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We’ve learned a lot about these rivals

By Nick Cafardo
August 8, 2011

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Ten things we learned from this three-game series between the Red Sox and Yankees:

1. CC Sabathia can’t beat the Sox. The Yankees had a heck of a time trying to beat Josh Beckett. Sabathia is 0-4 with a 7.20 ERA against Boston this season. How does this play out in the playoffs if the Yankees’ best pitcher can’t beat the Red Sox?

“Don’t put a stamp on that one,’’ said a National League scout. “The Red Sox have had a good approach against Sabathia, but it’s nothing that good scouting won’t change. He’s got to look at the video and say, ‘OK, so-and-so beats me when I throw this in that location and I can get him out by doing X.’ A team like the Yankees will figure that out. Sabathia is one of the best and there’s no reason for the Red Sox to be so dominant against him.’’

Beckett took a no-decision last night, but is 3-0 with a 1.00 ERA in four starts against the Yankees this season.

2. Terry Francona has an interesting dilemma. Does he sit Marco Scutaro, who had four hits last night, in favor of Jed Lowrie at shortstop? Lowrie comes off the disabled list today. Is he someone the team can count on to make all the plays? The switch-hitter would give the Sox lineup a boost, especially from the right side, where he is hitting .386 with three homers and 18 RBIs. It will be tough for the Sox to sit Marco Scutaro’s grit.

3. Francona’s managerial strategy could come into question. He had Jason Varitek swinging on a 3-and-0 count in the sixth inning, fouling out to the catcher with two men on base. In the eighth, he let Varitek bat against the tough Dave Robertson with the tying run on second base and Varitek fouled out to the third baseman. Should Francona have had Josh Reddick bunt in the sixth with two on and nobody out in a 1-1 game at home? Reddick flied to center, and the Sox’ rally eventually died.

4. These teams have very productive center fielders. You just don’t see guys like Curtis Granderson and Jacoby Ellsbury, with respective OPS numbers of .927 and .899, from that position very often. Granderson has become a middle-of-the-order hitter, with a perfect stroke for the short porch in right field at Yankee Stadium. He has 28 homers and 86 RBIs. Ellsbury is emerging as a power hitter with 19 homers and 72 RBIs, to go with a .318 average as the leadoff hitter. He also laid down a beautiful sacrifice bunt that led to the tying run in the ninth. Both players are excellent fielders and both can steal bases.

5. Adrian Gonzalez might be the league MVP, but he went 1 for 13 in the biggest series of the season. Mark Teixeira, despite a low batting average (.251), has been extremely productive in the middle of the Yankees lineup. The switch-hitter has 32 homers, one shy of Jose Bautista for the league lead. He’s hit at least 20 homers in each of his nine years in the big leagues. Both first basemen are well worth the money their teams have invested in them. The Red Sox tried to sign Teixeira following the 2008 season but the Yankees scooped them. The Sox are quite happy to have Gonzalez, though.

6. Early in the season there was so much talk about the Red Sox losing out on Russell Martin and being “stuck’’ with Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Really? Though Martin was named an All-Star, the catchers’ numbers tell an interesting story. Saltalamacchia has a .784 OPS compared with Martin’s .703 and is hitting nearly 30 points higher (.254 to .228). Martin has more homers (12 to 10) and RBIs (45 to 36) but has had 37 more at-bats. Saltalamacchia has thrown out 29 percent of base stealers, Martin 27 percent. Martin has made seven errors to Saltalamacchia’s two, but Salty has 14 passed balls, mostly from catching Tim Wakefield.

7. It’s safe to say the impact of losing Alex Rodriguez was far greater than the Red Sox’ loss of J.D. Drew. The Yankee lineup, though still explosive, was void of its centerpiece hitter, while Drew, who has struggled all season, was replaced by a better alternative in Reddick.

8. The AL East race could be decided by the bullpens. With Mariano Rivera at the back end and Rafael Soriano back to support one of the best setup men in baseball, Dave Robertson, the Yankees are in a terrific situation. But the Red Sox shouldn’t feel bullpen envy. They can come at you with Alfredo Aceves, Matt Albers, and Daniel Bard before Jonathan Papelbon. Neither side has a really good lefty, though Boone Logan silenced Adrian Gonzalez in the fifth inning with the bases loaded Friday night. Franklin Morales has shown flashes, but clearly both teams need lefty help.

9. We’ve talked about the Beckett-over-Sabathia advantage, but how about the rest of the rotations? In Jon Lester, the Red Sox have another bona fide No. 1. They would have had three of them if Clay Buchholz was still around. Can’t argue with the job both Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia have done for the Yankees. Colon allowed only two runs over 4 2/3 innings Friday night, exiting early because of a high pitch count. Garcia allowed one run in five innings last night.

John Lackey showed some resolve in outpitching Sabathia Saturday and he’s pitched better of late. But is he good enough to be the third starter in a playoff series? Or can Erik Bedard be that guy? The Yankees also have what may be a quiet assassin in rookie Ivan Nova, who has 10 wins and a slider that has been death on hitters since the All-Star break. As Lackey has been the enigma for the Sox, A.J. Burnett remains that for the Yankees. He’s certainly capable of throwing fantastic games and that’s what the Yankees have to hope for. Phil Hughes remains key to giving the Yankees stability.

The team equipped with the best playoff rotation? The edge has to go to the Red Sox because of Beckett and Lester.

10. Both Robinson Cano and Dustin Pedroia can impact a game offensively and defensively. Pedroia brings a few more intangibles. Both are terrific defensively and Cano throws about as well as any second baseman in the game. Both are difference-makers.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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