New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox Fighting Through Similar Problems
However, instead of smooth sailing to the postseason, both teams are dealing with eerily similar pitching woes and are running out of time to fix them.
The first issue is at the top of the teams' respective rotations. For Boston, it's ace Josh Beckett, arguably this generation's best big game pitcher.
On August 7, after facing A.J. Burnett (more on him later) in a classic pitcher's duel, Beckett appeared to have the inside track to the AL Cy Young award, with a 13-4 record and a 3.12 ERA.
Since that memorable game however, Beckett's seen a spate of home runs reminiscent of his disappointing 2006 campaign, when he allowed 36 homers in 204 innings.
Over his last five starts Beckett has allowed 14 home runs, and at least two in every start. He gave up five on August 23 against the same Yankees he had dominated just two weeks earlier.
The good news for Sox fans is that Beckett's strikeout rate stayed virtually the same in those five starts and that his walk rate actually dropped. His hits per innings total rose, but not to anything alarming. In essence, the home runs seem to be the only problem.
However, Beckett's still the ace of the Boston staff, the one who will be counted on to go against the other team's top pitcher in the postseason, and one who would start two games in a five game series. The Red Sox can ill-afford a homer-laden meltdown by Beckett in a short series.
Speaking of meltdowns, let's go to the Bronx and look at A.J Burnett. At one point, he might have been the most dominant pitcher on the Yankees. In 11 starts from May 27 to July 27, Beckett went 8-2, with a 2.08 ERA.
Since that date however, Burnett's gone winless in seven starts, three of which were bonafide disasters (Road starts in Chicago, Boston and Baltimore). Burnett's appeared visibly angry with himself on his mound, and there's still talk that perhaps he and catcher Jorge Posada do not always see eye to eye.
Burnett's now sporting a 5.14 ERA on the road, which could force the Yankees to start him at home, which, if New York doesn't have home-field advantage in the first round, would mean only one start for a pitcher who Keith Law of ESPN said might have the best "stuff" in the majors.
And while the top of the rotation is a concern for both squads, things aren't too rosy at the back ends either.
The Yankees have made do with Chad Gaudin and Sergio Mitre in the 5th slot in the rotation, although a bigger concern has to be Joba Chamberlain in the 4 spot.
New York continues to hide their cards with regard to their ultimate plan with Chamberlain, who is on some sort of innings/pitches cap that the Yankees have handled in about 35 different ways this season. How much the meddling is affecting Chamberlain isn't completely known, because he's said all the right things when asked, but the recent results have been disastrous.
Since arguably the best start of his career—eight innings of three-hit shutout ball against the defending AL Champion Rays—Chamberlain's been awful. Over his last six starts, including his most recent in Toronto, Chamberlain has allowed 23 runs in 26 innings. Those 26 innings have yielded 37 hits and 17 walks for a WHIP over 2.00.
If there's a silver lining to all this for the Yankees, it's that their lead of 7.5 games in the AL East would appear safe with only 27 games remaining. Barring some sort of historic 1995 California Angels-esque collapse, New York likely has four weeks to sort out their issues.
And despite being one-hit by Roy Halladay in their most recent game, the Yankees lineup is likely deep enough to mask the pitching issues for the remainder of the regular season.
For the Red Sox, there still remains a hole at the back of the rotation. Gone are John Smoltz and Brad Penny, banished to the National League. Paul Byrd staunced the bleeding in his first start, shutting out the Blue Jays for six innings. But he was lit up in his next start, allowing 10 hits and seven runs, while recording only seven outs in a blowout loss to the White Sox.
Byrd, who's made only two starts this season after signing a minor-league contract with Boston on August 5, was relieved in that start by rookie Junichi Tazawa, who dominated the Yankees, tossing six shutout innings against Burnett on August 22.
Tazawa wasn't much better against Chicago, yielding five runs on seven hits over 3 2/3 innings. He's now allowed a staggering 43 hits in 25 1/3 innings and has an ERA of 7.46.
The good news for the Red Sox is that they may have the answer to that problem in-house, provided the ageless Tim Wakefield and his 43-year old back can hold up. When healthy, Wakefield has been solid this season, with a 4.12 ERA. However, he missed seven weeks with an achy back and had needed nine days off following his first start back.
If Wakefield's back doesn't hold up, there's the rehabbing Daisuke Matsuzaka. Dice-K however, hasn't pitched since June 19, and was all kinds of terrible when he was on the mound, allowing an astounding 77 base-runners in 35 innings.
The biggest concern for the Red Sox might not be the lack of options in the 4th/5th spots in the rotation, but how many more starts they can afford to gamble with question marks.
While Boston's played much better in the last few weeks, the Texas Rangers refuse to go away, and currently sit a mere two games behind the Red Sox in the Wild Card race. While Texas is dealing with injury problems of their own (Michael Young, Josh Hamilton), the Sox don't have the luxury of a large cushion like the Yankees do.
While the Yankees are a virtual lock to make the postseason after missing it last year, even their vaunted lineup might be in over their heads if Burnett and Chamberlain continue to struggle. New York hasn't won a playoff series since 2004, and for that trend to change, they'll need those two pitchers to turn it around.
The Red Sox, one game away from the World Series last season, will need Beckett to keep the ball in the ballpark and someone to step up in the back if they want to hold off Texas.
Make no mistake, I'm not dismissing either team. Both have extremely dangerous lineups and other pitchers who are pitching well for them. But, if either team wants to win the World Series, they'll need to iron out their issues in a hurry.
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