The Yankees, clinging to a slim one-game lead in the AL East, saunter into Fenway to begin a series with the reeling Red Sox. As Mike outlined in his series preview, the Red Sox have been pretty awful this season, falling to unimaginable 15 games below .500. While they struggled for much of the season, they have been particularly awful of late. The Sox have lost a ton of talent since the Yankees played them last in late-July, both due to injury and the blockbuster trade (also known as a salary dump) they completed with the Dodgers. While the Yankees are playing for a division title and a playoff spot, the Red Sox seem to have little to play for other than their pride (or what remains of it). On paper, this is a matchup that heavily favors the Yankees, who despite their own problems should field a more talented and motivated roster than that of the Red Sox.
It also has all the makings of a trap series. With a big three-game series with the Rays looming on the horizon, it would be easy for the Yankees to overlook the crappy Red Sox and look ahead for the matchup with their actual competition for the division title. Meanwhile, while Boston seems and demoralized, I imagine getting the opportunity to ruin the Yankees’ season could get at least some of them fired up.
While the Red Sox roster is depleted, there is still enough talent to cause trouble for the Yankees. They are missing David Ortiz and Will Middlebrooks, but Dustin Pedroia, Cody Ross, and Jacoby Ellsbury could provide enough punch to pile up some runs against some shaky Yankee pitching. Plus, future Hall of Famer Pedro Ciriaco is still there, and will look to improve on his .469/.485/.625 career line against the Bombers. Hopefully the Yankees can figure out a way to retire him.
On the pitching side, there will be some interesting matchups. The Yankees will put perhaps their best pitcher of the season (#HIROK) up against Jon Lester in game one. Even though Lester is hardly the dominant Lester of years past, he is still a strong competitor who put up a good performance against the Yankees the last time he faced them. At best, this is a small advantage for the Yankees. The Phelps-Cook matchup in game two could be a slugfest, as Cook has been mediocre while Phelps has failed to get past the 5th inning in his last two starts. As for game three, Felix Doubront has posed some problems for the Yankees in the past, while Phil Hughes has been pretty solid of late (in part thanks to the new slider). While the Yankees should be favored in all three games, none of these matchups strikes me as a sure thing.
Given the close nature of the Al East race and the atrociousness of the Red Sox, taking anything less than 2 out of 3 games in this series would be a major failure. The Yankees have problems of their own, such as Mark Teixeira‘s recent injury, but they are light years ahead of where Boston is at this point, both in terms of on-field talent and off-field intangibles. While the Red Sox should be jazzed up for the opportunity to stick it to their longtime rivals, the Bombers should be motivated to add insult to Boston’s injury. The Yanks will have the opportunity to get themselves a little breathing room in the division as Baltimore and Tampa will be squaring off while the Yankees are playing the Red Sox. A sweep will put the Yankees in strong position to hold on to their division lead, and go into the playoffs with some positive momentum.