Red Sox-Yankees series preview

September 13, 2013 - 5:39 am

The Red Sox may not have completed the sweep against the second-place Rays, but they'll come home to Fenway with an 8½-game lead in the division and a magic number of 8. It was an impressive road trip for the Sox, who took series in New York (three of four) and St. Petersburg (two of three), and now have won seven straight series. They've already accrued more wins in September 2013 (eight) than they did in the last month of either 2012 or 2011. It appears the Red Sox have gotten hot just at the right time. "We continue to play a very good brand of baseball," manager John Farrell said after Thursday's series finale with the Rays. "We're executing for the most part in key moments and we come ready to get after it every single night." The Red Sox are hitting milestones left and right lately. Koji Uehara broke the franchise record for consecutive batters retired on Wednesday night, passing Ellis Kinder (32 in 1952). Uehara now has 34 consecutive outs. Mike Napoli collected his 31st bases-loaded RBI in Wednesday's contest, which represents the highest total by a Red Sox player since Vern Stephens' 32 in 1950. And with their 89th victory of the season, the Red Sox have won 20 more games than they did in all of 2012, good for the largest season-to-season turnaround since the 1967 Impossible Dream team. With a good amount of distance between them and the second-place Rays in the division standings, the Red Sox look to be a virtual lock for a postseason berth. They also have the ability to make a big impact on the wild card standings. Though the Sox don't have any remaining regular-season games against the Rays, the team currently occupying the second wild card slot, they'll come home to face the Yankees, who are hanging on to playoff hopes, staying within a game of Tampa Bay with a win on Thursday. Interestingly enough, the Yankees won their series finale with the Orioles on a wild pitch from Baltimore closer Jim Johnson in the top of the ninth inning, the second time this week they've won thanks to a wild pitch. The Yankees, who have been playing nonstop baseball without an off day since Aug. 29, haven't been playing bad baseball since the last time the Red Sox saw them (which, albeit, was five days ago). They managed to take three of four from Baltimore, moving ahead of the Orioles and Indians in the race for the second wild card spot. The Yankees just barely eked out the three victories in Baltimore, winning two of them by one run and the other by two runs. The injury bug still is biting the Yankees. It was decided earlier in the week that shortstop Derek Jeter, who has played only 17 games this season, will return to the disabled list with an ankle injury and will not return this season. To fill the shortstop hole, the Yankees acquired the defensive-minded but light-hitting Brendan Ryan from the Mariners. Although the Yankees pulled out the victory on Thursday night, they lost a key member of their lineup when Brett Gardner was removed from the game and was diagnosed with a left oblique strain, an injury that can take a few weeks to heal. Gardner is scheduled to receive an MRI to determine the severity of the strain, but he will at least miss the series with the Red Sox, if not the remainder of the regular season. Catcher Austin Romine also is sidelined after suffering a concussion earlier in the week. With the regular season winding down, this will be the last time the Red Sox face the Yankees barring a meeting in the playoffs, which means this weekend will be Mariano Rivera's final games at Fenway Park. The Red Sox are set to honor the closer on Sunday night. Here are the pitching matchups for the weekend set. Friday: John Lackey (9-12, 3.48) vs. Hiroki Kuroda (11-10, 2.99) Saturday: Jon Lester (13-8, 3.86) vs. C.C. Sabathia (13-12, 4.82) Sunday: Clay Buchholz (10-0, 1.61) vs. Ivan Nova (8-4, 3.17) WHO'S HOT: RED SOX '€¢ As noted earlier, Uehara set a new Red Sox record with 34 straight batters retired. He's been unbelievably dominant since taking over the closer's role and just continues to get better. Uehara has recorded 26 straight scoreless outings, passing Daniel Bard for the longest streak in team history. He hasn't allowed an earned run in over two months, not since June 30, which was 30 appearances and 32 2/3 innings ago. Since becoming the closer, Uehara has earned four wins (no losses) and 18 saves in 20 opportunities. His ERA as the closer is an absolutely remarkable 0.25, while his WHIP is an equally mind-boggling 0.3273. Opposing hitters are batting a meager .084/.099/.126 against Uehara in his last 34 games, and he's walked only two batters while striking out 51. That means his strikeout-to-walk ratio is a staggering 25.5. According to wins above replacement, Uehara has been worth more wins than any other reliever this season, which really is not surprising when looking at his unbelievable numbers. '€¢ Mike Carp continues to do big things with limited playing time. Carp was the hero of Wednesday night's extra-inning victory, clubbing a pinch-hit grand slam in the 10th inning. Carp has been impressive all season long, though, batting .314/.377/.564 in 188 at-bats. The versatile outfielder/first baseman has shown his ability to pinch-hit and to stay hot despite inconsistent at-bats and playing time, and has been especially productive in seven games this month, batting .417 with a double, a home run, six RBIs and four walks so far in September. '€¢ Daniel Nava continues to have a quietly great season and has been swinging a hot bat lately. Nava is hitting an even .300 on the year with a .389 OBP, and while his streak of consecutive games reaching base came to an end in New York, he's managed to hit .378 in his last 11 contests, driving in four runs while drawing eight walks compared to only four strikeouts. WHO'S HOT: YANKEES '€¢ Robinson Cano continues to be the most consistent force in the Yankees lineup. The second baseman delivered one of the biggest hits of the series on Wednesday night, when he broke a 4-4 tie with a home run in the top of the ninth inning. Cano went just 4-for-15 in the series with Baltimore, but he's still batting .345 over his last 14 games and now has launched 27 home runs and driven in 100 runs on the season. '€¢ Even though he's brought a lot of negative attention with his return to the Yankees lineup, Alex Rodriguez truly has helped the Yankees win. The controversial third baseman has compiled a terrific .294/.391/.504 line in 33 games this season, and has been a huge help to the Yankees down the stretch, batting .324 with five doubles and two home runs so far in September. '€¢ Curtis Granderson has not gotten a lot of hits lately. But when he's gotten hits, they've been big ones. The outfielder, who likely will play an even more important role for the Yanks in light of Gardner's injury, has hit home runs in two straight games, bringing his total to six in an injury-shortened season. Granderson had only four hits in 16 at-bats in the series with the Orioles, but he notched his first multi-hit game since late August in Wednesday night's contest. WHO'S NOT: RED SOX '€¢ Brandon Workman looked to be a solid option for late-inning relief, but the rookie has had two shaky outings in a row. After uncorking a walk-off wild pitch in the series finale with the Yankees, Workman gave up the lead again in the eighth inning of Wednesday night's game. Workman allowed two runs, including a game-tying solo home run to James Loney. The rookie starter-turned-reliever has had periods of success, but he owns a 5.40 ERA in six appearances this month. Despite the recent rough patch, Workman has been showcasing some impressive swing-and-miss stuff, recording nine strikeouts in his last 6 2/3 innings and fanning an average of over 10 batters per nine innings. '€¢ Another reliever who had a subpar series with the Rays was Rubby De La Rosa, who gave up the go-ahead run in the eighth inning of the series finale. De La Rosa has been inconsistent in his brief time with the major league club this season, posting a 5.79 ERA in 9 1/3 innings. Over his last two appearances (2 2/3 innings), De La Rosa has allowed a total of six hits and three earned runs. With the playoffs approaching, it looks like De La Rosa will end up as one of the odd men out with regards to the postseason roster. '€¢ Even though Victorino finished out the game on Wednesday night, the outfielder came limping off the field after his last at-bat of the night, subsequently disappearing into the clubhouse. He received the night off on Thursday, but the Red Sox need Victorino to be as healthy as he can be for a postseason run. Victorino's absence was notable in the last game with Tampa Bay, with Nava, who was manning right field, unable to get to some balls that Victorino clearly would have had an easier time handling. While the Sox missed his glove, the outfielder hasn't done very much with the bat over the past few games, going 2-for-12 (though both hits were doubles) with six strikeouts in his last three contests. Regardless, with Jacoby Ellsbury set to miss the next series at least, the Red Sox need Victorino in the lineup. WHO'S NOT: YANKEES '€¢ The usually solid David Robertson had a moment of weakness on Thursday, when he gave up three earned runs on four hits in the eighth, receiving his second blown save of the season. He would be let off the hook thanks to a Yankees rally in the top of the ninth, but the rough outing caused Robertson's ERA to jump from an outstanding 1.82 to 2.24. Despite the ugly showing, Robertson has been an incredibly reliable set-up man for the Yankees all season long. '€¢ Somewhat uncharacteristic of him, Ichiro Suzuki has gone seven straight at-bats without a hit, slumping through two back-to-back hitless games. Though Suzuki had a decent series against the Red Sox the last time they were in town, he's hitting just .222 in September and has seen his line on the year fall to .266/.302/.353. '€¢ The Yankees continue to get poor offensive production out of their catchers, and with Romine out with a concussion, the catching duties will fall even more heavily on Chris Stewart, who has been slumping for most of the season. Stewart has not logged a multi-hit game since Aug. 16 and is batting just .130 since that time. He's also failed to get an extra-base hit in his last 14 games, driving in just two runs over that span.