Yankees-Red Sox Series Preview: More Than Just First Place on the Line

Jordan SchwartzSenior Writer IAugust 30, 2011

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 06:  CC Sabathia #52 of the New York Yankees delivers a pitch in the second inning against the Boston Red Sox on August 6, 2011 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

The Yankees entered their last series against the Red Sox needing to prove they could beat the two-headed monster of Jon Lester and Josh Beckett.

On Aug. 5, the Bombers got to Lester for three runs in the sixth, while Bartolo Colon and the bullpen combined to make it hold up for a 3-2 victory.

Two days later, Freddy Garcia out-dueled Beckett, but Mariano Rivera blew his 14th career regular-season save against Boston and Phil Hughes surrendered a run in the 10th for a 3-2 rubber game loss.

New York fell to 2-10 against the Sox this year, and now still have to prove they can defeat their likely American League Championship Series opponent.

Let's take a look at the pitching matchups ...

Tuesday, August 30 - CC Sabathia (17-7, 2.99) vs. John Lackey (12-9, 5.98)

On paper, this should be a Yankees victory, but Sabathia is 0-4 with a 7.20 ERA against the Red Sox this season. There's no use figuring out who will be the No. 2-4 starters in the playoffs, if your ace can't beat your chief rival.

Boston is hitting .324 off the big lefty in 2011. New Red Sox infielder Mike Aviles is 6-for-13 (.462) in his career against Sabathia. Kevin Youkilis is 11-for-32 (.344), Marco Scutaro is 11-for-35 (.314) and Carl Crawford is 21-for-67 (.313).

Lackey is 7-1 in his last nine starts and has 12 victories overall despite an ERA near 6.00 thanks to a league-leading 9.05 runs of support per start.

Look no further than the right-hander's two outings against the Yankees this year to see evidence of that. He is 2-0, despite a 7.36 ERA.

The Bombers won't miss Alex Rodriguez too much for this game because he is just 11-for-58 (.190) with 25 strikeouts against Lackey. Derek Jeter, however, is 19-for-60 (.317), so they hope he is back in the lineup after fouling a pitch off his right knee on Sunday.

Expect to see Jorge Posada in the lineup as he is 13-for-42 (.310) off Lackey.

Wednesday, August 31 - Phil Hughes (4-4, 6.46) vs. Josh Beckett (11-5, 2.43)

Hughes turned in four consecutive quality starts before blowing up against Oakland on Thursday, surrendering six runs in just 2 2/3 innings. In his last two outings against the A's, the right-hander has failed to pick up a victory despite an astounding 39 runs of support.

Hughes has yielded seven runs over 2 1/3 innings against the Red Sox this year. But that should be no surprise for a guy that is 2-4 with a 6.25 ERA in 15 career appearances (seven starts) versus Boston. He is 2-2 with an 8.83 at Fenway Park.

J.D. Drew and David Ortiz are both 7-for-15 (.467) off Hughes, but Crawford is just 2-for-15 (.133).

Beckett has been the complete opposite of Sabathia this year, going 3-0 with a 1.00 ERA against the Yankees. The right-hander has allowed only three runs on 16 hits and seven walks, while striking out 30 in 27 innings.

Among Yankees with at least three career at-bats against Beckett, Robinson Cano (22-for-68, .324) is the only one with a batting average north of .286. Mark Teixeira is a paltry 8-for-44 (.182) with 18 strikeouts.

Thursday, September 1 - A.J. Burnett (9-11, 5.31) vs. Jon Lester (14-6, 3.09)

This is once again not a favorable matchup for the Yankees. A few weeks ago, I would've said you were crazy to suggest a guy with the proven track record of Burnett should be the odd-man out of this six-man rotation, but there's no denying how awful he was in August, allowing 30 runs on 44 hits over 22 2/3 innings. The right-hander had an 11.91 ERA and opponents hit an incredible .415 off him in the month.

It could've just been a rough patch of starts (Burnett's ERA was no worse than 4.83 in each of the first four months of the season), but he's showing no signs of snapping out of it and when five other guys are pitching better than he is, it's hard to justify keeping him in the rotation.

The bullpen might be a good spot for Burnett right now, because he can be good in small doses and you can take him out before he gets a chance to register one of his classic blow-up innings.

The 34-year-old has made just one start against the Red Sox this season, giving up eight runs (seven earned) over 5 2/3 innings. He is 5-4 with a 5.16 ERA in 16 career starts versus Boston, including a 3-3 record and 6.04 mark at Fenway.

Crawford is 18-for-57 (.316) off Burnett, while Jacoby Ellsbury is 10-for-29 (.345).

Lester, meanwhile, has surrendered just one earned run in each of his last three starts (all wins). He is 2-1 with a 5.00 ERA against the Yankees this year.

Jeter is 15-for-45 (.333), but he is the only Bomber with a career average above .250 against the southpaw. A-Rod, once again, won't be terribly missed as he is 6-for-32 (.188) with nine strikeouts.

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Jordan is one of Bleacher Report's New York Yankees and College Basketball Featured Columnists. 

He can be reached at jordanschwartz2003@yahoo.com