|Flip Flop Fly Ball|
The Red Sox start a 4 game series tonight against the Yankees, capping off a tough second half of the season. Buster Olney pointed out in a tweet this morning that Boston’s next 23 games are against teams with a record over .500, and 63 of their last 80 games are against winning teams. We will also be treated with 16 hard-fought, slow-paced games from now until the end of the season against New York. As always, these games against the division rivals will be pivotal in shaping how the Red Sox finish in the standings at the end of the year. After going 2-5 on their West Coast swing, Boston needs a strong series this weekend as much as ever.
Friday’s game will see a matchup between Hiroki Kuroda and Josh Beckett. Kuroda is having a great year for the Yankees with 8 wins and a 3.17 ERA; he has a 1.85 ERA in his last 5 starts. There is some good news for the Sox though: Kuroda’s ERA on the road this season is 1.5 runs higher, and he has struggled against lefties. This will be an important game for Beckett, as he starts his 2nd game after coming off of the DL, and only his 5 since May. The bullpens will be as important as ever in a 4 game series against a team that takes a lot of pitches, especially with a double-header on Saturday. If Beckett can go deep into the game tonight then it will set the Sox up well for the rest of the series, but he if struggles early then it could mean trouble tomorrow and Sunday.
Phil Hughes and Franklin Morales will square off in the first game on Saturday, one that should favor the Sox. Hughes has been inconsistent all season with a 4.29 ERA and in 23 career innings at Fenway he has allowed 23 runs. The absence of Pedroia – and potentially Middlebrooks – Will Hurt, because righties have hit .333 against Hughes this season (lefties are only batting .201 against him). Morales has been the Sox hottest pitcher, so this will be a very important game for him, as well as for the team. If he can produces like he has in his previous starts with the Sox, it will convince many people that he is the real deal.
Saturday evening’s game is really a toss-up. Freddy Garcia was terrible in 5 starts in April, but has had a 1.56 ERA in 17.1 relief innings since. He last started on Monday with mediocre results, so we will see whether the Yankees can rely on him to start for them – in Fenway no less, where he has a 5.05 career ERA in 9 starts. Doubront is another wildcard, as he has been effective in some starts, but has really struggled lately. In his last start he couldn’t get out of the 5th inning (despite giving up only 1 run) because he walked 5 batters and got his pitch count up early. Fenway has not been kind to him this season (5.86 ERA in 8 starts), so expect this game to be high scoring.
Sunday’s matchup is against the Yankees’ Ivan Nova and Boston’s Jon Lester. Nova has a 4.05 ERA on the season with a 9-3 record. He has rebounded from a tough start and has been dominant lately with a 1.73 ERA in his past 6 appearances. Lester has been a disappointment this season; a 4.33 ERA and 5-5 record won’t cut it as a team’s ace. He is coming off of a very strong start, so let’s hope that he can build off of that and pitch the Sox to victory in the 4th game.
All four games have pretty even matchups, which means that the overall edge should go to the Yankees because they have been the better team so far this season. However, the Sox are batting .278 at home this season and the Yankees are only batting .258 on the road. The Yankees’ starters have the lowest ERA over the past 30 days, but the Sox’ have the lowest ERA among relievers over that time. This series will be determined by who can score early and get to the bullpens first. I’m predicting the Sox win Friday, Saturday in the day, and Sunday night – gaining 2 games on the 1st place team in a weekend would certainly help.
Lastly, a little food for thought. The Sox are currently 7.5 games back from the Yankees. Eight years ago today, the Sox were 7 games back from the Yankees. 18 days later they were 8.5 games back. Then this happened.
And a couple months later, this happened.