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Series Preview: Yankees vs. Red Sox

With nearly half of their Opening Day lineup out for the year, the Red Sox have been taking a look at rookies such as Daniel Nava, Lars Anderson, and Ryan Kalish. (AP)

So here's the deal: if the Yankees are going to win the division and/or secure homefield throughout the playoffs, they're going to have to do it by beating the Red Sox. It's not 1949, but it's something.

After playing seven times in the last two weeks, the Yankees and Rays decided nothing on their own, splitting this weeks' four-game set in the Bronx with the Rays taking four of those seven but still sitting in second place, a mere half game behind the Yankees and tied with them in losses. Meanwhile, the Twins continue their hot streak (16-4 on the month, an .800 wining percentage) and now lead the Yankees by a half game (one fewer loss) for the best record in baseball.

Jay tackled the Yankees' dwindling hopes for winning the division earlier today. As for this particular matchup, the Yanks and Sox split their most recent series at Fenway back in early August, while the Yankees hold a 7-5 lead in the season series thanks to their 4-2 advantage at Yankee Stadium. The last game between these two teams in the Bronx was on May 9. A lot has gone wrong for the Red Sox since then. Forty four percent of their Opening Day lineup is out for the year with injury and with rosters expanded, they've been trying to get good looks at some of their top hitting prospects including center fielder Ryan Kalish, first baseman Lars Anderson, and corner outfielder Josh Reddick. Still, you have to imagine the Sox will get their ire up to play spoiler to the Yankees, and that the veterans on the team as well as the manager and front office will relish the role as the one consolation for their disastrous season (a disastrous season, incidentally, in which they might still win 90 games, proof of just how strong this team was entering the season).

Andy Pettitte vs. Josh Beckett (Friday, September 24, 7:05, YES)

Pettitte picked up right where he left off in his return from the disabled list on Sunday. Andy held the Orioles to one run on three singles and a walk in six innings and needed just 79 pitches to do it. Look for him to get his pitch count up past 90 tonight as he's effectively in Stage Two of his rehab in what is the second of three warmup starts for the postseason.

It's ironic that the Red Sox worked to tighten their defense over the offseason only to watch their big-money righty have his worst season because of bad luck on balls in play. Beckett, who has had a career-high .342 BABIP this season, also missed more than two months due to back problems, but that sort of thing has been par for the course with this year's Red Sox team. Beckett has gone 4-4 with a 4.67 ERA and a .330 BABIP since returning in late July, including a seven-run drubbing at the hands of the Yankees in early August, but has been more effective of late and enters tonight's game with an active streak of five quality starts during which he has posted a 3.31 ERA despite a still-alarming .340 BABIP.

The weekend's pitching matchups, analysis, and Red Sox roster after the jump . . .

Ivan Nova vs. Jon Lester (Saturday, September 25, 4:10, FOX)

About a decade ago, the Yankees had a young pitcher with eight letters in his name who consistently impressed for the first four or five innings, but always seemed to run into trouble in the sixth. They traded him for Jeff Weaver in the middle of his age-26 season. In eight and a half seasons since then, he has won 103 games while posting a 4.09 ERA and twice making the All-Star team. I'm guessing the Yankees would be pleased if Ivan Nova turned into the next Ted Lilly. For now, the team has gone 5-1 in his six starts, thanks in part to Joe Girardi's quick hook in all but one of them. At the same time, Nova has had just start in which he has completed six innings, thrown 90 pitches, or turned in a quality start. His pitching in the early innings continues to impress and suggest that he does have a future as a major league starter, but for that to happen, he'll eventually have be able to get through a lineup a third time with some reliability.

I wrote about this in my Awards Watch column, but, unless you think the writers are actually going to give it to Felix Hernandez, Jon Lester could sneak up and swipe the Cy Young award if he wins his last two starts of the season. Those two wins would give him 20 0n the season. If he pitches well enough to win those two games, he could well drop his ERA below 3.00 (it's at 3.06 entering this series), and he already has 212 strikeouts and, with Brandon Morrow having been shut down shy of qualification, is leading the AL in strikeouts per nine innings. Lester seemed to be well on his way to the Cy Young award midseason, but ran into a rough patch coming out of the All-Star break. Still, he had four straight starts with ten or more strikeouts prior to his last, is 7-2 with a 3.09 ERA over his last nine starts, 5-0 with a 2.12 ERA and 46 strikeouts in 34 innings over his last five, and 3-0 with a 1.29 ERA in his last three. Lester tossed 6 1/2 shutout innings in the Bronx the last time he faced the Yankees and held them to two runs in seven innings with seven Ks the last time he faced them at Fenway.

Dustin Moseley vs. Daisuke Matsuzaka (Sunday, September 8:05, ESPN)

The Yankees have pushed Phil Hughes to Wednesday in order to honor his innings limit. Dustin Moseley will start in his place on Sunday. Moseley's last start was September 12 and he has appeared out of the bullpen just once since then (allowing a solo home run to Dan Johnson in 1 1/3 innings in Wednesday night's rain-delayed debacle against the Rays). Moseley's big Yankee moment was a quality start win at home against the Red Sox on August 8. In general, he'll keep the team in the game, but they'll have to put up five or more runs and get some solid work out of their bullpen to actually win behind him. Also home runs . . . duck.

After some adventures in BABIP fluctuation over the past two years (2008: .260 BABIP, 2.90 ERA, 18-3; 2009: .382 BABIP, 5.76 ERA, 4-6) Matsuzaka has had average results on balls in play this year. If that means this is the real Daisuke, he's a massive disappointment as he's posted a 4.86 ERA and has missed more than a month due to injury (neck and back pain cost him April, a forearm strain in June put him on the DL for the minimum 15 days, and he skipped a start at the end of August due to more back problems). Perhaps most problematically, Matsuzaka just walks too many men.  After four seasons, he has a major league walk rate of 4.3 walks per nine innings and he's almost exactly matched that this year. Add in the fact that when the first four years of his six-year deal are in the books, he'll have made thirty starts in a season just once and the Red Sox must be eager for his contract to expire at this point. He has faced the Yankees just once this season, in May, and gave up seven runs in 4 2/3 innings.

Boston Red Sox

2010 Record: 84-68 (.553)
2010 Pythagorean Record: 83-69 (.546)

Manager: Terry Francona
General Manager: Theo Epstein

Home Ballpark: Fenway Park

Bill James Park Indexes (2007-2009):
LH Avg-108, LH HR-85
RH Avg-107, RH HR-95

25-man roster:

1B - Mike Lowell (R)
2B - Marco Scutaro (R)
SS - Jed Lowrie (S)
3B - Adrian Beltre (R)
C - Victor Martinez (S)
RF - J.D. Drew (L)
CF - Ryan Kalish (L)
LF - Bill Hall (R)
DH - David Ortiz (L)


L - Lars Anderson (1B)
S - Jason Varitek (C)
S - Daniel Nava (OF)
L - Josh Reddick (OF)
R - Darnell McDonald (OF)
L - Eric Patterson (OF/2B)
R - Yamaico Navarro (SS)
S - Jarrod Saltalamacchia (C)
R - Kevin Cash (C)


L - Jon Lester
R - Daisuke Matsuzaka
R - Clay Buchholz
R - John Lackey
R - Josh Beckett


R - Jon Papelbon
R - Daniel Bard
L - Hideki Okajima
R - Tim Wakefield
R - Scott Atchison
R - Robert Manuel
L - Dustin Richardson
R - Michael Bowden
R - Robert Coello
L - Rich Hill
R - Matt Fox

15-day DL:

2B - Dustin Pedroia (foot surgery)
OF - Jacoby Ellsbury (broken ribs)

60-day DL:

1B - Kevin Youkilis (right thumb surgery)
CF - Mike Cameron (abdominal surgery)
RHP - Junichi Tazawa (Tommy John surgery)

Typical Lineup:

R - Marco Scutaro (2B)
L - J.D. Drew (RF)
S - Victor Martinez (C)
L - David Ortiz (DH)
R - Adrian Beltre (3B)
R - Mike Lowell (1B)
S - Jed Lowrie (SS)
R - Bill Hall (LF)
L - Ryan Kalish (CF)