Circus comes to town: Red Sox-Yankees series preview

August 16, 2013 - 5:46 am
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The Red Sox will make a brief pit stop in Boston after a lengthy road trip (and prior to a West Coast swing) to take on the Yankees in a three-game set this weekend. It was not a good trip for the Red Sox, who return home for the first time in 11 days. The Sox won just one of the three series, taking two of three against the last-place Astros, but dropping three of four to the surging Royals and two of three to the Blue Jays, who occupy the cellar in the AL East. Despite the ugly 4-6 record on the trip, the Red Sox, who left Fenway a week and a half ago with a slim one-game lead in the division, come home with a two-game lead over the second-place Rays, who have also been enduring a cold stretch recently. The series in Toronto was lost in a discouraging fashion, with the Sox dropping two very close games, games that could have easily been won by the visiting club. A two-run home run by Mike Napoli in the ninth inning of Wednesday'€™s contest sent the game into extra innings, but the Red Sox were unable to seal the victory. The offense didn'€™t come through on Thursday behind a stellar Jake Peavy, who took the loss despite giving up only two runs on five hits in his six innings, out-pitching his opponent, Mark Buehrle, but failing to minimize the damage. The Red Sox offense scored six runs in the series, while the pitching staff gave up only eight runs. But despite the frustrating series and the losing road trip, the Red Sox have still managed to fend off any type of extended losing streak. They haven'€™t lost more than three in a row all season. When Alex Rodriguez steps to the plate for the first time in front of the Fenway fans since appealing his impending suspension for performance-enhancing drug use, one might be able to hear the boos emanating from the Fenway fans all the way in the Bronx.  The Rodriguez saga has been at the forefront of all Yankees-related news in the last month or so, but the soap opera is masking what has been a particularly hot stretch for the Yanks. They'€™ve taken five of their last seven games, winning two games against the Angels by a margin of seven or more runs in their last series, and have moved to four games above .500 with a 62-58 record. Just when it looked like the Yankees had fallen out of the race, they managed to pull themselves back in. Granted, the New York club is still in fourth place, 8 ½ games out of first place and six back in the wild card race, but they'€™ve made some additions to the ballclub that may help them down the stretch. Most notably, New York acquired Alfonso Soriano, who spent the first five years of his career in pinstripes, from the Cubs prior to the non-waiver trade deadline. They also got Curtis Granderson, who has suffered some bad-luck injuries this season, back from the disabled list earlier this month. And for as much trouble as he'€™s been, Rodriguez is out to prove that he can still contribute to the team. The third baseman is batting .278/.350/.417 in nine games so far. The Red Sox have gotten the better of the Yankees in the season series thus far, taking six of the nine contests. Boston won two of the three games the last time the two clubs met at Fenway Park back in July. Here are the pitching matchups for the three-game set: Friday: Felix Doubront (8-5, 3.66)  vs. Andy Pettitte (7-9, 4.62) Saturday: John Lackey (7-10, 3.32) vs. Hiroki Kuroda (11-7, 2.33) Sunday: Ryan Dempster (6-8, 4.50) vs. CC Sabathia (10-10, 4.66) WHO'S HOT: RED SOX -- Dempster has been hot and cold all season, but he turned in one of his best performances of the season in the club'€™s sole win in the Toronto series, going seven innings and allowing only one run on four hits and two walks while striking out four. In five starts prior to Friday'€™s victory, Dempster had pitched to the tune of a 7.27 ERA, allowing 21 earned runs on 37 hits in his last 26 innings. The right-hander wasn'€™t credited with the win on Friday, but the Red Sox once again found a way to win behind him. They haven'€™t lost a contest started by Dempster since July 6, and he hasn'€™t suffered a loss since all the way back on June 19. -- Though he'€™s seen his playing time reduced in the last month or so, Daniel Nava seems to be getting back on track. The outfielder is batting .412 (7-for-17) since rejoining the club after missing the series with the Astros, going home for the birth of his daughter. Nava'€™s hit safely in six of his eight games this month, but in a somewhat unusual turn of events for Nava, he'€™s walked only once in 27 plate appearances this month, and hasn'€™t drawn a free pass in his last seven contests. Despite that, Nava is still tied with Dustin Pedroia for second on the club with a .374 OBP, and is batting a solid .289/.374/.426 in 102 games this season. -- Craig Breslow has been one of the most reliable arms out of a bullpen that'€™s filled with young relievers, compiling a 2.27 ERA in 43 2/3 innings this season. The lefty'€™s been especially solid lately, and hasn'€™t allowed an earned run since July 21, giving up just four hits in his last 9 2/3 innings. Since July 1, Breslow has pitched to the tune of a 1.47 ERA, striking out 10 and walking five in his last 18 1/3 innings. Breslow'€™s 2.27 ERA stands as the third best among the club'€™s active relievers, behind Koji Uehara and Drake Britton. WHO'S HOT: YANKEES -- Newly acquired Soriano has been on an absolute tear in his last three games, going 10-for-14 with 14 runs batted in, with 13 of those coming over a span of two games. Soriano has hit four home runs and a double in his last three contests, coming around to score seven times. The outfielder has been solid overall in his return to the Yankees, batting .296/.324/.620 with seven home runs and 22 RBI in 18 games. Between the Cubs and the Yankees this season, Soriano has put up a .261/.293/.492 line with 24 home runs and 26 doubles. -- Robinson Cano has been a consistent force in the Yankees lineup all year, being one of the few big names in the lineup at any given time. But lately, he'€™s been on fire, even by his standards. Cano owns a 10-game hitting streak, and is batting .444/.545/.611 with three doubles and a home run. Also impressive is the fact that he'€™s walked seven times (twice intentionally) while striking out only once during the life of his streak. Cano'€™s strikeout-to-walk ratio is impressively good this year, especially for a power hitter. He'€™s drawn 60 walks in 515 plate appearances while fanning only 67 times. The second baseman, who will become a free agent after the 2013 campaign, is batting .300/.384/.500 with 22 home runs and 75 RBI through 120 games this season. -- For the third straight year, David Robertson is one of the Yankees'€™ most dominant relievers. Robertson, who owns a 1.81 ERA in 46 2/3 innings this season, has allowed just one run in his last 23 appearances, dating back to June 19. The righty saw his 20 1/3 inning scoreless streak snapped on August 11 when he allowed a run on two hits in his inning of work, but still earned a hold. Robertson earned his first save of the season in his last outing, even though it didn'€™t go smoothly (2 walks and a hit in two-thirds of an inning). The set-up man has fanned an average of 11 batters per nine innings (slightly below his career average and his average in the last two years), but has also walked only 2.7 batters per nine. WHO'S NOT: RED SOX - Aside from a three-hit showing in Houston, Shane Victorino had a quiet roadtrip. The right fielder hit .186/.271/.233 with two doubles over the 10 games, drawing three walks and striking out six times. He went just 1-for-14 in the three-game set with the Blue Jays, leaving a total of nine runners on base. He also committed just his third error of the season on Wednesday, making an off-line throw that allowed Rajai Davis to complete his trip around the bases on what was a comebacker to the mound. Victorino, despite the slump, is still hitting .280/.332/.403 with a total of 17 stolen bases in 89 games this year. -- Stephen Drew had been enjoying a very good stretch at the plate, but the shortstop went just 1-for-13 with a walk and four strikeouts in the series against the Blue Jays. Drew really has been solid for the Red Sox since returning from the DL, but there'€™s one situation where he'€™s been subpar. Against lefties, Drew, a left-handed hitter, is batting just .194/.252/.343, with 21 hits in 119 at-bats versus southpaws. Despite the quiet series, Drew is still batting .346/.435/.519 in 14 games this month with three doubles, two home runs, and eight RBI. - Thursday night'€™s loss was a frustrating one for the Red Sox in many ways, but perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of it all was the fact that the club had so many chances to score, yet came up empty in most innings. They left 12 men on base (Jacoby Ellsbury was the biggest offender, stranding five, while Victorino left four) and went a collective 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position.  But leaving runners on seemed to be the trademark of the series for the Red Sox, who stranded an astounding total of 33 men on base over the course of three games in Toronto. The LOB numbers were in the double-digits in all three contests. They also collectively went 6-for-34 (.176) with RISP in the series. WHO'S NOT: YANKEES -- For the very first time in his long and storied career, Mariano Rivera blew three saves in a row in his last three appearances. He also allowed multiple home runs in a save situation for the first time ever, giving up longballs to Miguel Cabrera (Cabrera had also homered off him in his previous appearance, only the fifth hitter to hit multiple home runs against the closer in a career) and Victor Martinez on Sunday, a game in which Rivera would ultimately receive the victory thanks to a Brett Gardner walk-off. To put matters into perspective: Rivera allowed as many home runs in his last outing as he has in his entire playoff career. The three-game slump is just a bump in the road in what is otherwise an outstanding final season for the veteran. Even with the five runs allowed in his last four innings, Rivera still owns a 2.44 ERA with 35 saves on the season. -- Yankees ace Sabathia just hasn'€™t been his usual dominant self this season. The big lefty has pitched to a 4.66 ERA this year, which, if the season ended today, would stand as the highest ERA in any year in his 13-year career. Sabathia is tied for the most hits allowed by any pitcher in the majors, giving up 176 hits in his 166 innings. He'€™s compiled the second highest total of runs allowed (86, which leads the American League) and has given up 26 home runs, which ties him for second on the list. Sabathia has been better as of late, with only five earned runs allowed in his last 13 1/3 innings (two starts), but he'€™s compiled a 7.45 ERA since July 21. -- Jayson Nix has seen a lot of action for the Yankees this season, given their revolving door of shortstops and third basemen due to injuries. But the infielder hasn'€™t been contributing too much lately, batting just .174/.208/.217 in his last 10 contests. Nix, who has appeared in games at third, shortstop and second base in his 83 games with the Yankees this season, is batting .231/.295/.296 with nine doubles, two home runs and a triple in 260 at-bats.

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