NEW YORK, NY: Eric Chavez #12 of the New York Yankees follows through on a third inning RBI single against the Texas Rangers at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
It's the Red Sox and Yankees, in August! Except the Red Sox are under .500, and the Yankees are pretty sure they're going to win the division. Still, though! Let's muster up some energy for this whole thing, as it might be the first real stress-free Sox/Yanks tilt in a long time.
What, watching the Red Sox have their season either confirmed as over or allowed to live that much longer isn't doing it for you? Well, how about this:
- At-bats for Ryan Lavarnway, and time behind the plate, now that Kelly Shoppach has been dealt.
- Franklin Morales is in the rotation, and the lefty will face a foe he'll need to get used to this weekend.
- Jon Lester is starting to look like he's back, and just in time, as he'll face the Yankees for the second time in five starts.
- CC Sabathia is out, so Boston won't need to deal with that whole elite pitcher thing.
Hey, it's not everything, but at least for the first three, there are some legitimate 2013-centric things to watch out for.
Game 1: Phil Hughes (135-2/3 IP, 3.6 K/BB, 95 ERA+) vs. Franklin Morales (68-1/3 IP, 2.6 K/BB, 134 ERA+)
Game 2: David Phelps (57 IP, 3.0 K/BB, 168 ERA+) vs. Jon Lester (147 IP, 2.9 K/BB, 84 ERA+)
Phil Hughes is having kind of a weird season. His K/BB is pretty good, but his strikeout rate is just a bit above average, and he's throwing 66 percent strikes. All good, but not that great, and you'd expect more than that with his low walk rate. He's also giving up 1.8 homers per nine, or 27 in his 135 frames. Just in case you were wondering why his ERA+ is what it is. He'll be facing Morales, who is trying to make a case for always starting.
David Phelps is in for CC Sabathia, and he did well last time out in his spot start. He was on a limited pitch count as they stretch him out, but it's not as if he faced a weak or impatient lineup last time out in Texas. He's had limited time as a starter this year, but has been effective in those instances, punching out 9.5 per nine. Boston's lineup will be a test for him, but if what he's shown in his rookie season is any indication, he's capable of dealing with it. Phelps will take on Lester, who as mentioned above, has been turning things around.
Last, we'v got Hiroki Kuroda against Josh Beckett. This is about the time in the year where you wonder which is worse, or which is preferable: Kuroda didn't want to come to Boston, or Boston didn't try hard enough to lure him here. There's a little bit of hindsight at play here, since, aside from Daniel Bard, the guys Boston bet on for the back-end of the rotation have delivered. But it's hard to see Kuroda do so well for the Yankees when Lester and Beckett, the two who were supposed to be reliable, struggle.
The Yankees have Eric Chavez at third, but thankfully, with lefties on the mound, the left-hander has had issues. Against right-handers, he's been a beast, so uh, sorry Beckett. We've already seen Ichiro in pinstripes, even if it's still a bit jarring. But nothing else is particularly new here, given Boston faced the Yanks just a few weeks back.
The Red Sox are still without David Ortiz, Ryan Lavarnway is up, Kelly Shoppach is gone, and there will be no Clay Buchholz to save the day this weekend. That's about the long and short of it, as Boston attempts to get back to -- or at least keep from falling further under -- .500 on the year.
There's still plenty of time left mathematically for the Red Sox to go on the run they need to -- 6-1/2 games out of a wild card spot isn't that far on August 17 -- but the longer it takes them to start this run, the harder it becomes to think it's going to happen. A series sweep of the Yankees would go a long way towards that goal, but, sans Ortiz and Will Middlebrooks, and with the suddenly awful iteration of Beckett around, betting on that is just a tad crazy.