Feels like it's been forever since you've read that headline. That's because the last time the Red Sox faced New York, it was still April, and they only fit in two of the three games. Originally, with the way Boston was playing, having the final game of that three-game set postponed until July was a blessing. But, with Will Middlebrooks not back yet, Dustin Pedroia on the disabled list, and Felix Doubront having some trouble in the rotation as of late, early July isn't feeling great for a four-game series against the Yankees, either.
That being said, Boston's bullpen was a major cause of the problems against the Yanks last time around, instead of the mostly-dominant force it's been in the months since, and Clay Buchholz, were he here, isn't in the same homer-allowing funk he was in back in April. It's a different team in positive ways, too, even if it's easier to grouse about the negative.
That being said, this isn't going to be as easy as Sox fans would like it to be, even if New York's depleted rotation is starting to look like Boston's lineup.
Game 1: Hiroki Kuroda (102-1/3 IP, 2.6 K/BB, 134 ERA+) vs. Josh Beckett (84-1/3 IP, 3.0 K/BB, 106 ERA+)
Game 2: Phil Hughes (94-1/3 IP, 4.1 K/BB, 98 ERA+) vs. Franklin Morales (43 IP, 4.2 K/BB, 177 ERA+)
Game 3: Freddy Garcia (36-1/3 IP, 3.4 K/BB, 72 ERA+) vs. Felix Doubront (89-2/3 IP, 2.7 K/BB, 98 ERA+)
Game 4: Ivan Nova (104-1/3 IP, 2.9 K/BB, 104 ERA+) vs. Jon Lester (108 IP, 3.1 K/BB, 99 ERA+)
Three of the four of these games are obvious candidates for well-pitched outings, starting with the series opener of Hiroki Kuroda against Josh Beckett. The latter went six innings, giving up just two runs while punching out four, against the Mariners in his first start back from the disabled list. Kuroda just wrapped up a June in which he posted a 1.98 ERA over 41 innings, thanks to whiffing over a batter per inning, while also limiting his walks.
Hughes hasn't been great, but he's been average, and, most importantly for a Yankees team dealing with injuries in the rotation, available. Like Kuroda, Hughes is coming off of an impressive June, one in which has carried over into July: in his last six starts, Hughes has punched out 40 in 41 innings, while allowing just 12 runs and nine walks. That being said, he's also given up seven homers in that stretch, so while he's been good, he's probably been a little lucky, too.
He'll take on Morales, who is pitching well enough that he might just be Boston's top starter right now. While that sounds insulting, it mostly has to do with just how ridiculously good Morales has been in 2012. Look at those numbers again. The only thing that's worrisome is the inning total -- he has to keep producing for it to be believable, and this potent Bombers lineup is his first significant challenge as a starter.
Felix Doubront has had problems with the long ball as of late, but he'll be taking on Freddy Garcia, who earlier in the season lost his rotation job. This, my friends, is the one of four that sticks out, but just because it's baseball we're talking about, watch this become the lowest-scoring of the bunch.
In the series' conclusion, we get Ivan Nova, who has followed up his solid 2011 campaign well in 2012, against Jon Lester, who is coming together in basically every way that doesn't involve his ERA. That strikeout rate is climbing, the walks are back down to a level where his K/BB looks a lot like the ratios from his successful campaigns, and he's keeping the ball in the park, but the ERA just hasn't come down yet. Give it time, either for his runs to start dropping, or to realize that the walks are down, strikeouts are up, and his ERA is up because he's in -- wait for it -- the danger zone.
Middlebrooks will supposedly be back this weekend, but Boston's lineup still won't be whole with Dustin Pedroia out, and the various outfielders still on rehab assignments in Pawtucket. That gives the offensive advantage to the Yankees in this series, but, between the pitching matchups and the bullpen, Boston isn't totally helpless here, either.
This is an important series, given it's July, before the All-Star break and trade deadline, and against a major divisional opponent. The year isn't over if things don't go well -- as Red Sox fans should know, July standings don't guarantee you anything -- but perspectives will be much more bleak on Monday with anything less than a split.