Friday, July 25, 2008

Yanks invade Fenway

This weekend is the good stuff about being a baseball fan, as the Yankees and Red Sox begin a key three-game series tonight at Fenway Park. Let's take a closer look at the matchup in Beantown.

"We're going streaking!"

The Yankees have won six straight games, securing back-to-back sweeps over two teams they began the second half looking up at in the American League Wild Card standings. The Red Sox started the second half on the opposite note, getting swept by the Angels before righting themselves with a sweep of the pathetic Mariners.

Call it the unstoppable force meeting the immovable object

The Yankees may be baseball's hottest team, but the Red Sox have been nearly unbeatable at home in '08. Boston enters tonight's action with a 36-11 mark at Fenway, the best home record in the game. From a historical standpoint, the 1932 Yankees (62-15, .805) and '61 Yanks (65-16, .802) are the two greatest kings of their backyard.

It's all about pitching

The matchups for this weekend:

Friday: RHP Joba Chamberlain (2-3, 2.52) vs. RHP Josh Beckett (9-6, 3.98), 7:05, My9

Saturday: LHP Andy Pettitte (11-7, 3.86) vs. RHP Tim Wakefield (6-7, 3.69), 3:55, FOX

Sunday: RHP Sidney Ponson (6-1, 4.02) vs. LHP John Lester (8-3, 3.20), 8:05, ESPN

Tonight could be a glimpse at a future rivalry between an established young ace and a phenom heading in that direction. Joba will need to keep his emotions in check in the early-going tonight, but with 17 K's and one walk in his last two starts you get the feeling he's getting the hang of this starting thing. Beckett got off to a slow start this season, but has turned it on as the weather has warmed up. He's coming off a tough complete-game loss against the Angels in his previous start.

Potential X-factors


Robinson Cano has been on fire since the All-Star break, going 14-for-27 to bump his average up 19 points to .265. He has two homers, seven RBIs and five runs in that span. He's been the missing link in this offense all season, so the correlation to his production and Yankees wins is hardly coincidence.

The Yankees bullpen has improbably -- impossibly, even -- become a strong suit. Since July 4, Kyle Farnsworth and Edwar Ramirez have combined for 11 1/3 innings of no-hit relief, David Robertson is 2-0 with a 1.42 ERA and closer Mariano Rivera is 2-0 and 3-for-3 in save opportunities. The Yanks are 11-3 in that span and 10-0 at home.


David Ortiz is back. Big Papi wrapped up a successful Minor League rehab stint and is scheduled to be in the lineup tonight. It will be Ortiz's first game action since May 31, when the slugger partially tore a tendon sheath in his left wrist while swinging in Baltimore. Ortiz is a notorious Yankee killer who forms with Manny Ramirez the most feared back-to-back presence in the league.

I worked the Red Sox-Mariners finale for on Wednesday, and I can tell you that Justin Masterson could give the Yankees fits. The hard-throwing side-armer was dominant in his first relief outing of the season, and he could prove to be a dangerous setup weapon alongside Hideki Okajima. Masterson started against the Yanks on July 5, allowing two runs over six innings.

How important is this series?

In the big picture, it's still relatively early. But with Tampa Bay looking vulnerable, you get the feeling both teams sense the time to move is now. Boston has taken five of the first nine meetings, with the teams splitting a four-game set in the Bronx in their last meeting over July 4 weekend. Starting tonight, there are nine games remaining between the rivals, including a three-game set at Fenway to close out the regular season. Yikes.

Who will win the series?

The Yankees, of course. Let's say two-out-of-three.

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