Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Round Three: Yankee Breakdown

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.


Dave said...

So you don't think they'd run a double-header tomorrow to try and keep to the schedule?

Anonymous said...

Uh, series starts today on Tuesday buddy. So how is Monday going to be rained out? The Yankee bloggers are as smart as their coaching staff I guess.

Aviv said...

Dave, with another series left in Boston and the close proximity of the two teams, I think it's more likely they'll try to reschedule on a mutual off day, rather than try for a day-night doubleheader, which players and fans hate.

As for Anonymous, yes, I messed up, should have read the opener Tuesday will be rained out. Good to see Sox fans never screw up and their team is perfect. Either that or they have short memories. Julio Lugo, Eric Gagne, Grady Little and Bill Buckner ring a bell?

Dave said...

See, I have always liked the day-night doubleheader. I know players hate it, but I think it's better than losing an off-day or cramming them in towards the end of September.

We're not perfect, Aviv. Just more perfect than you. :)

Aviv said...

Well that's not much of an accomplisment. It doesn't take much to be more perfect than me. Just ask my wife, though something tells me your wife would say the same about you! :P

The biggest problem with a day-night doubleheader from a fan perspective, aside from the separate admissions, is that if the opener goes long -- which is the norm in Yanks-Sox games -- everything becomes a big mess getting into and out of the stadium, especially in cramped Boston.

Anonymous said...

Yes Aviv they do ring a bell. How big a bell starts ringing in you ears when you hear the years 2004 and 2008? And dont throw any or your ancient history back at me. We all know the number 26. Last century...

Aviv said...

Hey Anonymous, have some guts and sign in. 2006 should be ringing pretty loud in your ears.

Brian said...

2006? Oh you mean the last year that the Yankees were ever in 1st place in the Al East until now?

Aviv said...

Yeah, the year the Yanks swept five in Boston in August to end the Sox season. BTW, Sox win the division last season?