Red Sox-Yankees series preview

July 19, 2013 - 7:50 am

The unofficial second half of the season kicks off on Friday night, when the Yankees head to Fenway Park for the first time this season for a three-game weekend set. The rivals' first visit to Boston comes unusually late this season, and is the first time since 1996 that the Red Sox went the entire first half of the season without hosting the Yankees. A .500 record on the 10-game West Coast road trip to end the first half was good enough to give the Red Sox the best record in the American League (58-39) and the most wins in the majors. They begin the second half in first place in the AL East, 2½ games ahead of the Rays. Their 19 series victories are just one shy of their total from all of 2012. With 31 wins at home, they own the second-best record on home turf while going 27-23 on the road. Their offense has been the highlight of the first half, with the lineup finishing with the most runs scored in the majors, the most walks and the highest OBP, while ranking first in the AL in stolen bases and second in slugging percentage and batting average. As good as the Sox have been through their first 97 games, they didn't particularly go out on a high note, however. They lost the last game before the break in extra innings to give Oakland the series victory. "The All-Star break comes at a good time," outfielder Jonny Gomes said Sunday. "We got some guys heading up there to New York who will hopefully get us some home-field advantage and give us an opportunity to lick our wounds and get back to work." Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz, the two Red Sox representatives in the Midsummer Classic, didn't do much of note Tuesday, both going 0-for-2. Ortiz was the leading vote-getter among designated hitters while Pedroia replaced Robinson Cano in the first inning after the Yankees infielder was hit by a pitch. Certainly the most memorable moment of the game came from Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, who received a rousing ovation when he entered his final All-Star Game. The Yankees have slipped to fourth place in the AL East, six games behind the Red Sox and 1½ games back of the third-place Orioles. But the Yankees and their different-looking lineup, one that has been without the likes of Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson for much of the season, have managed to stay afloat in a competitive division, going 51-44 through the unofficial first half. The farthest behind they've slipped in the standings was 6½ games back on June 30, but the Yankees have enjoyed one of their best months yet, going 9-5 in July after dropping 16 of 27 games in June. The Yankees offense doesn't possess the same home run prowess as the New York clubs that led the league in home runs in both 2012 and 2011. The Yankees rank 13th among 15 American League clubs with 88 long balls this season. The offense as a whole isn't what it has been in the recent past, unsurprisingly with the amount of players the Yankees lost to either injury or free agency between the end of 2012 and the beginning of this season. They're tied for 11th in the AL in runs scored, second to last in batting average (.243, better than only the Astros) and 13th in both slugging percentage (.376) and OBP (.307). The offense has been hot and cold all year long, ranking fifth in the league in runs scored in April and so far in July, while falling to 13th in May and all the way to last in June. The generally lefty-heavy lineup owns a .649 OPS against left-handed pitching while putting up an even .700 OPS against righties. Manager Joe Girardi says that fourth place is "not where [they] want to be," yet the Yankees still remain in the thick of a tight AL East race. "I think everybody in here knows what we're up against and what we need to do to try to make the playoffs and win this division," staff ace CC Sabathia said after a 10-4 loss to the Twins on Sunday, the last game before the break. "It's just up to us to come out and play consistent and play the way we can play." Perhaps one of the keys to the Yankees' relative success is their play against AL East opponents. The Yankees are 20-17 against divisional rivals, yet they've dropped two out of three games in both of the series they've played so far against the Red Sox. Here are the pitching matchups for the three-games series. Friday: Felix Doubront (6-3, 3.91) vs. Andy Pettitte (7-6, 4.39) Saturday: John Lackey (7-6, 2.78) vs. Hiroki Kuroda (8-6, 2.65) Sunday: Jon Lester (8-6, 4.58) vs. C.C. Sabathia (9-8, 4.07) WHO'S HOT: RED SOX '€¢ There are a lot of candidates who could be considered the MVP of the first half of the Red Sox season, and it's hard to deny that John Lackey is one of them. He's been the most consistent starter in Boston's rotation, allowing more than three earned runs only twice in his 16 starts. With a seven-inning, two run effort in his most recent start in Oakland, Lackey stretched his streak of quality starts to six straight games. Prior to walking four batters in that start, the righty had issued only five walks in his previous 47 2/3 innings. His 2.78 is the fourth lowest in the American League. Lackey's 7-6 record certainly doesn't reflect how important he's been to the success of the team. He's given the club a chance to win just about every time he's taken the mound in 2013, and continues to be one of the most solid starters not only on the team, but in the entire league. '€¢ It was a slow start for him, but Gomes seems to be hitting his stride. The outfielder is batting .333/.379/.556 in his last eight games with a home run and three doubles. Gomes struggled at the plate in the beginning of the season, batting .173/.321/.298 through his first 46 games. But the one constant for Gomes has been his excellent defense, which comes as a bonus to the Red Sox, who acquired Gomes primarily because of his bat. Gomes has not committed an error all season, and the stats don't reflect the number of impressive diving or leaping catches he's made manning left field for the Red Sox. '€¢ Brandon Workman'€™s first major league start was brilliant despite him leaving the game after giving up a two-run home run and receiving a no-decision. His successful outing was encouraging for the Red Sox and their confidence in their minor league pitching depth, but with Clay Buchholz'€™s continuing setbacks, Workman'€™s start (and the possibility of more effective starts from the right-hander) have become even more crucial to the Red Sox in the coming weeks. It'€™s unclear whether the Red Sox will opt to keep Workman in the rotation for the time being, but his success at the Double-A and Triple-A levels could very well carry over and translate into continued major league success. The six innings without allowing a hit is as good a start as any for Workman to build off. WHO'S HOT: YANKEES '€¢ When Cano was hit in the knee by a Matt Harvey fastball in the first inning of Tuesday'€™s All-Star Game, the Yankees and their fans held their collective breath. And for good reason -- Cano, one of the few big names left in the Yankees lineup, has been invaluable to the club this year. The second baseman leads the team in just about every offensive category: hits (107), RBIs (65), home runs (21), average (.302), OBP (.386) and slugging percentage (.531). He also leads the club in walks with 48 while striking out only 52 times. Cano has seen the detriments of batting in the heart of a weakened Yankee lineup, however. His 14 intentional walks rank as the most in the MLB. Cano went into the break on a very high note; he'€™s riding a nine-game hit streak and is batting a stellar .433/.521/.733 in his last 17 games, driving in 19 runs in that time span and drawing 12 walks while fanning only three times. Unfortunately for the Red Sox pitching staff, Cano expects to be back in the lineup on Friday night. '€¢ With guys like Granderson and Teixeira missing the majority of the season with injuries, the Yankees have gotten a lot of production from some unlikely sources. Some may have questioned their acquisition of outfielder Vernon Wells, who struggled mightily in his two years with the Angels, but the Yankees have gotten what they'€™ve needed from Wells. Though he'€™s hitting a modest .238 with a .276 OBP, Wells has 20 extra-base hits, including 10 home runs, while driving in 36. Wells hit a rough patch in which he hit only .124/.131/.143 through 31 games, but he is 12-for-33 (.364) over his last 11 contests. Lyle Overbay, who spent almost all of spring training in a Red Sox uniform, has also been a surprising asset to the Yankees, and a more consistent contributor than Wells. The first baseman doesn'€™t quite offer the same kind of production that the Yankees have gotten from Teixeira in the past, but has held his own, hitting .252/.308/.437 in 86 games with 18 doubles, 11 home runs and 42 RBIs. He'€™s been especially hot as of late, hitting .393/.500/.607 in his last nine games. '€¢ The Yankees bullpen has been solid all season, anchored by their veteran closer. Rivera'€™s been as good as ever in this, his final season, notching 30 saves before the break and compiling a 1.83 ERA in 34 1/3 innings. But it'€™s the relievers pitching the innings leading up to Rivera'€™s ninth inning that have been equally impressive. David Robertson and Shawn Kelley are both coming into the series with scoreless streaks; Robertson has pitched 10 2/3 scoreless innings while Kelley hasn'€™t allowed an earned run in his last 10 appearances. Rookie Preston Claiborne has also been a big contributor, posting a 2.43 ERA in 25 appearances. WHO'S NOT: RED SOX '€¢ Is Jose Iglesias coming back to earth? The shortstop went hitless in two straight games going into the All-Star break, only the second time this season'€™s he gone back-to-back games without a hit in the majors this year. Iglesias has hit .194 with a .235 OBP in his last eight games, and has only one extra-base hit (a double) in 54 plate appearances this month despite clubbing nine doubles, two triples and a home run in his first 39 games. However, even though he'€™s slumped recently, Iglesias is still batting .367/.417/.461 through 52 games this season. '€¢ Alex Wilson got off to an impressive start to the 2013 season and his major league career, compiling a 2.50 ERA in his first 16 appearances. Since being recalled from a brief stint back in Triple-A Pawtucket, Wilson has been hit, and hit hard. In 10 appearances beginning back on June 13, Wilson has given up 10 runs and 15 hits in 9 2/3 innings, which equals out to a 9.31 ERA. Opposing hitters are batting .357 against him in those 10 games. His last couple of appearances have been the most alarming, with the right-hander allowing six earned runs in his last two innings of work, giving up three runs in two back-to-back appearances. The rough stretch has caused his ERA to balloon to 4.88 on the year while his WHIP sits at 1.735 in 27 2/3 innings for the big club this season. '€¢ In what's been a somewhat rare occurrence this season, Daniel Nava has been quiet in his past few games, going 5-for-25 in his last six games with only one extra-base hit in his last eight. But even though he's battling a small slump, Nava has given the Red Sox superb production in 87 games this season, batting .288/.374/.429 with 14 doubles and 10 home runs. It's been a bit of a home run drought for Nava, who has gone 22 games and 95 plate appearances between round trippers. WHO'S NOT: YANKEES '€¢ Brett Gardner is one of the few other Yankee regulars who hasn'€™t succumbed to injury this season, but the outfielder hasn'€™t been producing much lately. Gardner is 4-for-24 (though he also drew four walks in that span) and is batting .167/.286/.214 over his last 12 games. The swift-footed Gardner, who swiped an AL-leading 49 bases in 2011, his last full season, hasn'€™t had a ton of success on the basepaths either, getting thrown out six times and stealing at a 68 percent rate. The slump isn'€™t indicative of Gardner'€™s entire season, however; the 29-year-old is batting .272/.338/.422 with seven home runs and a team-leading 22 doubles and five triples on the year. '€¢ Travis Hafner hasn'€™t necessarily been one of the more productive members of the Yankees lineup, but he'€™s been particularly cold lately, batting .120/.214/.160 with only one extra-base hit in his last eight games. Though he'€™s knocked 12 home runs on the season, he hasn'€™t sent one out of the park since June 26, a 15-game drought. The longtime Indians first baseman/designated hitter is batting .218/.314/.407 through 75 games in his first year with the Yankees. '€¢ With Jeter aiming to return from his second stint on the DL (strained quad he injured in his first game back) later this month and Rodriguez rehabbing at the Triple-A level, the Yankees are eager to get an upgrade over the lackluster production they've been getting from the left side of the infield. New York has tried out seven players at third base -- David Adams, Jayson Nix, Kevin Youkilis (who is on the DL), Chris Nelson, Luis Cruz, Alberto Gonzalez and even Wells for an inning. Between those seven, the Yankees have gotten a .225/.288/.301 slash line from the position. The shortstop situation has been even more dire without the captain of the club manning his usual spot. Six players have tried their hand at sticking as the Yankees interim shortstop -- Nix, Eduardo Nunez, Reid Brignac, Gonzalez, Cruz, and even an inning of Cano (Jeter played one game this season but served as the designated hitter). Tthe Yankees shortstops have hit a collective .210/.268/.279 through 95 games.