be 36 in June), and this one is closer than it might appear from the rate stats above, all of which give Jeter the edge.

Nick Johnson
2009: .291/.426/.405, .293*; career: .273/.402/.447, .299
Jacoby Ellsbury
2009: .301/.355/.415, .276; career: .297/.350/.414, .274

Jeter and Pedroia are so well matched that it’s disappointing to see this mismatch result from putting them together. Johnson and Ellsbury are completely different types of players. Ellsbury is a hitter who lacks secondary skills (power, patience) and gets a lot of his value from his legs (120 steals at 84 percent over the last two years). Johnson is a hitter whose primary value is his patience and ability to get on base. Johnson’s on-base percentage is more valuable than Ellsbury’s speed and makes Johnson a more reliable offensive performer (if Ellsbury’s singles don’t find holes one year, his production will collapse, and he won’t get many chances to steal). The catch is that Johnson is unreliable in his own way due to his inability to stay healthy. When both are in the lineup, the Yankees have the clear advantage, and one that could be even larger if Kevin Long’s work with Johnson does indeed result in increased power production. The big question is whether or not the Yankees can maintain that advantage with Johnson’s replacements when Nick hits the DL. If you add Ellsbury’s net steals to his total bases and subtract his times caught stealing from his hits, he “hit” .282/.334/.508 last year.

Mark Teixeira
2009: .292/.383/.565, .318; career: .290/.378/.545, .304
Kevin Youkilis
2009: .305/.413/.548, .317; career: .292/.391/.487, .296

One of the main arguments against Mark Teixeira’s MVP candidacy last year was that his production wasn’t unique for an American League first baseman in 2009. In addition to Youkilis, there was Miguel Cabrera (.311 EqA), and a tick below those top three Kendry Morales and Carlos Peña (both .298). Youkilis was an especially appropriate comparison because both he and Teixeira are superlative defensive first basemen, but Youkilis adds even more value by being able to play third with some regularity and even spot in the outfield.

Limited to their offensive games, Youkilis is an on-base threat who hits for power and Teixeira is a power hitter who gets on base, the differences largely coming out in the wash. Teixeira switch hits, but the righty-swinging Youkilis actually hits his fellow right-handers as well or better than he hits lefties, so that’s largely moot as well. Both got a nice slugging boost from their home parks last year, with Teixeira seeming to have benefited from his home parks more over the course of his career than Youkilis, but as per those park-adjusted career EqAs above, that too comes out in the wash.

What we have here are two of the top offensive threats in the league. If there is any meaningful difference between the two, it’s in career trajectory. Youkilis was a late bloomer who didn’t earn a starting job until his age-27 season and didn’t slug above .453 until his age-29 season in 2008 but has hit .309/.401/.559 over the last two seasons combined. Teixeira was a first-round draft pick who was in the Rangers’ starting lineup as a 23-year-old rookie and has  been remarkably consistent ever since. That means that Teixeira, who turns 30 a week from today, has had six years of production at his current level, while Youkilis, who is almost exactly a year older, has had just two. That is unlikely to mean much this season, but a few years down the road, when Youkilis suffers an Ortiz-like collapse and Teixeira is slugging his way into a Hall of Fame argument, the Yankees’ advantage will become clear.

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The Rivalry: Opening Day Rosters

New York Yankees

2009 Record: 103-59 (.636)
2009 Pythagorean Record: 95-67 (.586)

Manager: Joe Girardi
General Manager: Brian Cashman

Home Ballpark: Yankee Stadium 2.1

Bill James Park Indexes (2009):
LH Avg-99, LH HR-120
RH Avg-99, RH HR-133

Who’s Replacing Whom:

  • Curtis Granderson replaces Johnny Damon
  • Nick Johnson replaces Hideki Matsui
  • Randy Winn replaces Melky Cabrera
  • Marcus Thames replaces Eric Hinske
  • Francisco Cervelli inherits Jose Molina’s playing time
  • Javier Vazquez replaces Chein-Ming Wang, Chad Gaudin, and the 17 starts made by Sergio Mitre, Aflredo Aceves, and Phil Hughes
  • Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain swap roles
  • Chan Ho Park replaces Brian Bruney, Jose Veras, and Edwar Ramirez
  • Damaso Marte reclaims Phil Coke’s innings

25-man Roster:

1B – Mark Teixeira (S)
2B – Robinson Cano (L)
SS – Derek Jeter (R)
3B – Alex Rodriguez (R)
C – Jorge Posada (S)
RF – Nick Swisher (S)
CF – Curtis Granderson (L)
LF – Brett Gardner (L)
DH – Nick Johnson (L)

Bench:

R – Marcus Thames (OF)
S – Randy Winn (OF)
S – Ramiro Pena (IF)
R – Francisco Cervelli (C)

Rotation:

L – CC Sabathia
R – A.J. Burnett
L – Andy Pettitte
R – Javier Vazquez
R – Phil Hughes

Bullpen:

R – Mariano Rivera
R – Chan Ho Park
R – Joba Chamberlain
L – Damaso Marte
R – David Robertson
R – Alfredo Aceves
R – Sergio Mitre

Lineup:

R – Derek Jeter (SS)
L – Nick Johnson (DH)
S – Mark Teixeira (1B)
R – Alex Rodriguez (3B)
L – Robinson Cano (2B)
S – Jorge Posada (C)
L – Curtis Granderson (CF)
S – Nick Swisher (RF)
L – Brett Gardner (LF)

*   *   *

Boston Red Sox

2009 Record: 95-67 (.586)
2009 Pythagorean Record: 93-69 (.574)

Manager: Terry Francona
General Manager: Theo Epstein

Home Ballpark: Fenway Park

Bill James Park Indexes (2007-2009):
LH Avg-108, LH HR-85
RH Avg-107, RH HR-95

Who’s Replacing Whom:

  • Mike Cameron replaces Jason Bay
  • Adrian Beltre takes most of Mike Lowell’s playing time
  • Mike Lowell picks up the at-bats of Casey Kotchman and Jeff Bailey
  • Victor Martinez takes most of Jason Varitek’s playing time
  • Jason Varitek picks up George Kottaras’s playing time
  • Marco Scutaro replaces Nick Green, Alex Gonzalez, and Julio Lugo
  • Jeremy Hermida replaces Rocco Baldelli
  • Bill Hall replaces Mark Kotsay
  • John Lackey replaces Brad Penny and John Smoltz
  • Clay Buchholz and Daisuke Matsuzaka will compete to take starts from Tim Wakefield
  • Scott Schoeneweis replaces Takashi Saito
  • Scott Atchison replaces Justin Masterson

25-man Roster:

1B – Kevin Youkilis (R)
2B – Dustin Pedroia (R)
SS – Marco Scutaro (R)
3B – Adrian Beltre (R)
C – Victor Martinez (S)
RF – J.D. Drew (L)
CF – Mike Cameron (R)
LF – Jacoby Ellsbury (L)
DH – David Ortiz (L)

Bench:

R – Mike Lowell (3B/1B)
L – Jeremy Hermida (OF)
R – Bill Hall (UT)
S – Jason Varitek (C)

Rotation:

R – Josh Beckett
L – Jon Lester
R – John Lackey
R – Tim Wakefield
R – Clay Buchholz

Bullpen:

R – Jon Papelbon
L – Hideki Okajima
R – Daniel Bard
S – Ramon S. Ramirez
R – Manny Delcarmen
L – Scott Schoeneweis
R – Scott Atchison

Lineup:

L – Jacoby Ellsbury (LF)
R – Dustin Pedroia (2B)
S – Victor Martinez (C)
R – Kevin Youkilis (1B)
L – David Ortiz (DH)
R – Adrian Beltre (3B)
L – J.D. Drew (RF)
R – Mike Cameron (CF)
R – Marco Scutaro (SS)

15-day DL:

RHP – Daisuke Matsuzaka (back)
RHP – Boof Bonser (groin)
SS – Jed Lowrie (mononucleosis)
RHP – Junichi Tazawa (Tommy John surgery)

Boston Red Sox V: That’s The Magic Number

The Yankees went 2-12 against the Angels and Red Sox in the first half of this season. Since then, they’ve gone 9-2 against those same two teams. Tonight, they return home from Anaheim having taken two of three from the Halos despite spending most of that series auditioning borderline candidates for the postseason roster, which they’ll do again tonight with Joba Chamberlain making the start. So much for the absurd meme that the Yankees couldn’t beat the “big boys.”

The Yankees clinched a playoff berth in Anaheim and enter this weekend’s series against the Red Sox leading Boston by five-games in the loss column with just just nine games left on the schedule. That puts their magic number at 5 and sets the Yanks up to clinch the division with a weekend sweep. Not that I expect that to happen. Still, just one win in this series would reduce the magic number to 3 and a series win would drop it to 1. Meanwhile, even if the Red Sox sweep the series, the Yankees could clinch by simply splitting their remaining games if the Sox lose just twice in their remaining seven games against the admittedly weak Blue Jays and Indians.

So, once again, the Yankees’ goals in this series are to keep everyone healthy and sort out the final few spots on the postseason roster. Speaking of which, the Red Sox’s current roster is at the end of this post, but below the jump I’ll take a stab at projecting their likely postseason roster.

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Boston Red Sox IV: Everything Old is New Again

In the good old Curse of the Bambino days, it seemed the Red Sox always led the AL East on Memorial Day, and the Yankees always caught and passed them by Labor Day. The Sox broke the Curse in 2004, but the Yankees still won the division that year and the next two, with the Red Sox failing to reach the postseason at all in 2006. It seemed 2004 was a fluke. Then the Sox stormed to both the division title and another world championship in 2007 and it was the Yankees who found themselves watching the postseason on television in 2008.

The Yankees, flush with the new stadium revenue, spent wildly this past winter, but I still thought they’d have to settle for the Wild Card given the strength and depth of the Red Sox’s roster. Indeed, the Red Sox held a slim one-game lead over the Bombers on Memorial Day having already won the first five head-to-head games between the two teams to that point. Two weeks later, the Sox would take three more from the Yankees in Fenway Park, suggesting that, no matter how well the Yankees played against everyone else, the Red Sox were still the better team.

Then came the four-game set in the Bronx two weeks ago, when the Yankees not only got of the schnide against their division rivals, but beat them in every way possible (13-6 laugher; 15-inning scoreless duel; clean, well-pitched 5-0 win; and dramatic late-inning comeback). When the dust cleared, the Yankees held a convincing 6.5 game lead, a lead they’ve maintained heading into this weekend’s three-game set in Boston.

Both teams have gone 7-3 in the interim. The Yankees won series against the second-division Blue Jays and A’s as well as the should-be second-division Mariners. The Red Sox took a four-game set from the AL Central-leading Tigers, but dropped two of three to the Wild Card rival Rangers, only to rebound by sweeping the Jays, outscoring them 14-2 in their last two games.

The Yankees now arrive at Fenway to do the one thing they haven’t managed to do all season: beat the Red Sox in Boston. The Sox are a .679 team at home, where they score 5.66 runs per game and allow just 4.05. The Yankees, however, are no chumps on the road. Coming off a 5-2 west coast swing, they’re playing .565 ball away from home, scoring 5.44 runs and allowing 4.58 away from their homer-happy home park. Only the Angels and Phillies have had more road success than the Yankees in all of baseball.

Once again, the mission for the Yankees is to prove it when it counts. Their four-game sweep of the Red Sox in the Bronx didn’t ice the division, but if they can take two of three from Boston this weekend, doing it to them in their own park and leaving town with a 7.5-game lead with just three head-to-head games in the Bronx remaining, that very well could do the trick.

The pitching matchups favor the Yankees as they’ll have their top three (Andy Pettitte, A.J. Burnett, and CC Sabathia) going while avoiding Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, the latter of whom has turned in three straight quality starts dating back to his six innings of two-run ball against the Yankees on August 8. If the two teams split the first two games, Sunday night’s ESPN matchup of Josh Beckett and the red-hot CC Sabathia will be must-see TV for baseball fans of all stripes.

Brad Penny goes tonight. Relative to the performance of John Smoltz and the health of Rocco Baldelli, Penny has been a successful gamble. In a rotation that has been surprisingly thin due to Daisuke Matsuzaka’s disaster season, Tim Wakefield’s back injury, Smoltz’s failure, and the departure of Justin Masterson in the Victor Martinez deal, Penny hasn’t missed a turn, delivering 23 starts, 11 of them quality. Sure, his 5.22 ERA is ugly, but he was never supposed to be more than a fifth starter, and he’s been very much that. He’s been a bit too hitable (opponents hitting .291/.345/.482), but he gets out there and battles. He also shut out the Yankees at Fenway for six innings back on June 11.

Penny’s mound opponent tonight is Andy Pettitte, who has been flat awesome since the All-Star break with five quality starts in six tries, posting a 2.04 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 4.3 K/BB, 9.73 K/9, and allowing just one home run in 39 2/3 innings. That run includes seven shutout innings against the Red Sox in the Bronx on August 9.

Adding to that disadvantage, the Red Sox are without Jason Varitek tonight for the fifth straight game due to a sore neck and have now resorted to reacquiring Alex Gonzalez to play shortstop. Gonzalez is hitting .214/.258/.298 on the season and has never had another defensive season like he had for the Red Sox in 2006. He’s also just one year removed from knee surgery. The Sox might actually be better off without their captain in the lineup, but Gonzalez represents a hole in the Boston order that just doesn’t exist for the Bombers.

Damaso Marte has been activated and joins the Yankee bullpen tonight, bumping Ramiro Peña back to Triple-A. Marte has been on the disabled list for most of the season with shoulder problems, last appearing for the Yankees on April 25. He pitched 13 innings on his rehab assigment, 11 of them coming in Triple-A. In those 11, he struck out nine against four walks and gave up three runs on ten hits, two of them homers. That all works out to a 2.45 ERA and 1.27 WHIP with solid strikeout and walk rates, but the PawSox (whom he faced twice) and the Red Sox are two different monsters.

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Boston Red Sox IV: Seriously Now

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:

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Yankee Panky: We Want The Red Sox

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.

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Boston Red Sox III: It’s On

The Yankees look to reboot their season series with the Red Sox with three games in Boston starting tonight. They’re 0-5 against the Bosox entering the series, but hold a one-game lead over Boston in the American League East and have played their best baseball in the month since the two team’s last met. Dig:

April 6 to May 7

Red Sox 18-11 (.621)
Yankees 13-15 (.464)

May 8 to June 8

Yankees 21-8 (.724)
Red Sox 15-13 (.536)

Take out their five head-to-head games, and the Yankees outplayed the Sox against neutral opponents during the season’s first month as well (13-10 to 13-11). Having taken series from all of the league’s other winning teams (the Rays, Jays, Rangers, Tigers, and Angels), all the Yankees have left to prove in the first half of this season is that they can beat the Red Sox head-to-head.

Not that it is likely to matter in the short run. As I wrote in my initial Red Sox preview in April, since the implementation of the unbalanced schedule in 2001, the season series between these two teams hasn’t put one team in the playoffs while keeping the other out, and all signs point to both making it to the postseason again this year. Still, bragging rights are fun, and despite the Yankees’ dominance of the league over the past month, the Red Sox still hold them.

The big news in Boston is that David Ortiz seems to have gone from hero to zero for realsies, forcing Terry Francona to drop him to sixth in the order. Ortiz actually enters this series on a six-game hitting streak and hit his second homer of the year on Saturday, but he’s still hitting just .197/.288/.308 on the season. I had figured Ortiz for a quick decline following his wrist injury last year, but I never thought he’d just vanish like this, which probably means he’ll pull out of it. Just look at Jason Varitek. The Red Sox’s catcher looked washed up last year when he hit .220/.313/.359 at age 36, but he has rebounded this year, hitting a solid .247/.337/.519 with ten homers.

Despite Ortiz’s vanishing act, what the Sox have done well this season is hit (fourth in the majors in runs scored per game) and pitch out of the bullpen (major league best 2.76 pen ERA). What they have not done well is field (second-worst defensive efficiency in the AL) and start games (fifth-worst starters ERA in baseball at 5.02).

Tonight’s starter, Josh Beckett, leads the Sox rotation with a 4.09 ERA and is the only Boston start to have an ERA below league average. Beckett had a terrible April, including allowing eight runs in five innings to the Yankees at Fenway on April 25, but he’s been awesome in May, going 4-0 with a 1.94 ERA in six starts and posting a 0.40 ERA across 22 2/3 innings over his last three starts.

A.J. Burnett, who helped turned that April Beckett blow-up into a Red Sox win by also allowing eight runs in five innings, again starts against his former Marlins rotationmate. In his six starts from that first match-up against Beckett through his return to Toronto on May 12, Burnett went 0-2 with a 6.34 ERA, but he rebounded nicely in his last two starts, both wins over Texas. In those two games, he posted a combined line of 13 IP, 11 H, 3 R, 1 HR, 5 BB, 15 K. Some more of that would help get the Yankees’ reboot off this series off on the right foot.

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Yankee Panky: Paralysis By Analysis?

The past 10 days have seen an immense range of stories leapfrog to the forefront of New York sports fans’ collective consciousness. In no particular order, with some analysis and commentary mixed in…

• The Yankees slashed prices for the primo seats, an altruistic move that still leaves many of us thinking, “You know, you have your own network, and it’s on my cable system. I’ll contribute to your bottom line that way and I won’t feel like I got stabbed in the wallet.”

• Alex Rodriguez did everything necessary in extended spring training and returned to the lineup Friday. He punctuated the return with a home run on the first pitch he saw, thus fulfilling his job as the media-anointed savior of the team’s season. He proceeded to go 1-for-10 with two strikeouts in the remainder of the series, and perhaps fearing aggravating the hip injury, didn’t hustle down the line to run out a ground ball, thus reclaiming his role as the team’s most prominent punching bag.

• The Yankees lost two straight to the Red Sox at home and have lost the first five meetings of the season. (Sound the alarms! Head for the hills! There’s no way the Yankees can win the division without beating the Red Sox! Except that they can, and they have. In 2004, the Yankees went 1-6 in their first seven games against the BoSox, ended up losing the season series 8-11 and still finished 101-61 to win the American League East by three games.)

• Joba Chamberlain 1: His mother was arrested for allegedly selling crystal meth to an undercover officer. Following Chamberlain’s own brushes with the law during the offseason, it stood to reason that the tabloids attacked this story like starving coyotes. It’s remarkable that he was able to pitch at all given the negative attention he received.

• Joba Chamberlain 2: Flash back to Aug. 13, 2007. Chamberlain struck out Orioles first baseman Aubrey Huff in a crucial late-inning at-bat to end the inning and in the heat of the moment pumped his fist in exultation. Yesterday, following a three-run home run in the first inning that gave the O’s a 3-1 lead, Huff mocked Chamberlain’s emotional outburst with his own fist pump, first while rounding first base, and again when crossing home plate. Apparently, Mr. Huff holds grudges. Thanks to the New York Daily News’s headline, “MOCKING BIRD” with a photo of the home-plate celebration, this story will have wings when Baltimore comes to the Bronx next week. Even better, as it currently stands, Chamberlain is due to start in the series finale on Thursday the 21st. Get ready for a rash of redux stories leading up to that game.

• Mariano Rivera surrendered back-to-back home runs for the first time in his career last Wednesday night, a clear signal that something is wrong. Maybe.

• The team as a whole. The Yankees are 15-16 through 31 games, and some rabid fans (the “Spoiled Set,” as Michael Kay likes to call them; the group of fans between ages 18-30 that only knows first-place finishes for the Yankees) are calling for Joe Girardi’s head. As in the above note on the Red Sox, some context is required. The Yankees’ records through 31 games this decade:

2000: 22-9 (finished 87-74, won AL East)
2001: 18-13 (finished 95-65, won AL East)
2002: 18-13 (finished 103-58, won AL East)
2003: 23-8 (finished 101-61, won AL East)
2004: 18-13 (finished 101-61, won AL East)
2005: 12-19 (finished 95-67, won AL East)
2006: 19-12 (finished 97-65, won AL East)
2007: 15-16 (finished 94-68, won AL Wild Card)
2008: 15-16 (finished 89-73, missed playoffs)
2009: 15-16 (finish TBD)

No one is going to make excuses for the team with the billion dollar stadium and the highest payroll, least of all your trusted scribes here at the Banter. Looking at the last three years — including 2009 — it should be noted that similar issues of injury, age, and woes throughout the pitching staff have befallen the Yankees.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver