This weekend, the Red Sox and Yankees renew their rivalry with a three-game set at Fenway Park, New York’s first visit to Boston this season. The Yankees are truly having a remarkable season (51-44, 6.0 GB in the AL East) when you consider the injuries to Mark Teixeira (wrist surgery), Curtis Granderson (fractured knuckle), Alex Rodriguez (right hip), Kevin Youkilis (herniated disc), and Derek Jeter–again (grade 1 quad strain). Still, the Yanks have lost 4 of 6 to the Red Sox in two series in the Bronx already, and they must now face a Green Monster Gang that is 31-16 (.660) at home. The pitching matchups in this series are particularly interesting, with Andy Pettitte facing off against Felix Doubront tonight, followed by Hiroki Kuroda and John Lackey on Saturday, and finally a marquee matchup of C.C. Sabathia and Jon Lester Sunday night on ESPN.
Consider tonight’s matchup of Pettitte (7-6, 4.39) and Doubront (6-3, 3.91), specifically the last five starts for each pitcher:
Starter A: 2-0 W-L, 33.0 IP, 22 H, 8 R (7 ER), 11 BB, 25 SO, 1.91 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, .188 BAA, 4 of 5 QS
Starter B: 2-2 W-L, 30.0 IP, 38 H, 21 R (18 ER), 8 BB, 19 SO, 5.40 ERA, 1.53 WHIP, .306 BAA, 3+ ER ea.
The casual fan might assume that the man with the most starts, innings pitched, and wins in MLB postseason history (Pettitte) would be the one with the better numbers, and in any other season, they might be right. But it’s actually Doubront who has confounded hitters more as of late, and is probably looking forward to facing the Yankees. In his career against New York, he has a 2-1 record to go along with a 2.32 ERA and 32 strikeouts over 5 starts. Robinson Cano–who left Tuesday’s All-Star Game after being hit on the knee by a Matt Harvey fastball–hasn’t fared very well in his career versus Doubront (1-14, 4 SO), but with Derek Jeter (2-13, 3 SO) going back on the disabled list yesterday, Cano would be the only Yankee to have faced the Sox’ left-hander more than 10 times in his career. Furthermore, the only current Yankee with an extra-base hit against Doubront is Eduardo Nunez, who went 2-4 with a double and a strikeout in a 2-0 Yankee win last September.
Pettitte was spectacular in his last outing against the Red Sox, pitching eight innings of one-run ball on April 4 of this year. In his career, he is now 19-10 with a 3.82 ERA against Boston, in just over a season’s-worth of work (38 GS). But even with his April outing, Pettitte has a 5.02 ERA and a 1.76 WHIP against the Red Sox (17 GS) since returning to the Yankees in 2007 after a three-year stint with the Houston Astros. This particular bunch of Sox most certainly enjoys hitting against Pettitte. With manager John Farrell going with hot hands Johnny Gomes (.320, 1 2B, 1 HR, 7 RBI) and Shane Victorino (.462, 1 HR, 2 RBI) in his lineup tonight, the Sox’ projected starting nine will enter this game with a combined .337 average against the Yankees all-time strikeout leader, and an .844 OPS to boot. The only Red Sox who will enter the game tonight without a hit against Pettitte will be Jarrod Saltalamacchia (0-3, 2 SO on April 4), and third baseman Brandon Snyder, who has never faced him, but has a .310 lifetime average against left-handed starters.
Saturday afternoon’s nationally-televised matchup of Kuroda (8-6, 2.65) and Lackey (7-6, 2.78) features two veteran pitchers whose records don’t reflect just how well they’ve pitched this season. Red Sox fans know very well how John Lackey has (finally) pitched at the level they were hoping for when the team signed him to a 5-year/$82.5 mil. contract before the 2010 season. They also have gotten to know Kuroda quite well, as a strange scheduling phenomenon has seen the Japanese right-hander face the Red Sox in all but one series between New York and Boston since Kuroda joined the Yankees last season. In all, he has started eight career games against the Sox (including once with the Dodgers in 2010), and has done alright (2-3, 3.88 ERA). This season, however, Kuroda has managed to last only 6.2 innings total in two starts. He was removed in the second inning of his first start of the year after getting hit with a line drive on his pitching hand, and subsequently not being able to throw the ball for strikes (Jackie Bradley Jr. HBP, four-pitch walk to Jacoby Ellsbury).
Surprisingly, Jon Lester had never faced C.C. Sabathia until Opening Day of this season. In all, Lester had made 20 starts against the Sabathia-era Indians and Yankees and was 9-5 with a 4.41 ERA. The two are about even in 2013, with each pitcher having won a round; Lester on Opening Day, and Sabathia on May 31. Now comes Round 3 on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball. Sabathia has had an up-and-down season for the Yankees (9-8, 4.07), but in his usual fashion, he is second in the American League in innings pitched (137.0) to Felix Hernandez of Seattle (138.2). Sabathia might have been first in the league, had he been able to last longer than 4.0 innings in a 10-4 loss to the Minnesota Twins on the last day before the All-Star Break. It was his defense who let him down in that game, as only three of the eight runs he allowed were earned. Lester also allowed 3 ER in his last outing, but took a tough 3-0 loss to A.J. Griffin and the Oakland Athletics.
Truth be told, the Sox/Yanks rivalry has lost a bit of its luster this year, and it has nothing to do with the fact that the Yankees sit in fourth place. Anyone who grew up in New England can tell you that cellar-dwelling has never been an antidote for animosity on I-95, or I-90, or I-84, or…I digress. No, there just isn’t the same kind of soap opera feel that there was when the two teams were constantly trying to outbid each other for high-priced talent, like back in the good ol’ days of Carl Crawford…two years ago. Maybe it was the sting of that signing that has the Red Sox cooling their jets these days. Maybe it was seeing Cliff Lee take less money to go back to Philly to cool those of New York. But there was one ray of sunshine–or rather, drop of bile–that emerged just this afternoon:
Jose Contreras–the Cuban defector who the Red Sox and Yankees once fought bitterly over (the climax of which resulted in Larry Lucchino coining the phrase “Evil Empire” in reference to the George Steinbrenner Yankees of old), and who the Yankees eventually prevailed in signing–is now a Pawtucket Red Sox.
Take that, Bronx Bummers!