2014 Season Preview: The AL East

Over the last 15-20 years or so, no division has been as consistently tough as the AL East. The Yankees and Red Sox have dominated the top two spots, and in recent years both the Rays and Orioles have become more serious threats. The AL East has produced 15 of the 21 AL wildcard teams since the system was introduced in 1995, giving you an idea of how many great teams it’s housed. How is the division competition looking heading into 2014? Here’s a breakdown.

Ubaldo. (Presswire)
Ubaldo. (Presswire)

BALTIMORE ORIOLES
Notable Additions: RHP Ubaldo Jimenez, OF Nelson Cruz, RHP Ryan Webb, RHP Suk-Min Yoon, OF/DH Delmon Young
Notable Losses: RHP Scott Feldman, RHP Jason Hammel, RHP Jim Johnson, OF Nate McLouth

This isn’t a loss in the sense that he was on the team and now he’s not, but it’s certainly worth mentioning that third baseman Manny Machado will start the season on the DL following offseason knee surgery. He should return sometime in April.

The Orioles played the market well and landed both Jimenez and Cruz on favorable contracts. They sorely lacked an ace and while Ubaldo might be the most unpredictable pitcher in the game, he can be absolutely dominant for long stretches of time. Baltimore got a weak .245/.293/.405 (87 wRC+) batting line out of their DHs last season, so Cruz and even Young should help correct that problem. Between Cruz, Chris Davis, and Adam Jones, the O’s have three guys who could legitimately hit 30+ homers. They hit 24 more homeruns than any other team last season and added yet another power hitter this winter.

Even though Johnson always seems to blow games against the Yankees — he blew four of his last nine save chances against them and also took a loss after entering a tie game — the Orioles are worse off in the late innings without him. Webb is underrated and I’m sure Tommy Hunter will be fine in the ninth inning, but Johnson was a very good workhorse reliever and that will be missed. Baltimore is better than they were last season because of Jimenez and Cruz, though I’m not sure if they’re good enough to make a serious run at a wildcard spot. I guess it depends on how long Machado is out, which Jimenez shows up, and how the bullpen shakes out without Johnson.

BOSTON RED SOX
Notable Additions: RHP Burke Badenhop, LHP Chris Capuano, RHP Edward Mujica, C A.J. Pierzynski
Notable Losses: RHP Ryan Dempster, SS Stephen Drew, OF Jacoby Ellsbury, C Jarrod Saltalamacchia

I assume the Red Sox will not re-sign Drew at this point, which means they lost three key up-the-middle position players this winter. Grady Sizemore has had a great spring, but replacing Ellsbury with him is the poor man’s version of replacing Robinson Cano with Brian Roberts. Jackie Bradley Jr., last spring’s MVP, is the backup plan there. Pierzynski takes over for Salty, and rookie Xander Bogaerts will replace Drew. He’s a stud and appears poised to be a force for years to come.

Boston has earned some leeway after winning the World Series, but they lost a lot of good players this winter and are counting mostly on internal solutions to replace the lost production. That’s dicey, especially when talking about prospects. If Bogaerts or either of the center fielders don’t produce, the Sox will be left scrambling. Luckily for them, the pitching staff is deep and stalwarts like Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz are still around to anchor the lineup. The Red Sox have a great farm system and a ton of money, so they have the wherewithal to address any needs at midseason. That said, they won the division by 5.5 games last year and the gap appears to have closed a bit.

TAMPA BAY RAYS
Notable Additions: RHP Grant Balfour, RHP Heath Bell, C Ryan Hanigan
Notable Losses: RHP Roberto Hernandez, RHP Fernando Rodney, DH Luke Scott, RHP Jamey Wright

Old face, old place. (Presswire)
Old face, old place. (Presswire)

The Rays will be without Jeremy Hellickson for a few weeks following offseason elbow surgery. They still have David Price and Alex Cobb to front the rotation, but Matt Moore is having a real problem throwing strikes this spring. Like 15 walks in 14.1 innings problem. Chris Archer had a strong rookie season and rookie Jake Odorizzi will replace Hellickson for the time being. Tampa always seems to crank out quality young starters, but with Moore struggling and Odorizzi projecting as more of a back-end arm than anything else, their staff seems more vulnerable than it has been at any point in the last five of six years.

After getting great production from one-year gems like Casey Kotchman and Jeff Keppinger, the Rays doubled down on James Loney and re-signed him to a three-year, $21M contract this offseason. That is the largest free agent contract the team had handed out since the current ownership group took over in 2005. Full seasons of Wil Myers and David DeJesus should boost an offense — DeJesus isn’t great, but remember, he’s replacing Sam Fuld — that ranked third in baseball with a 108 wRC+ last summer. Going from Rodney and Wright to Balfour and Bell is probably an upgrade, especially in terms in 2014 performance. Rodney and Wright are 37 and 39, after all. Tampa improved this winter after winning 92 games a wildcard spot a year ago, so of course they’ll be right back in the thick of the race this year.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS
Notable Additions: C Dioner Navarro
Notable Losses: C J.P. Arencibia, OF Rajai Davis, RHP Josh Johnson

It’s unbelievable the Blue Jays did nothing this winter, isn’t it? They made all those moves last offseason and were such a colossal disappointment in 2013, yet nothing. They signed Navarro, who was nearly out of baseball three years ago. GM Alex Anthopoulos appeared to be playing the board a bit with the pitching market, presumably hoping to grab Jimenez or Ervin Santana on a cheap contract, but instead came up empty. The rotation includes the reliable Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey, the unpredictable Brandon Morrow, J.A. Happ, and righty Drew Hutchison fresh off Tommy John surgery.

I guess the good news for Toronto is that their offense is dynamite, at least when healthy. Edwin Encarnacion might be the most unheralded great hitter in the game (82 BB, 66 XBH, 62 K in 2013) and Jose Bautista is still a force, so the middle of the order is set. Colby Rasmus has a ton of power and others like Melky Cabrera, Adam Lind, and Brett Lawrie will contribute from time to time. Jose Reyes is dynamic but also prone to injury, and sure enough an MRI revealed a minor hamstring strain just yesterday. He might not be ready for the start of the season. Ryan Goins, who is slated to be the regular second baseman, will move over to replace Reyes to short if need be. He might be the worst everyday player in baseball. In the conversation, at least. The Blue Jays are banking on health and steps forward from guys like Hutchison and Rasmus to improve the team, and even if they get that, they still might only be the fourth or fifth best team in the division.

* * *

On paper, I think you can argue the Yankees are anywhere from the best to fourth best team in the division. They’ve obviously upgraded but so have the Rays and Orioles, all while the Red Sox lost some key pieces. The top four teams in the division are more scrunched together this season, which means the race will be more tougher and more exciting deep into the season. Injuries and unexpected performances, both good and bad, will play an even bigger role in determining the AL East this summer. The division is again very good and there are four teams to be reckoned with. (Sorry, Blue Jays.)

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9/13-9/15 Series Preview: Boston Red Sox

(Winslow Townson/Getty)
(Winslow Townson/Getty)

The Red Sox demolished the Yankees in Yankee Stadium last weekend, or at least they demolished their pitching staff. The Bombers had no answer for Boston’s lineup in the first three games. The rivalry moves to Fenway Park this weekend for three huge games. Huge for New York, that is.

What Have They Done Lately?
The Red Sox lost to the Rays yesterday but otherwise took two of three in Tampa. They’ve won eleven of their last 14 games and own the league’s best record and run differential at 89-59 and +167, respectively. Boston leads the AL East by seven games in the loss column and has the division all but wrapped up with a little more than two weeks to play.

Offense
At 5.2 runs per game with a team 113 wRC+, Boston is one of the very best hitting teams in all the land. They have a 136 wRC+ as a team over the last two weeks. That’s an entire lineup hitting almost like Robinson Cano (140 wRC+) for a two week period. Insane. The Red Sox are without their catalyst CF Jacoby Ellsbury (111 wRC+), who has a broken bone in his foot and hopes to return in time for the postseason. Here’s their only injured position player.

Napoli. (Al Messerschmidt/Getty)
Napoli. (Al Messerschmidt/Getty)

It seems like manager John Farrell has nothing but good hitters in his lineup, and that’s because he usually does. 2B Dustin Pedroia (112 wRC+), OF Shane Victorino (118 wRC+), DH David Ortiz (149 wRC+), 1B Mike Napoli (124 wRC+), OF Daniel Nava (128 wRC+), and SS Stephen Drew (103 wRC+) play pretty much everyday. C Jarrod Saltalamacchia (106 wRC+) catches regularly while OF Jonny Gomes (101 wRC+) subs in against left-handers. 3B Will Middlebrooks (91 wRC+) has been excellent for a few weeks now. That’s pretty much the regular lineup right there.

1B Mike Carp (152 wRC+ in limited time) has been a force off the bench and headlines the group of reserves. Backup C David Ross (82 wRC+ in limited time) usually plays against lefties and OF Jackie Bradley Jr. (58 wRC+) has seen more playing time with Ellsbury hurt. Top prospect IF Xander Bogaerts (106 wRC+ in very limited time) hasn’t played all that much since coming up last month. September call-ups C Ryan Lavarnway, IF John McDonald, UTIL Brandon Snyder, and pinch-runner OF Quintin Berry fill out the rest of the position player crop.

Starting Pitching Matchups

Friday: RHP Hiroki Kuroda vs. RHP John Lackey
Lackey, 34, is having his best season as a Red Sox (Sock?) thanks to his new elbow. He has a 3.48 ERA (3.72 FIP) in 26 starts with very good walk (1.98 BB/9 and 5.3 BB%) and ground ball (47.4%) rates. His strikeout (7.70 K/9 and 20.9 K%) and homer (1.13 HR/9 and 12.5% HR/FB) totals are just okay though. Lackey has thrown six different pitches this year but he leans heavily on three: his low-90s four-seamer, mid-80s cutter, and upper-70s curve. He’s thrown those pitches roughly 90% of the time combined. A low-90s two-seamer, mid-80s changeup, and mid-80s slider are rarely used fourth, fifth, and sixth offerings. Lackey has a big reverse split this year — lefties have a .290 wOBA against him while righties are at .341 — for whatever reason. That’s an outlier compared to the rest of his career. The Yankees scored seven runs against Lackey in 5.2 innings last weekend and still managed to lose.

Lester. (Winslow Townson/Getty)
Lester. (Winslow Townson/Getty)

Saturday: LHP CC Sabathia vs. LHP Jon Lester
The 29-year-old Lester has had a very up and down (and up again) season. He’s sitting on a 3.86 ERA (3.66 FIP) with strikeout (7.45 K/9 and 19.5 K%) and walk (2.84 BB/9 and 7.4 BB%) rates that are damn near identical his disaster season a year ago. His ground ball rate (43.9%) has dropped and yet he’s giving up significantly fewer homers (0.84 HR/9 and 8.4% HR/FB), which doesn’t really make sense considering his home ballpark. Lester’s four-seam fastball recently jumped back into the mid-90s and he’s shelved his upper-80s cutter. That was the pitch he fell in love with and got him into trouble. A low-90s sinker, mid-80s changeup, and mid-70s curveball round out his repertoire. Lester held New York to three runs in eight innings — the rare complete-game loss — last weekend. These two have seen each other plenty of times over the years. No surprises.

Sunday: RHP Ivan Nova vs. RHP Clay Buchholz
Buchholz, 28, just came off the DL after missing more than three months with a neck problem. He held the Rays scoreless for five innings in his first start back and has a stellar 1.61 ERA (2.40 FIP) in 13 games this season. His strikeout (8.76 K/9 and 25.4 K%) and ground ball (48.4%) rates are very good, his walk rate (3.02 BB/9 and 8.8 BB%) is pretty good, and his homer rate (0.20 HR/9 and 3.0% HR/FB) is off the charts. Unsustainably off the charts. Buchholz will rarely throw his low-90s two-seamer, instead preferring his low-to-mid-90s four-seamer and upper-80s cutter when setting up his knockout low-80s changeup. He’ll also throw upper-70s curveballs. The Yankees have seen Buchholz a bunch of times over the years including twice this year: one run in seven innings in April and five scoreless innings in June.

Workman. (Ezra Shaw/Getty)
Workman. (Ezra Shaw/Getty)

Bullpen Status
Farrell’s bullpen is in decent shape, though both closer RHP Koji Uehara (1.68 FIP) and RHP Junichi Tazawa (3.13 FIP) have pitched twice in the last three days. That could impact their availability at some point this weekend. Uehara has retired 34 straight batters and it would be neat if that streak ended this weekend. Actually, I’d rather not see him at all. RHP Brandon Workman (3.48 FIP) has become a trusted late-inning reliever but threw two innings on Wednesday. LHP Craig Breslow (3.74 FIP) is Farrell’s top southpaw. LHP Drake Britton (3.15 FIP in limited time), LHP Franklin Morales (4.93 FIP in limited time) and LHP Matt Thornton (4.07 FIP) make up the rest of the bullpen alongside September call-ups RHP Rubby De La Rosa and RHP Allen Webster.

Joe Girardi, on the other hand, has a tired and worn out bullpen. Mariano Rivera has pitched each of the last three days and four of the last five, throwing 84 total pitches since Sunday. Hard to believe he’ll be available tonight, but I said the same thing yesterday. David Robertson has appeared in back-to-back games after missing about a week with shoulder fatigue. Boone Logan is still unavailable because his elbow is barking. Shawn Kelley might be the closer and a bunch of call-ups might be the setup men tonight. Check out our Bullpen Workload page for a breakdown of the carnage, then check out Over The Monster for the latest and greatest on the Red Sox.

The Red Sox, Ivan Nova, and low fastballs

2012 is on the left, 2013 on the right.
Nova’s fastball location in 2012 (left) vs. 2013 (right).

Ivan Nova was a punching bag last season. I think that’s a fair way to put it. He allowed an MLB-high 87 extra-base hits despite only throwing the 83rd most innings (170.1) in baseball, and opponents tagged him for a .288/.349/.511 batting line. Nova turned every hitter he faced last summer into someone resembling 2010 Nick Swisher (.288/.359/.511). He was terrible.

Things have been much different this year, particularly of late. Nova was just named the AL Pitcher of the Month for August and has a 2.06 ERA in 74.1 innings and ten starts since officially rejoining the rotation in July. Opponents have hit .224/.297/.294 against him during those ten starts, which is slightly better than 2013 Chris Stewart (.215/.288/.280). He’s been a rotation godsend.

As David Golebiewski at Baseball Analytics showed today, Nova’s success this year stems from his ability to keep his fastball down. Scrapping his slider in favor of a curveball helped as well, but keeping the fastball down — the heat maps above show how much his location has improved — has been crucial in limiting extra-base hits. Opponents slugged .597 (!) off his heater in 2012, but this year that sits at just .397. The league average for starting pitchers is .443, according to Golebiewski.

The Red Sox are one of the better low fastball hitting teams in the baseball — slugging an MLB-best .505 against low heaters according to Golebiewski — so the key for Nova in tonight’s start is going to be that curveball. Breaking out his rarely used changeup and possibly showing some sliders as a change of pace pitch could be in order as well. Nova is excelling because he’s keeping his fastball down and the Red Sox are mashing because they hit those low fastballs. The Yankees will have to adjust accordingly in tonight’s opener.

9/5-9/8 Series Preview: Boston Red Sox

Things got a little out of hand in Boston last night. (Jared Wickerham/Getty)
Things got a little out of hand in Boston last night. (Jared Wickerham/Getty)

Even though the Yankees don’t have much of a chance of catching the Red Sox for the top spot in the AL East, this is a hugely important series for New York’s playoff chances. They’re no longer in direct competition with Boston for a postseason berth, but they are in desperate need of every win possible. Once again, this is the biggest series of the year. At least until the next one.

What Have They Done Lately?
The Red Sox absolutely clobbered the Tigers yesterday. Like 20-4 with a franchise record-tying eight homeruns clobbered. Boston took two of three from the defending AL champs and have won nine of their last eleven games overall. They sit atop the division at 84-57 with a +154 run differential, both the best marks in the league. The Yankees are seven games back of the Sawx in the loss column.

Offense
At 5.1 runs per game with a team 112 wRC+, the Red Sox have the best offensive team in baseball. That’s kinda scary considering how shaky the non-Ivan Nova/first 85 pitches of Andy Pettitte part of the rotation has been recently. OF Jacoby Ellsbury (110 wRC+) and C Jarrod Saltalamacchia (108 wRC+) are both dealing with nagging injuries and are listed as day-to-day, but they’ll play tonight. Don’t worry.

Ellsbury. (Jim Rogash/Getty)
Ellsbury. (Jim Rogash/Getty)

Behind Ellsbury, manager John Farrell has the highly productive trio of OF Shane Victorino (116 wRC+), 2B Dustin Pedroia (114 wRC+), and DH David Ortiz (153 wRC+). Victorino recently abandoned switch-hitting and bats from the right side exclusively now. OF Jonny Gomes (102 wRC+) has been very productive of late as well. 1B Mike Napoli (115 wRC+) has been hot and cold, ditto SS Stephen Drew (108 wRC+) and OF Daniel Nava (129 wRC+). 3B Will Middlebrooks (84 wRC+) has been pretty good since returning from the minors a few weeks ago.

1B/OF Mike Carp (141 wRC+in part-time duty) has been a force off the bench for Farrell. The team is also carrying top prospect IF Xander Bogaerts (85 wRC+ in very limited time) and they recently welcomed back backup C David Ross (84 wRC+ in limited time) from a concussion. Their crop of call-ups and extra bodies includes OF Quintin Berry, C Ryan Lavarnway, IF John McDonald, and UTIL Brandon Snyder. I wouldn’t worry about those guys too much. Expect the Red Sox to rely on their regulars heavily this weekend in an effort to clinch the division and bury their oldest historic rival.

Starting Pitching Matchups

Thursday: RHP Ivan Nova vs. RHP Jake Peavy
The Red Sox went out and upgraded their rotation at the trade deadline by acquiring the 33-year-old Peavy in a three-team deal. He’s pitched to a 3.91 ERA (3.92 FIP) in 19 starts this year while missing more than a month with a fracture in his ribcage. His strikeout (7.52 K/9 and 20.9 K%) and walk (1.73 BB/9 and 4.8 BB%) rates are in line with the last few years but his homer (1.35 HR/9 and 11.0% HR/FB) and ground ball (34.0%) numbers are career worsts by a decent margin. Peavy is a fastball-heavy six-pitch pitcher, using his low-90s four-seamer, low-90s two-seamer, and upper-80s cutter about 75% of the time. A low-80s changeup is his top offspeed pitch, and he’ll also throw upper-70s curveballs and low-80s sliders. His platoon split is relatively small thanks to the changeup. Peavy actually made his big league debut against the Yankees back in 2002, but otherwise he hasn’t faced them very much by virtue of being in the NL and/or injured.

Doubront. (Jim Rogash/Getty)
Doubront. (Jim Rogash/Getty)

Friday: LHP Andy Pettitte vs. LHP Felix Doubront
Doubront, 25, has taken some steps forward this year and owns a 3.89 ERA (3.52 FIP) in 25 starts (and one relief appearance). Almost all of his improvement stems from cutting his homerun rate in half — he went from a 1.34 HR/9 (15.9% HR/FB) last year to a 0.66 HR/9 (7.4% HR/FB) this year. His true talent level is probably somewhere in between given his home ballpark and the other hitter friendly parks in the division. Doubront’s walk (3.59 BB/9 and 9.3 BB%) and ground ball (46.5%) rates have improved slightly but his strikeout rate (7.96 K/9 and 20.5 K%) has dropped off big time from 2012. He uses four pitches regularly, including a mid-80s changeup that seems to give the Yankees fits. He sets that and his mid-70s curveball up with low-90s two and four-seamers. A mid-80s cutter is an infrequently used fifth offering. His platoon split is small. Doubront has pitched very well against the Yankees these last few years, but they did rough him up for seven runs in four innings last month.

Saturday: LHP David Huff vs. RHP John Lackey
Thanks to his brand new elbow, Lackey is having his best season since before signing with Boston. The 34-year-old has a 3.22 ERA (3.73 FIP) in 25 starts with very good walk (1.89 BB/9 and 5.1 BB%) and ground ball (47.1%) rates. His strikeout (7.71 K/9 and 20.9 K%) and homer (1.16 HR/9 and 12.7% HR/FB) totals are worse than what you’d like to see. Lackey has thrown six different pitches this year but he leans heavily on three: his low-90s four-seamer, mid-80s cutter, and upper-70s curve. He’s thrown those pitches more than 90% of the time combined. A low-90s two-seamer, mid-80s changeup, and mid-80s slider are rarely used fourth through sixth offerings. For whatever reason, Lackey has a big reverse split this year — lefties have a .282 wOBA against him while righties are at .344 — that doesn’t jibe with the rest of his career. The Yankees have faced the big right-hander a bunch of times over the years and have one good game (four runs in 6.1 innings) and one bad game (one run in 6.2 innings) against him in two meetings this year.

Sunday: RHP Hiroki Kuroda vs. LHP Jon Lester
I’m not sure what to make of the 29-year-old Lester anymore. He started this season very well, was terrible for a good portion of the summer, but has been awesome of late. He’s sitting on a 3.88 ERA (3.70 FIP) with strikeout (7.48 K/9 and 19.6 K%) and walk (2.91 BB/9 and 7.6 BB%) rates that are damn near identical his disaster season a year ago. His ground ball rate (44.2%) has dropped and yet he’s giving up significantly fewer homers (0.87 HR/9 and 8.9% HR/FB). Furthermore, Lester’s four-seam fastball recently jumped back into the mid-90s and he’s begun to shelve his upper-80s cutter. A low-90s sinker, mid-80s changeup, and mid-70s curveball round out his repertoire. The Yankees have seen Lester plenty of times over the years and know everything there is to know about him. No surprises here.

Koji. (Winslow Townson/Getty)
Koji. (Winslow Townson/Getty)

Bullpen Status
Thanks to yesterday’s laugher, the Red Sox were able to rest all of their important late-game relievers and come into this series in good bullpen shape. Closer RHP Koji Uehara (1.83 FIP) has been untouchable for about two months now, but he doesn’t really have a set setup man. RHP Junichi Tazawa (3.15 FIP), LHP Craig Breslow (3.69 FIP), RHP Brandon Workman (3.38 FIP), and LHP Matt Thornton (4.00 FIP) all rotate in and out of the role depending on who’s pitching well at the time. LHP Drake Britton (2.80 FIP in limited time), RHP Rubby De La Rosa (7.54 FIP in very limited time), and LHP Franklin Morales (4.65 FIP in limited time) round out the eight-man bullpen.

Even though the Yankees had to use both Mariano Rivera and David Robertson yesterday, their bullpen is still in very good shape heading into tonight’s series opener. Those two have actually had a surprising amount of time off recently. Thanks to the expanded rosters, Joe Girardi has a whopping eleven relievers at his disposal. I’m guess we’ll see all eleven at some point this weekend. Check out our Bullpen Workload page for details and Over The Monster for the latest and greatest on the Red Sox.

8/16-8/18 Series Preview: Boston Red Sox

(Pressiwre)
(Pressiwre)

Late-season Yankees-Red Sox series are usually rather important, and these three games this weekend are no different. Boston is fighting for the top spot in the AL East while the Bombers are trying to scratch their way back in the wildcard race, so these two clubs really aren’t in direct competition with each other in the standings. The Sawx have won two of three in each the three previous times these two teams have played this year.

What Have They Done Lately?
Manager John Farrell’s team lost their last two games, three of their last four, and five of their last seven. Despite that recent slide, Boston has gone 14-12 in the second half and they still atop the AL East with a 72-51 record and +103 run differential. Those are both the second best marks in the AL behind the Tigers.

Offense
At 5.0 runs per game with a team 111 wRC+, the Red Sox have one of the three best offenses in baseball. Aside from backup C David Ross (81 wRC+), who is out long-term with a concussion, and UTIL Brandon Snyder (68 wRC+), Farrell’s team is perfectly healthy on offense.

SHANF. (Presswire).
SHANF. (Presswire).

I think we’re all familiar with this lineup by now. CF Jacoby Ellsbury (112 wRC+) leads off, RF Shane Victorino (98 wRC+) bats second, 2B Dustin Pedroia (113 wRC+) bats third, and DH David Ortiz (160 wRC+) cleans up. 1B Mike Napoli (109 wRC+) typically bats fifth, but OF Jonny Gomes (109 wRC+) has been mashing of late and is seeing some time higher in the order. C Jarrod Saltalamacchia (112 wRC+) is the everyday backstop.

Beyond those seven, they’ve got 3B Will Middlebrooks (70 wRC+), OF Daniel Nava (119 wRC+), 1B/OF Mike Carp (151 wRC+ in limited time), and SS Stephen Drew (105 wRC+). C Ryan Lavarnway (90 wRC+) and IF Brock Holt (34 wRC+) fill out the bench at the moment. Boston’s offense is deep and powerful, there isn’t a single soft spot in the regular lineup outside of Middlebrooks.

Starting Pitching Matchups
If these pitching matchups look familiar, it’s because they’re exactly the same as the last time the Yankees visited Fenway Park, right after the All-Star break. Baseball is weird sometimes. You are forewarned: some of the following may have been copied and pasted.

Friday: LHP Andy Pettitte vs. LHP Felix Doubront
Doubront, 25, has a 3.66 ERA (3.44 FIP) in 21 starts and one relief appearance this year. His strikeout rate (8.09 K/9 and 20.8 K%) is down a touch from last year and his walk rate (3.87 BB/9 and 9.9 BB%) is unchanged, so his improvement is the result of more grounders (47.6%) and fewer homers (0.56 HR/9 and 6.7% HR/FB). That homer rate is perhaps unsustainably low given his home ballpark. Doubront will use low-90s two and four-seamers as well as a mid-to-upper-80s cutter to set up his mid-70 curveball and low-80s changeup. He doesn’t have much of a platoon split because his arsenal is so deep. The Yankees haven’t been able to touch Doubront since the start of the last season, and that includes two starts of at least six innings and no more than two runs earlier this year.

Lackey. (Bob Levey/Getty)
Lackey. (Bob Levey/Getty)

Saturday: RHP Hiroki Kuroda vs. RHP John Lackey
The 34-year-old Lackey has a brand new elbow following Tommy John surgery and the improvement is drastic. He’s got a 3.32 ERA (3.70 FIP) in 21 starts with strong peripherals: 8.32 K/9 (22.2 K%), 1.96 BB/9 (5.2 BB%), 1.22 HR/9 (14.3% HR/FB), and 49.5% grounders. The homers are an eyesore, but everything else looks good. Lackey is primarily a three-pitch pitcher, using his low-90s four-seamer, mid-to-upper-80s cutter, and upper-70s curveball more than 90% of the time combined. He will, however, mix in the rare low-90s two-seamer, mid-80s slider, and low-80s changeup. Like, one or two of each per start. Lackey has been around a while; the Yankees have seen him plenty over the years. They got to him for four runs in 6.1 innings last month.

Sunday: LHP CC Sabathia vs. RHP Ryan Dempster
Dempster, 36, has performed about as well as you’d expect an older, career NL pitcher moving into a hitter-friendly AL East park to perform. They can’t all be Kuroda. Dempster has a 4.50 ERA (4.68 FIP) in 24 starts with a real good strikeout rate (8.29 K/9 and 20.9 K%), but his walk (4.05 BB/9 and 10.2 BB%), homer (1.41 HR/9 and 13.8% HR/FB) , and ground ball (40.5%) numbers are all uninspiring. An upper-80s four-seamer and low-to-mid-80s slider are his top two pitches, but he’ll also mix in some upper-70s/low-80s splitters and mid-to-upper-80s cutters. The four-seamer and slider are clearly his go-to weapons, however. The Yankees seem to rough Dempster up each time they meet, and sure enough they got to him for five runs in 5.1 innings in July.

Koji. (Presswire)
Koji. (Presswire)

Bullpen Status
Farrell & Co. have had to overhaul most of their bullpen these last few weeks. RHP Koji Uehara (2.04 FIP) is still closing and both RHP Junichi Tazawa (3.33 FIP) and LHP Craig Breslow (3.50 FIP) are setting up, but otherwise there are a lot of new faces. LHP Drake Britton (3.27 FIP in limited time) and RHP Rubby De La Rosa (12.47 FIP in very limited time) are two live but young and inexperienced arms, as is de facto long man RHP Brandon Workman (5.31 FIP). He threw three innings on Wednesday and probably isn’t available tonight. LHP Franklin Morales (5.63 FIP in very limited time) just came off the DL to round out the seven-man relief crew.

Both Mariano Rivera and David Robertson are well-rested, but the rest of Joe Girardi‘s bullpen has been taxed of late. I suspect Adam Warren will be sent down to clear a 25-man roster spot for Mark Reynolds if his agreed-to deal is finalized today, leaving David Huff as the long man. Warren will be back as soon as rosters expand in two weeks. Check out our Bullpen Workload page for reliever usage details, then check out Over The Monster for the latest and greatest on the Sawx.