So here we are, ready for the third showdown between our rivals.
A huge series for the Yankees? Ya betcha!
The Yankees are have lost all five games this season against the Red Sox, failing to take advantage of their scoring chances (8-for-54, .148 with runners in scoring position) and being exposed in the bullpen.
But a lot has changed since these teams last met at Yankees Stadium in early May.
Alex Rodriguez returned May 8 and the Yankees fortunes have turned around dramatically. This is not the same team that the Sox last saw at Yankee Stadium.
The Yankees are 21-8 since A-Rod's return and have surged into first in the AL East, a game ahead of the Sox. The Sox, meanwhile, are 16-14 since they last saw the Yankees on May 5.
The biggest changes in the Yankees have been their ability to hit with runners in scoring position going 74-for-256 (.289) since A-Rod's return, raising their season average to .267, and a rotation that has started to jell and go deep into games.
The Yankees still have flaws. The middle relief remains their Achillies' heel and the offense stills struggles to manufacture runs from time to time.
So what needs to happen for the Yankees to consider this series a success?
First, DON'T GET SWEPT. The Yankees need to show they can beat the Sox, and getting swept and falling to 0-8 against Boston would be disastrous. Winning just one would mean they would leave Boston in a flat-footed tie in the division with the Sox.
But really, the Yanks need to win the series by taking at least two. It would be a huge boost to their confidence and send a strong message that they are ready to go toe-to-toe with the Sox. A sweep, though very unlikely, would be big blow to Boston.
Second, take advantage of scoring opportunities. The Yankees let Red Sox pitchers, especially the bullpen, off the hook way too much in first five games. The Yankees need to establish that they can create runs against what's arguably the best bullpen in the majors and take a whack at the confidence of Boston's relievers.
Third, the starters have to get deep into games. Boston is as good as anyone at working pitchers and grinding out at-bats. The Yankees starters have to attack them, throw strikes, force them to swing early in the count and get quick outs. It's a difficult plan to execute, but it's the only way to hide the bullpen.
Finally, that shaky bullpen has to get outs. Alfredo Aceves, David Robertson and Phil Hughes are additions to this unit and this will be a big test for them, though for the opener, the Yankees won't have Hughes or Mariano Rivera available. This unit will be the key to this series. If it does it's job, good thing can happen. If not, it could be another debacle.
The pitching matchups are interesting. Red Sox killer A.J. Burnett (4-2, 4.69 ERA) takes the mound in the opener against Josh Beckett (6-2, 4.09), who has rediscovered his ace-like form, flirting with a no-hitter his last time out. Of course, the last time these two hooked up, we also expected a pitchers' duel and instead got an ugly, ugly, ugly slugfest.
Chien-Ming Wang (0-3, 14.46), trying to regain his form as a reliable starter, gets the ball in the second game against Tim Wakefield (7-3, 4.50), who has been the Red Sox's most consistent pitcher this season. The Yankees have hit Wakefield hard since 2004, but even at his best, Wang has struggled against the Red Sox. Wakefield is 10-17 with a 5.03 ERA in his career against the Yankees.
The finale matches up CC Sabathia against Brad Penny. Sabathia (5-3, 3.56) has shaken off his April troubles and regained his dominant form, but has struggled in his career against Boston (2-4, 3.91). Penny has a nice record at 5-2, but a high ERA at 5.85. He is 3-1 at Fenway this season with a 6.51 ERA.
Monday's game gets rained out and the Yankees win two, sending a strong message to the Red Sox and leaving town with a three-game lead in the AL East.