New York Yankees vs. Boston Red Sox: Preview and Predictions for Upcoming Series
Baseball's most classic rivalry won't possess the drama that typically comes with a New York Yankees/Boston Red Sox September matchup.
But that doesn't mean the series doesn't hold playoff implications.
While Boston continues to look towards the future, New York is stuck in the present.
And their three-game set at Fenway Park this week could play a vital role in their postseason push.
After a four-game series split this weekend in Baltimore, the Yankees enter Tuesday just one game ahead of the Orioles in the division standings. And with the dangerous Rays making their annual late-season push, the AL East figures to be an exciting three-team race to the finish.
Boston's surprising absence from playoff contention has been one of the many prominent headlines across baseball all year. But with just over three weeks remaining in the regular season, the pending Yankees/Red Sox matchup might not even be the most significant series for those in New York.
Don't get me wrong, the Yankee faithful won't lack enthusiasm in Bean Town in the coming days. Even with a comfortable 16.5 game cushion over the loathed division rival, there is nothing more satisfying to a Yankees fan than beating the Sox in Boston.
But fans of the Bronx Bombers might find themselves scoreboard-watching quite often over the next 72 hours. Because a series being played 400 miles south of Boston could help dictate their postseason fate.
The Tampa Bay Rays will be in Baltimore Tuesday night, starting a three-game set with the Orioles that holds season-changing significance. Just two games separate the division's top three teams, and a strong showing at Camden Yards over the next three days could prove fortuitous for either side.
But when it is all said and done, the Yankees might be the real winners of the week.
Because while New York hopes to feast on inferior competition in Boston, each win against the Red Sox means an additional game on one of the two competing teams playing in Baltimore.
Each night, one team is guaranteed to lose.
So the Yankees will look to take advantage of the inter-division schedule and sweep the lowly Sox. Such a result could go a long way in cementing their playoff position.
At the same time, a sweep in either direction at Camden could create an insurmountable deficit for the Rays or the Orioles.
But either way, the coming series at Fenway is a perfect opportunity for the Bronx Bombers to re-establish themselves as the team to beat in the competitive AL East. It stands as a key to the postseason.
Because with three weeks left, the Yankees have the luxury of determining their own fate.
And while their focus might be attracted to the scoreboard in left field, it is important they keep their eye on the ball. It won't mean anything if New York can't come up victorious in Boston.
Here is a preview of this week's mammoth series at Fenway.
Game 1: Tuesday, September 11
First Pitch: 7:10
Pitching Matchup: Hiroki Kuroda (13-10, 3.14 ERA) vs. Jon Lester (9-11, 4.99 ERA)
Tuesday's series opener offers arguably the best pitching matchup of the three-game set. Unfortunately for the Yankees, they might be facing Jon Lester at the wrong time.
The lefty ace has struggled mightily in 2012 by his standards. Early command issues forced Lester back to the drawing board, but a recent resurgence has seen the Sox starter win four of his last five games.
A stretch which includes his dominating performance against the Yankees on August 18 has helped drop Lester's ERA by one-fifth of a run. And while the walk totals may still be a bit alarming to new pitching coach Randy Niemann, the 28-year-old has proven capable of beating New York on numerous occasions (9-4 career record).
For Kuroda, free passes haven't been an issue. The Japanese native has proven to be an invaluable pickup for the Yankees who have struggled with starting pitching all year.
As the lone constant on the staff (thanks to Sabathia's multiple DL stints), Kuroda has anchored an inconsistent rotation while accumulating impressive statistics along the way. His 189.1 innings pitched and 1.11 WHIP both rank fifth in the American League, and his 4.9 WAR suggests Kuroda could be in Cy-Young contention.
Chances are one of the four names (Verlander, Sale, Price or Hernandez) will claim the award for the league's top pitcher at season's end; however, few figured the signing would pay such large and immediate dividends in the Big Apple.
One day after Jon Lester pitched the Red Sox to a 4-1 victory in the Bronx on August 18, the Yankees followed up with a 4-1 win of their own behind Hiroki Kuroda. Look at the stat lines for each starting pitcher:
Lester (Aug. 18): 7 IP, 5 H, 1 ER
Kuroda (Aug. 19): 8 IP, 4 H, 1 ER
As always, the game should come down to timely hitting. Even with two of the top four offensive teams in the AL competing, solid starting pitching figures to limit the base runners Tuesday night.
A Yankee lineup sans Mark Teixeira will look to take advantage of the Green Monster in left field as a means of adding to their league-leading home run total, but the Red Sox have some pop too.
Look for both pitcher's to build upon strong performances from the latest matchup between the two teams, and a late-game homer to make the difference. In the end, I like the Yankees' bullpen to hold strong and nail down the win for Kuroda.
Yankees 4, Red Sox 3
Game 2: Wednesday, September 12
First Pitch: 7:10
Pitching Matchup: David Phelps (3-4, 3.55 ERA) vs. Aaron Cook (3-9, 5.17 ERA)
Game 2 of the series should be a change of pace from Tuesday's pitching duel. A matchup which figures to yield high run totals will feature two starters that likely won't be in the rotation for either team come Opening Day next year.
For the Yankees, David Phelps performed admirably in his first spot-start appearance on August 13. But since he picked up the win against Texas, the converted long-man has struggled and New York has lost three of his four starts.
Home runs have been an issue for Phelps who hasn't thrown more than 98 pitches to date. But a solid showing against Boston last month could be promising. Phelps lasted 6.2 innings and struck out seven batters on August 18, only to come away with a loss.
The good news? This time Phelps won't be facing Jon Lester.
Aaron Cook will get the ball for Boston instead. And while his last start in Seattle was solid (6 IP, 7 H, 2 ER), the fans at Fenway can't be too optimistic about their chances. The former Rockie has struggled immensely in his first season in the American League. After signing a minor league deal with Boston in the Winter, Cook has been largely inconsistent over the course of the year.
His overall numbers aren't horrific, but one stat should scare the Sox: the team's 4-10 record in games started by the right-hander from Kentucky.
Two strong showings against the Mariners, including a complete game shutout in June, have helped lower the unimpressive 5.17 ERA; however, the Yankees' lineup is a bit more productive than Seattle's. 144 runs more productive to be precise.
So Cook will have to make tremendous strides on Wednesday if he wants to pick up his first win against New York. But to this point, his 0-2 record and 10.24 ERA against the Bombers doesn't seem promising.
In 52 innings of relief, David Phelps surrendered just six home runs. In 26.2 innings as a starter, he has allowed seven.
Wednesday's contest should be a slug-fest at Fenway. With spot-starters taking the mound for each team, the game will likely come down to the stronger bullpen once again.
Fortunately for Yankees fans, I like David Phelps and New York's pen over Aaron Cook and Boston's relief pitching any day. Of course predictions and statistics are often irrelevant in this unpredictable rivalry, but look for the Yankees to enter Thursday vying for the sweep.
Yankees 8, Red Sox 5
Game 3: Thursday, September 13
First Pitch: 7:10
Pitching Matchup: Phil Hughes (14-12, 4.13 ERA) vs. Felix Doubront (10-8, 5.21 ERA)
The Yankees are hoping that Thursday's game in Boston won't be a rubber match (or worse). While that lingering possibility hinges heavily upon Hiroki Kuroda and David Phelps, it would be Phil Hughes responsible for completing the sweep if necessary in game 3.
Of course the Red Sox will have something to say about all of this. Playing upset against the Yankees in September would be arguably the greatest consolation prize for a season their own manager has labeled personally "miserable".
But once again, the recent trends don't favor the Sox.
After starting the year 8-3, Felix Doubront has struggled for much of the second half of the season. The 24-year-old lefty is 1-4 with a 7.22 ERA since the All-Star break and winless in his last seven overall. Doubront was mostly successful in his lone start against New York on July 29 (6.1 IP, 4 H, 1 ER); however, he will likely run into problems if he walks five Yankee batters again.
For Phil Hughes, 2012 has been a story of inconsistency. On Thursday, the righty will try to win consecutive starts for the first time since August 1 when he gave up just one run in a 12-3 victory over the Orioles.
Keeping the ball in the park will be essential for Hughes. The Yankee starter has surrendered the second-most home runs (33) in all of baseball in 2012, and a small left field in Fenway could prove disastrous if the 26-year-old starter struggles to keep the ball down.
A combination of injuries and a lack of fastball velocity has prevented one of the organization's top prospects from reaching his full potential in recent seasons, but Phil Hughes still possesses the stuff to dominate any major league lineup. Fastball command will be key for New York's starter on Thursday night, and if he can spot the corners efficiently, the Yankees should be able to pull it out.
Phil Hughes has surrendered at least one home run in 23 of his 28 starts this season
Game 3 of the series could go either way. Phil Hughes's inconsistencies don't make for confident projections, but a 3.84 ERA after the All-Star break gives him the nod over a declining Felix Doubront.
Again, home runs should play a critical role in the final result, and clutch hitting in the late innings could be the difference ultimately. But my guess is that the Yankees will buckle down and grind out the much-needed victory in Boston.
Yankees 6, Red Sox 4