For a foundering Boston Red Sox team desperate to stop an epic collapse and hang on to the AL wild card, facing an opponent with little at stake this weekend might have been good news. The problem is, that opponent is the arch-rival New York Yankees, who would like nothing better than to push the Red Sox further along an early path to the golf course.
With their once-gaping wild-card lead down to a tenuous two games, the Red Sox try once again to end their September struggles Friday night when they open a three-game set in the Bronx against the AL East champion Yankees. When the month began, this series figured to be for the division crown. Boston and New York had jousted atop the division all summer, and the Red Sox held a 1 1/2-game lead over the Yankees. The runner-up appeared nearly certain to win the wild card as Tampa Bay - the closest pursuer - languished nine games behind Boston. Little has gone right since for the Red Sox (88-68), who fell to 5-16 in September after dropping three of four at home this week to last-place Baltimore. Boston's swoon allowed the Yankees (95-61) the luxury of clinching the division Wednesday and has brought the Rays within two games of the Red Sox.
The Red Sox have dealt with their share of injuries down the stretch - third baseman Kevin Youkilis hasn't played in eight days due to a sports hernia - but health woes don't come close to explaining their collapse. One night after clinching their 11th division title in 14 years, the Yankees didn't appear eager to do the Red Sox any favors, dropping the finale of a four-game series against the Rays 15-8 to end a four-game winning streak. However, they may be salivating at the prospect of sending Boston to an early offseason.
Of all Boston's problems, the biggest may be a starting rotation that has compiled a 6.82 ERA this month and has produced only two quality starts in its last 18 games. One of those belonged to Jon Lester (15-8, 3.15 ERA), who will take the ball Friday. However, even Lester may not be the man to end the slump. He's 7-5 when taking the mound after a Red Sox loss, compared with 8-3 following a win. The left-hander is also coming off consecutive defeats to Tampa Bay in which he allowed eight runs over 11 innings.
Lester is 2-1 with a 4.30 ERA in four starts versus the Yankees this season. Both wins came in the Bronx against Freddy Garcia (11-8, 3.77), who will oppose Lester again Friday. Garcia, who will turn 35 on Oct. 6, could be showing signs of fatigue down the stretch. He's 0-1 with a 10.95 ERA and a .385 opponent batting average in three September outings, failing to last longer than five innings in any of them. A postseason spot could be at stake, and sources closest to Joe Girardi have both Garcia and Bartolo Colon headed to the bullpen.
We get a nice price here, and weather permitting we can extend our winning streak to 3 this evening in a game that is vital to Boston's wildcard hopes. Despite their recent struggles, the Red Sox sill lead the league in batting with a .280 average and are third in the AL in HR with 194. Adrian Gonzalez (.341 27 116) still leads the AL in hitting despite drifting back to earth over the final month. Jacoby Ellsbury (.319 29 98) is having quite an all around season as is David Ortiz (.312 29 96) who leads the team in HR while both have a legitimate shot at 100 RBI. Boston's lineup is still deep with Dustion Pedroia (.300 20 88) having a great season at second base. Garcia could be pitching for his postseason life this evenign and will have his hands full. Meanwhile, a struggling LEster will look to give the Sox a key victory this evening facing a lineup that has conquered opposing pitchers all season. The Yankees are 4th in the AL in hitting with a .265 mark but are tops in the league in HR with 214. Curtis Granderson (.270 41 119) is odds on favorite to be in the running for MVP with his consistently strong productive numbers and Mark Teixiera (.245 37 104) has certainly not disappointed despite a subpar average. Robinson Cano (.305 27 116) is nearly surpassing the success of the last few seasons as is Nick Swisher (.262 23 84) who has come on strong in the second half. There is plenty of contribution and balance up and down this lineup to compliment the struggles of Alex Rodriguez who has been decimated by injuries. Expect a ton of offense this evening if the game gets played and we should easily have this total in the win column by the end of the 3rd inning. Best of luck however you play!