Having split the home-and-home series in Philly, the Boston Red Sox (33-22, first place in the AL East, 2 games ahead) head north to the Bronx for a weekend series with the New York Yankees (30-23, second place in the AL East, 2 games back). The Red Sox are 6-4 in their last 10 games and won their last game, while the Yankees are 3-7 in their last 10 games and lost their last five games in a row.
CC Sabathia (versus Jon Lester) is not pitching like the ace of the Yankee staff in 2013. Don’t get me wrong, his line (3.96 ERA/4.10 FIP/3.76 xFIP, minus line of 93 ERA-, 98 FIP-, 92 xFIP-) isn’t terrible. But it’s closer to an average pitcher than Sabathia has been since 2002. Most notably, Sabathia has lost about 2 miles an hour on most of his pitches as compared to 2012. While Sabathia is walking batters at the same rate as in 2012 (1.98 per nine innings), his strikeouts per nine is down to 7.56 per nine innings (8.87 in 2012) and his ground ball rate is down to 41.9% (his second lowest rate in his career). Concomitantly, his HR/FB rate is 13.3%, the highest rate of his career. After 2,637 innings pitched in the majors in 13 seasons, Sabathia could be breaking down. I won’t say it’s the twilight of his career, as the Red Sox paid dearly the last time that was said.
Phil Hughes (facing Felix Doubront), once touted as an ace, is just an innings eater at this point in his career. Hughes’s 2013 pitching line of 4.97 ERA/4.70 FIP/4.25 xFIP (minus line of 116 ERA-/112 FIP-/104 xFIP-) is below average. His .319 BABIP shows a touch of bad luck but not a whole lot of it. If you look at PITCHf/x linear weights for Hughes, you’ll see how ineffective he’s been. His wFA (fastball runs above average) is -6.5 (which is below average), his wCU (curveball runs above average) is -0.4, and his wCH (changeup runs above average) is -2.5. Hughes is only having success with his slider (wSL of +2.2). Sit on the fastball, Sox!
Hiroki Kuroda (against Clay Buchholz – hopefully – in Sunday night’s finale) is the new ace of the Yankee staff. The only negative that can be said about Kuroda in 2013 is that he is striking out fewer batters (6.12 per nine innings) than at any point in his American career since his rookie year of 2008. This will explain why Kuroda’s FIP of 3.37 is almost a run over his ERA of 2.39 (FIP likes strikeouts). However, Kuroda’s walk rate is a low 1.83, his strand rate is an excellent 82.5%, his batting average against is an insanely low .214, his WHIP is 1.00, and he’s only surrendered five homers in 67.2 innings pitched (6.9% per fly ball). Oh, what could have been.
EXPECTED LINEUP (based on games in Boston)
WHO’S HOT/WHO’S NOT
In the last two weeks, the hot hitters for the Yankees were Robinson Cano (.289/.385/.556, .394 wOBA, 146 wRC, 4 homers) and Brett Gardner (.295/.354/.568, .392 wOBA, 145 wRC). Also worth a mention was Brennan Boesch (.625/.625/1.125, .748 wOBA, 385 wRC), who got on a hot streak in limited action. On the other side of the ledger, Chris Stewart (.214/.214/.214, .189 wOBA, 8 wRC), Vernon Wells (.136/.136/.182, .138 wOBA, -27 wRC), Austin Romine (.130/.130/.174, .132 wOBA, -31 wRC) and Reid Brignac (.059/.059/.059, .052 wOBA, -84 wRC) were ice cold (and, as for Vernon Wells, it’s about time).
The bullpen has been a strength for the Yankees this season. In the last two weeks, Boone Logan (0.00 ERA/0.36 FIP/0.79 xFIP, .375 BABIP), Joba Chamberlain (0.00 ERA/-1.44 FIP/-1.44 xFIP, .500 BABIP), Preston Claiborne (1.17 ERA/2.93 FIP/2.73 xFIP, .158 BABIP) and Ivan Nova (1.50 ERA/1.40 FIP/2.59 xFIP, .417 BABIP) have pitched especially well. Nobody in the New York bullpen was bad enough to be noted (darn it).
I’d like to make a special note about Mariano Rivera. Rivera had his first blown save of the season on Tuesday against the Mets. It was his first career blown save (in 700 regular-season save opportunities, 747 if you count the post-season) in which he did not retire a hitter. But other than that appearance, he has been as good as he has ever been in 2013. Giving his two-week trailing stats alone (4.50 ERA/0.06 FIP/0.06 xFIP, .500 BABIP), as I usually do, would be a disservice to Rivera. Instead, let’s focus on his full-season stats: 1.86 ERA/2.55 FIP/3.28 xFIP, .286 BABIP, 7.45 K/9, 0.93 BB/9 (second best walk rate of his career) and 18 saves in 19 save opportunities. It’s astounding. In some ways, Rivera is pitching as well as he ever has, and he’s 43 years old. Mariano Rivera is the best closer this sport has ever seen.
AND NOW FOR A MUSICAL INTERLUDE
LHP Cesar Cabral (stress fracture in left elbow, placed on the 60-day DL on March 26), C Francisco Cervelli (fractured right hand, placed on 15-day DL on April 27, transferred to the 60-day DL on May 1), CF Curtis Granderson (fractured left hand, placed on the 15-day DL on May 25), SS Derek Jeter (crack in left ankle, placed on the 15-day DL on March 31, retroactive to March 22, transferred to the 60-day DL on April 27), SS Eduardo Nunez (sore left ribcage, placed on the 15-day DL on May 12, retroactive to May 6), LHP Andy Pettitte (strained trapezius muscle, placed on the 15-day DL on May 17), RHP Michael Pineda (right anterior labral tear, placed on the 60-day DL on March 16) and 3B Alex Rodriguez (right hip, placed on the 60-day DL on February 13). Also, 1B Mark Teixeira (partially torn tendon in right wrist, placed on the 15-day DL on March 31, retroactive to March 22, transferred to the May 12) and 3B Kevin Youkilis (lumbar spine sprain, placed on the 15-day DL on April 30, retroactive to April 28) are expected to be activated from the disabled list for this series.
AND WHAT ABOUT THE RED SOX?
In the last two weeks, David Ortiz (.354/.466/.646, .469 wOBA, 194 wRC), Jose Iglesias (.391/.423/.522, .404 wOBA, 150 wRC, he just hates Pawtucket, I guess), Daniel Nava (.314/.429/.451, .390 wOBA, 141 wRC), Jacoby Ellsbury (.333/.410/.444, .372 wOBA, 129 wRC, 9 steals – it’s about time, Jacoby!), Dustin Pedroia (.296/.371/.481, .369 wOBA, 127 wRC) and Mike Napoli (.279/.426/.372, .366 wOBA, 125 wRC) were the hot hitters for the Red Sox. However, Stephen Drew (.167/.333/.278, .279 wOBA, 67 wRC), Mike Carp (.160/.192/.360, .237 wOBA, 38 wRC) and Pedro Ciriaco (.235/.235/.294, .230 wOBA, 33 wRC) need to eat their Wheaties, perhaps from a communal bowl.
In the Red Sox bullpen, only the since-demoted-to-Pawtucket Alfredo Aceves (0.00 ERA/1.06 FIP/2.49 xFIP, .333 BABIP) qualified for the Blutarsky ERA Award. (Sure, it was only one inning but we’ll still deliver the trophy to Pawtucket.) Craig Breslow (1.13 ERA/3.19 FIP/4.08 xFIP, .227 BABIP), Andrew Miller (1.42 ERA/2.59 FIP/1.44 xFIP, .273 BABIP), Koji Uehara (1.69 ERA/3.06 FIP/2.76 xFIP, .273 BABIP) and Junichi Tazawa (1.80 ERA/2.46 FIP/0.15 xFIP, .462 BABIP) also excelled. However, Clayton Mortensen (9.53 ERA/6.24 FIP/8.50 xFIP, .320 BABIP, 0.00 K/9, 7.94 BB/9) is stuck in a funk, and not the good P-Funk kind.
This is an important series for both teams. The Red Sox could solidify their hold on first place in the AL East with a sweep, and a Yankee sweep could signal their intent to stay near the top in what was thought to be a lost season due to injuries.