Full Preview, Predictions for 2014's First Yankees-Red Sox Rivalry Clash

Joe Giglio@@JoeGiglioSportsContributor IApril 10, 2014

Full Preview, Predictions for 2014's First Yankees-Red Sox Rivalry Clash

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    When the New York Yankees spent $503 million during the offseason on reinforcements, a clear objective was portrayed in the Bronx: Narrow the gap that separated the Yankees from the Boston Red Sox in the AL East standings last season.

    It will take six months of head-to-head battles, attrition and luck to hash out just how well the Yankees allocated their resources, but baseball fans will have an initial taste of the new-look rivalry starting tonight in New York when the Red Sox arrive for a four-game set. 

    Of course, the AL East is an outstanding division from top to bottom. No longer is it a given that New York and Boston will finish in the top two spots. That uncertainty—coinciding with the rise of the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008 and Baltimore Orioles in 2012—actually makes the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry more interesting.

    Now, a wild card berth isn't guaranteed to the runner-up in the AL East rivalry.

    During the winter, the Yankees poached Jacoby Ellsbury from Boston and snagged Masahiro Tanaka from the international market. While press conferences and tabloid headlines generated conversation in New York, the Red Sox stood pat after a special season, October run and World Series parade in Boston.

    For the first of 19 regular season meetings in 2014, the Yankees and Red Sox will square off for jockeying in baseball's best division. 

    Here's everything you need to know about the series.

    Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs, unless otherwise noted. All contract figures courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts. Roster projections via MLB Depth Charts. Batter vs. pitcher match-up data is sorted by most plate appearances.  

Thursday, 7:05 PM: Clay Buchholz (0-0, 12.46) vs. Michael Pineda (0-1, 1.50)

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    Current Yankees career OPS vs. Buchholz:

    • Brian Roberts: 1.020
    • Derek Jeter: .631
    • Brett Gardner: .235
    • Ichiro Suzuki: .481
    • Kelly Johnson: .408
    • Francisco Cervelli: 1.000
    • Alfonso Soriano: 1.167
    • Carlos Beltran: 1.000

    Current Red Sox career OPS vs. Pineda: 

    • Mike Napoli: .333
    • Dustin Pedroia: .000
    • A.J. Pierzynski: 1.000
    • David Ortiz: 1.000


    This game could become a microcosm for both Buchholz, Pineda and their respective teams due to the immense ability each possesses, but also the injury risk both carry to the mound on a start-to-start basis. 

    To be fair, Buchholz is much more experienced and much more reliable as a major league starter than Pineda. Despite never reaching the 200-inning plateau in his seven seasons, the 29-year-old Red Sox starter owns two seasons of 20-plus starts, a mark Pineda has reached just once.

    When healthy, Boston's starter can be dynamic. Last season, on the path to helping the Red Sox to 97 victories and the AL East crown, Buchholz posted a 1.74 ERA. Due to only tossing just 108.1 innings he didn't qualify for the ERA title, but don't let that diminish how well the veteran pitched.

    For Pineda, last Saturday's performance (6 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 5 SO, 0 BB) in Toronto is the only basis for true evaluation that fans and analysts have. While a dominant 2011 rookie campaign would normally be a good indication, Pineda simply has to be viewed as a new pitcher and allowed to embark on a fresh start in New York.

    Based on how well Pineda threw the ball in Toronto and how little Red Sox hitters have seen him during his short career, expect New York's big, hard-throwing righty to pitch the Yankees to a series-opening victory.

    Prediction: Yankees 4, Red Sox 3

Friday, 7:05 PM: Jon Lester (0-2, 2.51) vs. CC Sabathia (1-1, 7.50)

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    Current Yankees career OPS vs. Lester:

    • Derek Jeter: .788
    • Brian Roberts: .772
    • Ichiro Suzuki: .764
    • Kelly Johnson: .143
    • Alfonso Soriano: .615
    • Brett Gardner: .432
    • Carlos Beltran: .971
    • Francisco Cervelli: .762
    • Brian McCann: 1.000

    Current Red Sox career OPS vs. Sabathia: 

    • David Ortiz: .724
    • Dustin Pedroia: .732
    • Jonny Gomes: .753
    • Mike Napoli: .884
    • A.J. Pierzynski: .630
    • David Ross: 1.131
    • Daniel Nava: .631
    • Ryan Roberts: 1.091
    • Grady Sizemore: 1.302
    • Jackie Bradley: .333
    • Mike Carp: .167
    • Xander Bogaerts: .333
    • Jonathan Herrera: .000

    For most of this series, batter vs. pitcher matchup data can either be considered instructive or simply a small-sample size that shouldn't play a large role in determining how these games will turn out. However, when Lester and Sabathia—two of baseball's most durable and consistent lefties—square off on Friday evening, familiarity will be a theme.  

    Lester has spent his entire career (2006-present) in Boston's rotation and the American League East. It should come as no surprise that he's made 26 career starts against the Yankees, racked up 154.2 innings and earned 11 wins. 

    Similarly, Sabathia has been atop the Yankees rotation since arriving as a free agent in the 2009 season. Outside of a pitstop in Milwaukee, the big lefty spent the preceding years in Cleveland and the AL. 

    While only three years in age (33 to 30) separate Sabathia and Lester, their respective performances since the start of the 2013 season tell a tale of the former declining and the latter performing at a high level through his prime. Since April of last season, Sabathia's ERA is more than a full run higher (4.92 to 3.68) than Lester's mark.

    In a battle of southpaws, overwhelming familiarity will breed a battle of talent. Right now, until he proves otherwise, Sabathia can't be counted on against a lineup as good as Boston's.

    Prediction: Red Sox 6, Yankees 2

Saturday, 1:05 PM: John Lackey (2-0, 1.38) vs. Hiroki Kuroda (1-1, 2.92)

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    Current Yankees career OPS vs. Lackey:

    • Ichiro Suzuki: .705
    • Brian Roberts: .740
    • Derek Jeter: .667
    • Alfonso Soriano: .402
    • Brett Gardner: .928
    • Jacoby Ellsbury: .450
    • Carlos Beltran: .336
    • Kelly Johnson: .400
    • Francisco Cervelli: 1.867

    Current Red Sox career OPS vs. Kuroda:

    • Dustin Pedroia: .795
    • Daniel Nava: .923
    • Mike Carp: .714
    • David Ortiz: 1.619
    • Jonny Gomes: .354
    • A.J. Pierzynski: .583
    • Mike Napoli: .733
    • Jackie Bradley: .250
    • Jonathan Herrera: 1.750
    • Ryan Roberts: .000

    During the 2011 season, it would have been hard to find a fan with the ability to predict this head-to-head pitching battle in 2012, let alone in 2013 or 2014.

    Three seasons ago, Hiroki Kuroda was a 36-year-old Los Angeles Dodgers starter, owning zero career experience outside of the Japan or Los Angeles markets. Meanwhile, John Lackey was slogging through a nightmare season (6.41 ERA) and becoming enemy No. 1 in Boston.

    Now, count these two veteran arms as significant contributors to their respective rotations.

    While neither is good enough to compete for a Cy Young award, both posses the ability to shut down the opposition every time they toe the rubber. In this game, look for a battle of the bullpens to commence after strong outings from both starters.

    Heading into the first clash of 2014, Boston's bullpen is healthier and steadier. While replacing Mariano Rivera was slated to be a difficult task for the Yankees, the riddle became even more perplexing when his replacement, David Robertson, was placed on the disabled list with a groin strain. Young, power arms are present in the Bronx, but questions remain.

    In Boston, the presence of Koji Uehara (5 IP, 7 SO, 0 BB, 0.00 ERA) settles any debate about which team has the stronger relief corps. When deep, powerful and patient lineups square off—the perpetual story of this rivalry—games are often won or lost in high-pressure moments late in games, long after starters are removed.

    Right now, the bullpen edge will give this game—along with a 2-1 series lead—to Boston.

    Prediction: Red Sox 4, Yankees 3

Sunday, 8:05 PM: Felix Doubront (1-1, 9.00 ERA) vs. Ivan Nova (1-1, 8.68)

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    Current Yankees vs. Doubront:

    • Brett Gardner: .667
    • Derek Jeter: .343
    • Kelly Johnson: .708
    • Ichiro Suzkui: .297
    • Alfonso Soriano: 2.400
    • Brian Roberts: .250
    • Carlos Beltran: .000

    Current Red Sox vs. Nova:

    • David Ortiz: 1.135
    • A.J. Pierzynski: .435
    • Dustin Pedroia: .929
    • Daniel Nava: 1.100
    • Mike Carp: .700
    • Mike Napoli: 1.229
    • Jonathan Herrera: .000
    • Ryan Roberts: .667
    • Grady Sizemore: .000
    • Xander Bogaerts: .500
    • Jackie Bradley: .000

    Who is the real Ivan Nova? For the Yankees, it's a question that can have season-long implications. On Sunday night, the answer will determine a series split or highly-successful trek to New York for the defending World Series champs.

    Logically, Nova's early-season struggles—23 baserunners over 9.1 innings—would give the edge to Boston and Doubront. But Nova often finds a way to pitch well when he's cast off as nothing more than inconsistent or confounding by fans.

    Last year, Nova struggled in early September, pitching to a 7.07 ERA in three starts against the Red Sox and Orioles. Then, almost inexplicably, he turned back into a dominant, ace-like pitcher during his final two starts (16 IP, 12 SO, 2 BB, 1.13 ERA) against San Francisco and Houston.

    If Nova can avoid the barrel of David Ortiz's bat and keep Daniel Nava off the bases, his first good start of 2014 can commence. With this pitcher, expect it when you least expect it. 

    Prediction: Yankees 4, Red Sox 1

Hot List

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    Pitching, from starters to bullpen arms, will dictate how this rivalry unfolds over the next six months. But don't forget the bats, especially when it comes to the triangle of past, present and future center fielders at Fenway Park.

    Heading into this series, current and former Red Sox center fielders are on fire.

    In New York, Jacoby Ellsbury—despite an 0-for-4 showing on Wednesday against Baltimore—will take the field against his old team with a .364/.417/.455 slash line. Due to Mark Teixeira's disabled list stint, the Yankees dropped Ellsbury from the leadoff spot to No. 3 hole in the order. If he keeps hitting like this, the former Red Sox speed demon may have a new lineup position.

    When Ellsbury left Boston for the free-agent dollars of New York, Red Sox fans likely thought it would take a long, long time to replace their star outfielder. So far—across a small-sample size—that hasn't been the case. 

    Reclamation project Grady Sizemore was once Mike Trout before Mike Trout. Now he's hitting .364 and showing all-star ability. Jackie Bradley, sent down to the minors when Sizemore won the job in camp, has taken advantage of Shane Victorino's injury to garner playing time. With a .400 batting average, manager John Farrell will have to find more of it for him.

    Outside of the center field trio, keep an eye on the flavor of the week in the Bronx: Yangervis Solarte. 

    Pronounced "YAWN-gurr-veess soh-LAHR-tay," according to Brendan Kuty of NJ.com, the 26-year-old infielder has hit the cover off the ball since arriving on the Opening Day roster at the expense of Eduardo Nunez. With a hit on Wednesday, Solarte will take a .643 slugging percentage into his first Yankees-Red Sox experience.

Cold List

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    It's not how you start, but how you finish that matters. That phrase—or some approximation of it—is uttered on a daily basis around baseball teams and players in April, especially hitters with track records of success.

    For two struggling left-handed batters, Boston's Daniel Nava and New York's Brian McCann, it's just a matter of time before they land on a "hot list" for a series preview in the very near future. Right now, though, their early-season numbers are ugly:

    McCann: .152/.176/.152, 0 HR, 2 RBI
    Nava: .125/.200/.156, 0 HR, 1 RBI

    If this series follows a dramatic script, expect both players to find themselves in a high-leverage at-bat with the game on the line over the weekend.

    For Red Sox fans, patience with Nava shouldn't be a problem after last year's breakout season (.831 OPS) and contributions to a World Series run. After handing McCann $85 million in November, the Yankee faithful will likely need to see some big, run-producing hits soon.

    Agree? Disagree? How will the first Yankees-Red Sox series of 2014 play out?

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