It's felt like an eternity since I was pleased with the way a series against the Boston Red Sox turned out. In the first twelve meetings of this season, the New York Yankees have been outscored 75-46 by Boston and have compiled merely two wins. Two wins... in twelve games.
Wait a second, this is the same Yankee team that has, by far, the second best record in the American League? The same baseball squad that has outscored the rest of major league baseball with 722 runs in 132 games? The same team that has out-slugged the entire league handily when it comes to the long ball (187 vs. Boston's 166, good for second in baseball)?
Heck, the Yankees pitching hasn't even been a major issue over the course of the season. The bullpen has actually proven to be a major strength of this club. We've witnessed Rafael Soriano bounce back from a shaky beginning of his Yankee career, David Robertson rise to the occasion time after time, and Mariano Rivera continue to do what he's best at. Luis Ayala and Boone Logan have even been respectable or, dare I say it, better than expected.
The starting rotation has seen a number of injuries (Phil Hughes, Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia), yet has spoiled Yankee fans thus far. Nobody expected the Yankees to have so many options out of the rotation coming into 2011. CC Sabathia has dominated everyone other than the Red Sox, Ivan Nova has been a rock when he's actually at the ML level, Bartolo Colon is racking up the innings but remains solid, and Freddy Garcia has gone above and beyond what's been asked of him. Phil Hughes has been a bit inconsistent, whereas A.J. Burnett has been consistently poor.
Total this all up, and we've got a team that seems like a first place team. While this series may not be very important in terms of making the playoffs, it certainly is important if the Yankees wish to make a run at the AL East title.
Unfortunately, a few key injuries could yet again make a difference in this series. Alex Rodrigez and Derek Jeter are listed as day-to-day with a jammed thumb and bruised knee, respectively. If the left side of the infield is indeed out tonight, and perhaps further along in this series, that would be a tremendous loss for New York.
Jeter has been one of the hottest hitters in baseball recently. Since July 5, Jeter has gone 65-183 (.355), tallied a .408 OBP, and even smacked 16 extra-base hits. Rodriguez, despite a slow start coming off the disabled list (3-17, .263 OBP and one home run), still has tremendous presence in the middle of the Yankee lineup and provides protection for Mark Teixeira. Rodriguez also remains one of the top-tier, elite hitters in the game when fully healthy.
For Boston, Kevin Youkilis just hit the disabled list with a back injury and he'll be sorely missed on their side. Playing in the shadow of Dustin Pedroia, Adrian Gonzalez and Jacoby Ellsbury, he's put together a .380 OBP over the course of the season with 30 doubles and 17 home runs as well.
What's most concerning when I take a look at the upcoming series is the pitching matchups. John Lackey vs. CC Sabathia seems to heavily favor the Yankees, but Sabathia has been knocked around hard against Boston in four starts. Josh Beckett and Jon Lester pitch in the final two games and, needless to say, are a scary one-two punch. Even scarier when Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett are opposing them. Now would be a real good time for Hughes to get amped and throw how he's capable of. As for Burnett, I don't really have any diagnosis for him. He's simply not a good pitcher anymore.
Here's to what's sure to be a crazy series of baseball. Red Sox and Yankees, round five of six starts tonight at 7:05 EST.