After clinching a playoff spot with an impressive series win in Anaheim, the Yankees head home for their final regular season showdown with the Red Sox as New York attempts to put away the AL East once and for all.
Entering Thursday's action, the Bombers hold a five-game lead in the loss column with a magic number of five. That means even if Boston beats Kansas City on Thursday, the Yanks can still clinch the division on Sunday with a sweep. If the Royals beat the Sox, New York can wrap up the East by winning just two of three this weekend.
And how sweet it would be to celebrate a clinch on the Yankee Stadium field with Boston watching from the visitor's dugout.
Let's take a look at the pitching matchups:
Friday, September 25—Joba Chamberlain (8-6, 4.73) vs. Jon Lester (14-7, 3.33)
This should be Joba's next-to-last start of the season, but by far his most important. With Chad Gaudin breathing down his neck for the No. 4 starter's spot in the postseason, Chamberlain needs to overcome the fact that the Yankees absolutely ruined his second half with their innings limitations and extra days of rest, and turn in a solid outing against a playoff-caliber team.
Joba went from June 19 to Aug. 15 without losing a game, but he hasn't won one since. Not coincidentally, this current streak began right around the time the newest Joba Rules were put in place.
The right-hander's last victory came on Aug. 6 against the Red Sox, when he surrendered four runs in five innings. In three starts vs. Boston this year, Chamberlain is 1-1 with a 5.06 ERA. He's walked 13 batters in 16 innings, and so the Nebraskan really needs to work on attacking the strike zone against these patient Sox hitters.
In his career, Joba is 3-1 with a 4.05 ERA in nine appearances (five starts) versus the boys from Beantown. Jason Bay is 4-for-7 (.571) when facing the 24-year-old, Dustin Pedroia is 8-for-15 (.533) with four extra-base hits and Mike Lowell is 7-for-15 (.467).
However, Chamberlain has had success against David Ortiz (3-for-14, 4 K), Jacoby Ellsbury (2-for-14) and J.D. Drew (1-for-15, 6 K).
Lester, meanwhile, is 6-0 in 11 starts since July 19. One of those appearances came on Aug. 9, when he gave up just one run in seven innings, while striking out seven and walking none, but the left-hander earned the no-decision when the bullpen allowed four runs in the eighth and the Yanks went on to win, 5-2.
The 25-year-old is 1-0 with a 2.70 ERA in three starts against New York this season, and is 3-0 with a 3.11 ERA in his career vs. the Pinstripes.
You could see Hideki Matsui (0-for-3, 2 K vs. Lester) out of the lineup, replaced by Jose Molina (5-for-11, 2 BB). Melky Cabrera (6-for-16), Derek Jeter (8-for-23) and Johnny Damon (7-for-22, 2 HR) have also had success against the southpaw.
However, Robinson Cano (3-for-20), Alex Rodriguez (2-for-14) and Nick Swisher (2-for-14, 5 K) have not.
Prediction: Red Sox 5, Yankees 4
Saturday, September 26—CC Sabathia (18-7, 3.31) vs. Daisuke Matsuzaka (3-5, 6.80)
Sabathia has been every bit of the ace the Yankees hoped he would be when they acquired him this past winter. The big lefty is 8-0 in August and September, including two wins over the Red Sox.
He's 2-1 with a 2.95 ERA in three starts against Boston in 2009, and 4-5 with a 3.62 ERA in his career vs. the Sox.
Only Kevin Youkilis (5-for-15) and Ortiz (7-for-23, 2 HR) have had any success facing CC. Drew is 2-for-10 (.200) with five strikeouts, Jason Varitek is 2-for-16 (.125) and Pedroia is 1-for-12 (.083) with four Ks.
The one thing going for the Red Sox is that Sabathia will be working on six days rest as the Yankees attempt to get him lined up for a Game One start in the ALDS. In his career, the southpaw is 16-10 with a 4.04 ERA when going at least seven days between starts, and 0-1 with a 7.30 ERA this season.
Matsuzaka has won both his starts since returning from the 60-day disabled list. He hasn't faced the Yankees this year, but is 3-2 with a 6.35 ERA in six lifetime games against them. The right-hander is 1-1 with a 6.57 ERA at Yankee Stadium.
Posada is 6-for-12 (.500) with three doubles vs. the Japanese native, while Jeter is 4-for-12 (.333) with two homers and Damon is 5-for-15 (.333) with five RBIs.
Cano, however, is 3-for-17 (.176) with seven strikeouts and A-Rod is 1-for-12 (.083) with five Ks.
Prediction: Yankees 6, Red Sox 3
Sunday, September 27—Andy Pettitte (13-7, 4.15) vs. Paul Byrd (1-2, 6.04)
Pettitte said his shoulder felt fine after his six-inning, three-run loss to the Angels on Monday. It was his first defeat since July 25. During that time, the lefty helped the Yankees beat the Red Sox twice, once with seven shutout innings on Aug. 9 and the other time when he surrendered seven runs in five frames on Aug. 21. Ironically, he only got the win in the latter start.
Pettitte is 1-1 with a 4.00 ERA in three starts against Boston this season, and 17-9 with a 3.76 in his career facing the Sox.
The current Boston roster hits .321 vs. the Texan, so there are plenty of guys who have had success against him. Ellsbury is 6-for-14 (.429) with six RBIs, Bay is 12-for-29 (.414), Ortiz is 18-for-48 (.375) with 10 runs batted in, Drew is 12-for-33 (.364) with three homers, Lowell is 9-for-26 (.346) and Youkilis is 9-for-27 (.333).
Pettitte has been able to slow down Pedroia (8-for-35) and Victor Martinez (3-for-15).
Byrd hasn't pitched well since being called up from the Minors on Aug. 30, making him available for inclusion on the postseason roster. He surrendered five runs in the first inning at Kansas City on Tuesday before settling down to pitch 6 2/3 innings in the loss.
The right-hander is 3-5 with a 4.72 ERA in 11 career starts against the Yankees, including a 1-3 record and a 3.99 mark in the Bronx.
Jeter is 13-for-36 (.361) versus Byrd and Cano is 5-for-15 (.333) with two home runs, while Posada is 4-for-20 (.200).
Prediction: Yankees 7, Red Sox 6
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Jordan Schwartz is Bleacher Report's New York Yankees Community Leader. His book "Memoirs of the Unaccomplished Man" is available at amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, and authorhouse.com.
Jordan can be reached at email@example.com