Yankees Pitching Injuries Mean AL East Still Within Red Sox's Grasp

Stephen SikoraContributor IJuly 4, 2012

Andy Pettitte was placed on the 60-day DL after getting hit in the left shin by a line drive
Andy Pettitte was placed on the 60-day DL after getting hit in the left shin by a line driveJim McIsaac/Getty Images

On the day before the Red Sox take on the Yankees in a four game series to cap off the first half of the season, the team has to be happy with the position they’re in. Just over two weeks ago on June 15th, Boston was 31-33. That record had the team in last place, 7.5 games out of first, and members of the Boston media were clamoring for trades to be made.

Fast forward to today.

The Sox have gone 11-6 since then, and are finally out of the cellar in the division. Yet somehow they haven’t made up much ground, as they’re still 6.5 games out of first place.

This is because the Yankees have played even better of late, putting together a 20-7 month in June led by their strong starting pitching.

But that may not be their strength for long, and certainly won’t be for the next couple of weeks. Top starters CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte are both currently on the DL. Sabathia is slated to miss a couple of starts with a strained groin, and Pettitte may be out for two months or longer after getting hit with a liner back to the mound.

Those two have been among the best pitchers in the league this year, sporting ERA's of 3.45 and 3.22, and K/9 rates of 8.83 and 9.05, respectively. The Yankees have gone 17-7 in their starts this season.

Freddy Garcia and Adam Warren are slated to receive those missed starts. Garcia has been dreadful with a 5.94 ERA on the year, while Warren just recently made his MLB debut. The Sox should look to capitalize with these two pitching instead of the Yankees’ top two hurlers.

They’ll already be direct beneficiaries when Garcia is scheduled to pitch against them in the third game of the upcoming four-game tilt. And a strong performance in that series is extremely important in making up the 6.5 game deficit.

Gone are the days of the Red Sox gaining the wild card and merely being disadvantaged with lack of home-field advantage. Rather, the added wild card this team will face the other in a one-game playoff, and the winner will proceed to face a division champion.

Surely, the Sox want to make the playoffs. But in order for them to not have to exhaust their resources to win that game, they’ll need to win the division. It’s clear that the Yankees are their top competition, and winning three of four or sweeping this series would be a great first step in coming back.

An overlooked aspect of both pitchers, and especially Sabathia, was their ability to go deep into games. With Garcia and Warren, the bullpen will most likely be more taxed; not a good development during a time in which the Yankees are without their top reliever—and all-time saves leader—for the year.

For most of the season, the AL East had been there for the taking, but no team had pulled away. The Yankees did just that over the month of June. But with their recent injuries, the lead they built up is definitely surmountable.

Meanwhile, the Sox are about to get all-star outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford back in their lineup. That could be enough of a swing to get Boston within two or three games in the coming weeks.

That’s the deficit the Sox will be more comfortable with as they look to ultimately overcome the Yankees and capture the division title.