The Red Sox wrap up their ten game road trip with a weekend series at The Stadium. Boston took two out of three last time it was in town three short weeks ago. Since then the Bosox have gone 7-10, dropping three games below .500 and three additional games behind New York in the standings. Andrew Bailey and Mark Melancon have returned, but Will Middlebrooks is done for the season and David Ortiz still hasn't returned from his achilles injury. With the organization embroiled in a toxic blend of controversy, disappointment and widespread dissent off the field on a daily basis, on the field their playoff hopes continue to evaporate with each and every loss. They are in disarray, and time is running out for them to make a late season playoff push. Yankees, on the other hand, own the best record in the American League at 70-48 and have kept humming along despite losing C.C. Sabathia and Alex Rodriguez in recent weeks.
Given the two teams' vastly different positions in the standings, these games don't seem to have much significance. But they do. With a sweep of the strumbling Sox, New York could bury their rivals' season for good. Sink the Red Sox ship and send it to the bottom of the ocean. But if Boston can pull off a stunning sweep, they're back at .500 and maybe, just maybe, will rally and put together that run they've been promising all season long.
Friday night: Franklin Morales vs. Phil Hughes
Easily the worst pitching matchup of the series, this one has the makings of a potential slugfest. Morales (3-3, 3.29 ERA) has been a solid spot-starter in his two August outings, allowing just five hits and four earned runs in eleven and one-third innings of work against the light-hitting Twins and Indians. Hughes (11-10, 4.44 ERA) has struggled of late and may be hitting a wall after injuries limited him to just 14 starts last season. He's held Boston to three runs in both of his starts against them this year, but I have a good feeling the offense is going to have a big night against him. Don't be surprised if this one gets ugly early, forcing Bobby Valentine and Joe Girardi to dip into their bullpens in the middle innings.
My prediction: Red Sox 7, Yankees 5
Saturday afternoon: Jon Lester vs. David Phelps
After putting an abysmal July (9.36 ERA and eight home runs allowed) behind him, Boston's ace has settled down since flipping the calendar to a new month. In his three August starts the two-time All-Star has a 3.48 ERA--nearly identical to last season's 3.47 mark--with a 23/4 K/BB ratio and no home runs allowed in 20 and two-thirds innings. After three consecutive starts during mid-July in which he failed to complete the fifth inning, Lester (6-10, 5.20 ERA) has gone at least six in each of his past four turns starting with his last start here. Is coming off his most dominant performance of the season (12 K's against Cleveland), so hopefully he can keep this hot streak going. Phelps (also 3-3, 2.53 ERA) is filling in for the injured Sabathia. The rookie has made just four starts in his brief major league career, but it bears mentioning that his last one went well; two earned runs in five innings against the Texas Rangers. Nobody knows what to expect from him, but I'm fairly confident he won't outpitch Lester, who looks like he's finally turned the corner.
My prediction: Red Sox 6, Yankees 3
Sunday night: Josh Beckett vs. Hiroki Kuroda
Talk about two pitchers going in completely different directions. Since May 21st, a span of almost three months, Josh Beckett (5-10, 5.19 ERA) has made a dozen starts and gotten the W one time. One. His ERA--4.06 at the end of June--has swelled to 5.19. He made one start against the Yankees this year and it wasn't pretty; eight hits and six earned runs allowed in five innings back on July 6th at Fenway. Has gotten rocked in each of his two starts this month and just doesn't appear to be the same pitcher he's been in the past. On the other hand Kuroda (11-8, 3.06 ERA) keeps getting better as the season progresses. Over his past five starts he boasts a 1.44 ERA and 32/5 K/BB rate while limiting opponents to .213/.247/.290 numbers. Pitched a gem the last time he faced the Red Sox by firing eight innings of two-run ball in a game the Yankees would go on to lose in extra innings. I actually think Beckett's going to bounce back, but Kuroda will get the best of him in a low-scoring pitcher's duel.
My Prediction: Yankees 4, Red Sox 2