Red Sox-Yankees series preview

September 05, 2013 - 6:34 am

It'll be a showdown in the Bronx as the Red Sox visit Yankee Stadium for the first time since early June, taking on the Yanks in a four-game set this weekend. The Red Sox finished off a series victory over the Al Central-leading Tigers in style on Wednesday night, with the team knocking eight home runs by seven different players for a final score of 20-4. With the victory, the Red Sox maintained their 5 1/2-game lead over the Rays in the division and improved to an American League-best 84-57. The 20 runs scored by the Red Sox stands as the highest total since the team scored 25 back in 2003. The eight home runs tie a franchise record, done just one other time (July 4, 1977, vs. the Blue Jays). The home runs by seven different players set a franchise record. And all of this came against a fellow first-place team, one that the Red Sox could meet again in October. "One through nine, we have a guy that can hit the ball over the fence," starting pitcher Ryan Dempster said. "That's something not a lot of teams have, but at the same time, we're putting up runs however we can get them." Dempster and the Red Sox will meet up with the Yankees for the first time since the incident with Alex Rodriguez that resulted in a five-game suspension for Dempster, although the right-hander will not face the Yanks in this series. Just when it looks like the Yankees might fall out of the playoff picture, they find a way to string together wins and stay afloat in the division and the wild card chase. While the Yankees sit eight games back of the Red Sox for the AL East lead, they've managed to keep themselves in the race for a wild card, currently 2 1/2 games out. The Yankees had a decent month of August, going 16-12, good for their best winning percentage of any month since April. Getting some of the key members of the lineup back on the field has done wonders for the Yankees. In August, the club put together its best offensive month since April, with the lineup batting a collective .267/.337/.417. The return of players like Derek Jeter and, of course, Rodriguez, plus the acquisitions of Alfonso Soriano and Mark Reynolds have given the Yankees a bit of a spark heading into the stretch. The series against the Red Sox will be a big one for the Yankees, the kind of series that can all but make or break their chances at a playoff berth. They've won five of their last six games but have lost seven of their last 12 contests against the Red Sox. Overall, the Yankees have a winning record against American League East teams, but that mark is skewed by a 13-3 record against the last-place Blue Jays. The Yankees are under .500 against every other AL East club. "[This series] could do a lot to determine where we're going to be at," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said after Wednesday's 6-5 victory over the White Sox. "I think it's important that we concentrate on one game at a time and not look too far ahead." Here are the pitching matchups. Thursday: Jake Peavy (11-5, 3.91) vs. Ivan Nova (8-4, 2.88) Friday: Felix Doubront (10-6, 3.89) vs. Andy Pettitte (10-9, 4.01) Saturday: John Lackey (8-12, 3.22) vs. David Huff (2-0, 1.13) Sunday: Jon Lester (13-8, 3.88) vs. Hiroki Kuroda (11-10, 2.99) WHO'S HOT: RED SOX '€¢ Two nights, two huge hits for Will Middlebrooks. The third baseman provided all the runs the Red Sox would need on Tuesday night, clubbing a two-out, two-run single in the fifth inning (credit also due to Stephen Drew, whose ground-rule double made Middlebrooks' big hit possible). Middlebrooks came through in a big way again in the series finale, breaking the game open with the second grand slam of his career and first this season. Since returning from Pawtucket, Middlebrooks has impressed at the plate and has stayed consistent with his approach. He's hitting .343/.413/.529 since his recall on Aug. 10 with seven extra-base hits, along with eight walks against 17 strikeouts, an improvement over his performance earlier in the season. He cooled off for a stretch prior to the series against the Tigers, going 4-for-25 in the previous three series, but Middlebrooks went 5-for-11 in his last three games. '€¢ It was a special night for David Ortiz at Fenway Park on Wednesday night. The slugger blasted two home runs, the 41st multi-home run game of his career. But even more importantly, Ortiz laced a double to center for the 2,000th hit of his 17-year career. Since breaking out of that lengthy hitless slump, Ortiz is 8-for-21 with 10 RBIs in just his last six games with two doubles, two home runs and five walks against only one strikeout. Ortiz continues to lead the club in just about every offensive category, including batting average, OBP, slugging percentage, home runs and RBIs. '€¢ Every once in a while, one has to just step back and take in the season that Koji Uehara is having. Lights out might not do his performance justice. Uehara hasn't allowed a baserunner in 6 2/3 innings, and only one in his last 10. He's walked just one batter since the beginning of August. And with 25 straight scoreless innings under his belt, he's coming within shouting distance of Dick Radatz's 33-inning inning scoreless streak, which stands as the longest such streak by a reliever in franchise history. Uehara boasts an unbelievably tiny 0.610 WHIP and 1.16 ERA in 62 1/3 innings, while his ERA has shrunk to an astoundingly-low 0.28 in his time as the closer. Uehara, the team's third choice for the closer's role, is having one of the best seasons ever by a Red Sox reliever. WHO'S HOT: YANKEES '€¢ The reigning pitcher of the month, Nova certainly deserved that title after his August campaign. The 26-year-old finished August with a 2.08 ERA in six starts, capping the fantastic run with a brilliant three-hit shutout against the Orioles on Aug. 31, throwing just 104 pitches in the complete-game victory. Nova has been great all season long. He hasn't allowed more than four earned runs in any one start, while 10 of his 15 starts count as quality outings. Nova's 2.88 ERA stands as the lowest mark among Yankees pitchers with more than five starts, and he's done a very good job of keeping balls in the park, allowing just 0.4 home runs per nine innings. '€¢ Jeter may be back in action, but the Yankees have to keep finding ways to keep Eduardo Nunez, who was serving as the shortstop for much of Jeter's absence, in the lineup. The infielder is hitting .362/.400/.468 with three doubles and a triple in his last 14 games, coming through with two doubles and two RBIs in the Yankees' most recent victory. Nunez has continued to receive plenty of playing time at shortstop with the Yankees opting to have Jeter fill the designated hitter role on a regular basis, and Nunez definitely has been rewarding his manager's decision to keep him on the field. '€¢ Since blowing three consecutive saves in mid-August, Mariano Rivera has returned to form. Rivera notched his 41st save of the season on Wednesday night with a multi-inning effort, and has not allowed a run in his last eight appearances. The closer has been particularly dominant over those last eight games (eight innings), allowing just four hits and a walk. Rivera's 2.06 ERA and 1.108 WHIP may be on the high side in comparison to his past performance, but he's proven that even at age 43 he's still one of the most effective closers in the game. WHO'S NOT: RED SOX '€¢ It's hard to say that any member of the Red Sox lineup is struggling at the moment, so, relatively speaking, Jonny Gomes has been pretty quiet at the plate lately. Gomes has one home run in his last 17 games and is batting .185/.241/.259 in eight games since his last round tripper. The outfielder collected two hits in the middle game of the series with the Tigers but overall went 5-for-23 on the homestand. Gomes' average on the season continues to hover around the .230 mark at .232, though he does own a .335 OBP. '€¢ Mike Carp has seen a little dip in production recently, going 2-for-11 in his last seven games, although only three of those have come as starts. Carp, who has made the most of somewhat limited playing time in 2013, is batting .302/.363/.538 with eight home runs and 32 RBIs, but his last home run came on June 15, and he's driven in only seven runs since that last long ball. Over his past 30 games, Carp is batting a respectable .278 with a very solid .352 OBP, but his slugging mark is only .354. '€¢ It's completely unfair to say that Jacoby Ellsbury is "not hot." He's batting .353 over his last eight games and hit his eighth home run of the season in Wednesday night's home run derby. But, again, relatively speaking, Ellsbury had a quiet series against the Tigers, going 1-for-8 with a walk. Ellsbury missed one of the three games against the Tigers, sidelined with a hand injury that he's attempting to manage with treatment. Ellsbury, just one of the members of the Red Sox who is a little banged up heading into the home stretch of the season, is hitting .296/.354/.421 on the season. WHO'S NOT: YANKEES '€¢ For much of the season, it looked like Kuroda could make a run at the American League Cy Young award. But Kuroda, one of the most consistent starters in baseball this season (and over the last couple of years), has been off lately. The righty hasn't earned a win since Aug. 12, posting a 7.43 ERA in four starts since that victory and dropping to 11-10 on the season. Opposing hitters have been mashing against Kuroda over the last few weeks, with hitters posting a .353/.380/.637 line against him in his last 23 innings. In those four starts, Kuroda has given up six home runs after allowing just 12 in his first 24 outings this year. The 38-year-old has still put together an outstanding 2013 campaign in his second season with the Yankees with a 2.99 ERA and 1.114 WHIP through 28 starts. '€¢ Catcher Chris Stewart has had a rough go of it at the plate lately. He's hitless through his last 19 at-bats and is hitting just .121 over his last 11 games, with his last multi-hit effort coming back on Aug. 16. The recent performance from Stewart highlights the lack of production the Yankees have had to deal with all season from the position; catchers have collectively hit only .224/.295/.315 on the season. '€¢ Lyle Overbay is going through a little bit of a slump, hitting just .182 in his last 10 games with just one extra-base hit (a double) and one RBI in that span. Despite the recent slide, the Yankees have gotten decent production from Overbay in the absence of Mark Teixeria, though Overbay's .253/.304/.415 line certainly is a step below what Teixeira is capable of hitting. Overbay has given the Yankees more than they could have asked for, seeing as how 122 games is the highest number of contests the first baseman has played in since appearing in 154 in 2010.