It may be early April and the teams may still be searching for their true identities, but Red Sox vs. Yankees for four games this weekend in the Bronx should be quite interesting.
Both teams have struggled a bit out of the gate, although the Red Sox (4-5) received a late blast of momentum entering this series as David Ortiz (who else?) hit a game winning homer in the eighth inning to beat Texas 4-2 yesterday.
The Sox’ early season struggles have been tied to a very uneven offense so far that has hit into a ton of double plays and left too many men on base. In essence, they’ve shown what the frustrating side of a high on-base percentage (OBP) team looks like.
Boston gets plenty of men on base but, unlike last season, they have had problems driving them home. The Sox hope Papi’s big home run finally gets them moving in the right direction after a disappointing 2-4 home stand vs. the Brewers and Rangers.
Another reason for the Sox’ offensive woes has been injuries. Will Middlebrooks is on the 15-day DL and he is being counted on for major production at third base. Right now, with him on the shelf, Boston has a black hole there.
Shane Victorino starting the season on the DL has also been a problem. His presence as a lead off hitter was supposed to ease the loss of Jacoby Ellsbury to the Yankees. Victorino has yet to appear in a regular season game.
With Grady Sizemore not quite ready for a full time role as a lead off man, manager John Farrell has struggled to find the right mix at the top of the lineup as Daniel Nava and Jonny Gomes have gotten off to slow starts.
The Red Sox starting pitching has been up and down. They’ve gotten two very good starts from Jon Lester, John Lackey and Jake Peavy but one bad start each from Felix Doubront and Clay Buchholz. All in all, it’s been more good than bad.
Buchholz will open the series in game one against the Yanks’ Michael Pineda so the Sox need him to rebound after a horror show in his first start against Milwaukee in which he allowed 13 hits and six earned runs in 4.1 innings of work.
Besides newly acquired Edward Mujica trying to adjust to the American League after coming over from St. Louis in the off season, the bullpen has been very good for Boston. Koji Uehara continues to excel as the closer and Junichi Tazawa and Brandon Workman have been very solid setup men.
We’ll see how much Ortiz’ home run has woken this team up but I’d expect the Red Sox to be focused and ready for this series because they understand how intense games with the Yankees can be.
But what about the Yankees?
Since I’m no expert on the Bombers I needed some good insight on the Sox’ biggest rival. I reached out to fellow Fansided staff writer Ricky Keeler of Yanks Go Yard for his thoughts on the Yanks and the four games.
The Yankees are coming off a series vs the Orioles in which they lost two of three at Yankee Stadium to drop to 4-5.
They have also had some key injuries of their own. Losing Mark Teixeira to a hamstring injury and closer David Robertson to a groin injury on a team with shaky depth at best could become a real problem for an aging team. I (PP) asked Ricky (RK) for his thoughts on those injuries and other topics.
PP: Give me your thoughts on the Yankees key injuries.
RK: “So far, the Yankees have caught a huge break due to the fact that the injuries to Teixeira and Robertson should not last too long past the 15 days they will be on the disabled list. Robertson looked comfortable in his first couple of save chances, so it’s not good to have him thrown off his rhythm out of the gate. This one is the most concerning because Joe Girardi doesn’t know who the closer is right now. The bullpen is a question mark, but they have young guys who can get the job done. Shawn Kelley should be the closer and can strike out guys at a steady rate, but can these guys handle their new roles? This puts more on the starting pitching to eat more innings to try to save a bullpen that has been taxed the last two nights. An under-the-radar injury is the loss of Brendan Ryan due to a cervical spine injury. Without Ryan, the Yankees lose a player that could be a late-inning defensive replacement for Jeter at shortstop.”
PP: What about your overall impressions of the Yankees so far this season?
RK: “So far, Yankees’ fans have a lot to be encouraged about. For one, the debuts of Masahiro Tanaka and Pineda were fantastic against the Blue Jays last weekend. Even though CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova have had a bad game or two, the starting pitching has done a good job of pounding the strike zone and not allowing free passes. The bullpen has had some young arms like Adam Warren and Dellin Betances throwing gas out of the bullpen, but there is the concern of who is the closer with the Robertson injury. On the offensive side, there is some power lacking, but Jacoby Ellsbury has been on a tear over the last week as he continues to get on base frequently. Plus, the surprise of the team has been third baseman Yangervis Solarte, who is hitting over .450 to start the season. Solarte is a journeyman minor leaguer, but he has sparked the offense with the amount of doubles he keeps hitting.”
PP: What is the Yankees biggest weakness?
RK: “The infield. With Teixeira out due to a Grade 1 hamstring strain, this eliminates a huge position defensively that New York has tried to fill with Kelly Johnson and, in some cases, Francisco Cervelli. Plus, the infield has age to it with Derek Jeter and Brian Roberts. It has shown in these early games and has made some fans wonder why the team isn’t pursuing Stephen Drew or Kendrys Morales to help those spots. The infield is injury-prone and one of the worst in terms of defense. If Tex is out for a long period of time, it not only hurts the Yankees’ offense from that spot, but the defense would take a major blow.”
PP: Finally, who do you see as the key Yankee in this series?
RK: Other than Ellsbury, my player to watch in this series is Brian McCann. The Yankees needed to make a big change at the catcher position that was unstable in 2013. McCann has worked well with the pitchers to start the season, but his bat has left a lot to be desired. Heading into Wednesday, McCann has five hits in just thirty at-bats and does not have an extra base-hit. The Yankees brought him in to be one of the leaders in the clubhouse and bring some fire to this rivalry. This is a Yankees’ team that only hit four home runs in its first eight games, so they need McCann’s bat to get going. Pitching wise, Pineda will be initiated into this rivalry Thursday night. He showed great command against the Blue Jays last Saturday. Despite a dip in velocity, he throws low 90’s with his fastball and has a great slider. I’m interested to see how he fares against Buchholz on Thursday night in his Yankee Stadium debut.
Based on Ricky’s analysis, the Yankees and Sox seem to come into the series in similar predicaments. Up and down play and still trying to establish a rhythm on the field are the calling cards for both teams so far.
I agree with Ricky that the Buchholz vs Pineda match up in game one is fascinating. Pineda is, to me, the big wild card in the Yankees’ season. If he reverts to his rookie form they have a bona fide pitcher with ace potential. It would give them a tremendous boost with Sabathia and Kuroda aging and Nova up and down.
The other pitching match ups in the series include Lester vs Sabathia in game two, Lackey vs Hiroki Kuroda in game three and Doubront vs Nova in the finale on Sunday. Oddly, the Sox will not see Tanaka in this series which I’m sure is disappointing to the Yankee faithful.
Of course the eyes of both fan bases will be focused on new Yankee Ellsbury and how he responds to his first games against his former team.
It should be a fun series to watch as we try to get this baseball season kicked into gear for both teams. So far, the play by both has been as mediocre as the chilly spring weather.
Hopefully this series gives us a taste of what the summer pennant race has in store for both fan bases.
You can check out an expanded discussion of this article by checking out Ricky’s Yanks Go Yard podcast here as I join him to discuss the series.