Friday, August 21, 2009


The conventional wisdom is that the pressure is on the Red Sox this weekend.

Afterall, They are 6-1/2 games behind the Yankees in the AL East, failing to pickup a game in the 10 games since their last meeting despite going 7-3. More importantly, they are in dogfight for their playoff lives, a game ahead of the Rangers in the wild card chase.

To a large extent, that thinking is correct. The Sox need to win games. Period. The Yankees could get swept this weekend and still would have a 3-1/2 game-lead in the AL East with 38 games to play.

But all that should not and does not matter to the Yankees. There is no "x-" next to New York in the standings indicating a playoff spot has been locked up, nor is there a "y-" showing the division race is over.

The is still a ton of work to do and this weekend presents the Yankees with a golden opportunity to finish off the Sox in the division race once and for all.

The Yanks must take at least two of three.

Do not let the Red Sox have a sniff of life. Do not give them any hope. Do not let them believe they hold some sort of big advantage over you at Fenway.

And the reality is that even though the Red Sox's hitting (ie Jason Bay and Artificially Big Papi) has come to life since the last time our two rivals last met, the Yankees have the clear advantage in starting pitching in the first two games before what should be a delightful pitchers' duel Sunday night.

Tonight, Andy Pettitte (9-6, 4.09 ERA) takes on Brad Penny (7-7, 5.22).

Pettitte has been the Yankees' best and most consistent pitcher since the All-Star break, going 1-1 in six starts, but posting a 2.04 ERA and 1.03 WHIP while striking out 43 in 39-2/3 innings. They Yankees have gone 4-2 in those six games.

Penny, meanwhile, has been a five- or six-inning pitcher who is 1-4 since the All-Star break with a 6.62 ERA and 1.53 WHIP in six starts spanning 34 innings.

In the Fox game Saturday, A.J. Burnett (10-6, 3.69) faces rookie Junichi Tazawa (1-2, 5.40), who is making just his third major league start.

Burnett, who is coming off a tough-luck loss in which he allowed three runs in eight innings, has been the Yankees' best pitcher since early June. In the previous series against the Sox, he battled Josh Beckett into the eighth inning of a scoreless game that eventually ended in the 15th with Alex Rodriguez hitting a two-run homer off Tazawa, who was making his major league debut.

Tazawa's two starts have been mixed: one was solid and the other, not so good. Tazawa has the potential and ability to pitch a big game, but I doubt any sane Red Sox fan would be willing to put down good money that he will.

The finale feature what should be a gem: CC Sabathia (14-7, 3.58) vs. Beckett (14-4, 3.38). Sabathia has been on fire in August, winning all four of his starts, including throwing 7-2/3 shutout innings against the Sox in the last go-around. Beckett is coming off a rough start in a game the Sox eventually won against the Jays, but he is having a Cy Young-caliber season to this point.

Clearly the opportunity is there for the Yankees to take at least two and all but end division race.

They just have to out and finish the job.

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