The Red Sox were lucky enough to put another game of separation between themselves and the Yankees going into this weekend’s series. They come into the series hot, having won both of their last two games in the 7th inning or later against what was the American League’s best bullpen according to ERA going into the series. The Yankees on the other hand, come stumbling into the series, having not won a game in over a week. There will be no place for excuses this time. All three of the Yankees starters, Andy Pettitte, Jeff Karstens and Chien-Ming Wang would be starters for the team even if their rotation was in perfect health. It is the Red Sox on the other hand who will have to pitch a backup starter while Jon Lester continues to rehab in AAA. The Yankees are likely to have a healthier lineup as well as Coco Crisp may miss the entire series. There is still much confusion as to what exactly is wrong with Crisp’s oblique and whether or not it will cause him to go on the disabled list. Heck, the Yankees even have clear advantages in 2 out of the 3 pitching match ups. Other than the difference in play between the two teams, almost every aspect of this series appears to be tilted in favor of the Yankees. Even so, it’s hard to be worried. Even if the Red Sox do get swept, they’ll still maintain their first place standing in the American League. Furthermore, the bad rotation match ups in this series only mean better match ups in the next one. Starting Monday, the top of the Red Sox rotation will go up against Oakland and Seattle while the bottom of the Yankees rotation will be headed to Texas. If the Red Sox manage to win this series on the other hand, New York fans will need the creativity of a kindergartener to come up with excuses this time.
Friday, April 27th – Daisuke Matsuzaka, (2-2, 4.00) vs. Andy Pettitte, (1-0, 1.78)
Matsuzaka will go for the major league lead in strikeouts on Friday. He will need 8 to tie Johan Santana’s 39 and 9 strikeouts to pass it. On April 17th, Matsuzaka became the first pitcher since Fernando Valenzuela to have double-digit strikeout games in 2 of his first 3 games in the majors. Last time Matsuzaka faced the Yankees he struck out 7. In Matsuzaka’s only start against the Yankees so far he pitched 7 innings allowing 8 hits and 6 runs. This Friday however, Matsuzaka will be pitching on the road where he has an ERA of 2.08, WHIP of 1.00 and BAA of .196 compared to an ERA of 5.79 at Fenway Park. It will again be interesting to see how he does against baseball’s best offense.
Andy Pettitte will make his fifth start of the season on extra rest. Pettitte typically pitches very well against the Red Sox. Over his career he’s gone 13-5 with a 2.98 ERA, 1.26 WHIP and .259 BAA. Even so, a shaky Yankees bullpen has blown a lead for him in each of his last 3 seasons. If this game does come down to the bullpens, the Red Sox, who lead the league in bullpen ERA, would have a clear advantage.
Saturday, April 28th – Tim Wakefield, (2-2, 2.08) vs. Jeff Karstens, (0-1, 14.54)
While this is the most uneven pitching match up of the series, it is also the only one that favors the Red Sox. Tim Wakefield, who has yet to fail at making a quality start this season, will pitch in Yankee Stadium where he historically does rather well. While Wakefield is 9-13 lifetime against the Yankees, with a 4.60 ERA, Yankee Stadium appears to be made for his knuckleball and the long fly outs it sometimes causes. In over 85 career innings at Yankee Stadium, Wakefield has an ERA of 3.15, WHIP of 1.28 and BAA of .206.
The Yankees have opted to skip their $45 million Japanese import. Instead, they will go with Jeff Karstens who in his only start this season failed to get out of the 5th inning while allowing 9 hits and 7 runs to the Red Sox. Karstens has only 7 career starts but I suppose he’s a better option than Kei Igawa or Chase Wright.
Sunday, April 29th – Julian Tavarez, RHP (0-2, 8.36) vs. Chien-Ming Wang, (0-1, 5.68)
Julian Tavarez has put on a clinic of bad pitching in his time with the Red Sox. In 8 games, Tavarez is 1-1 at Yankee Stadium with a 3.00 ERA, 1.50 WHIP and .267 BAA. He’s pitched horribly this season however and things could get ugly quickly against the best offense in baseball. Tavarez is likely to get rather upset if they do. He has a reputation as one of the more emotional pitchers in the game and a propensity to throw at batters.
Chien-Ming Wang didn’t look sharp in his season debut. Coming off the disabled list he allowed 9 hits and 4 runs in 6.1 innings of work. Sunday’s start is unlikely to provide him a chance to become reacquainted with the majors. Wang typically doesn’t pitch very well against the Red Sox. In over 40 career innings, he’s gone 2-3 with a 4.91 ERA, 1.69 WHIP and .304 BAA. He typically gets overexcited and leaves the ball up, allowing his bread and butter sinker to become rather hittable. Fortunately for him, he’ll only have to out pitch Julian Tavarez.