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Electric surge

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff July 24, 2008 12:05 PM

Dare I say it, but unless we’re in for a few more rounds of Midwestern-style tempests, it could be a crisp and efficient series this weekend at Fenway between the Red Sox and Yankees.

But that’s what should probably concern Red Sox fans about the prospects of an AL East title.

Despite claims of New York pulling off their recent streak of wins with “smoke and mirrors,” the numbers tell a much different story. No other team in the American League has pitched better than the Yankees this month, 12-6 in July with a 3.07 ERA. The Red Sox are second with a 10-8 mark and a 3.38 ERA.

Not to mention this weekend we get prime time showdowns between fireballers Joba Chamberlain and Josh Beckett Friday night, veterans Andy Pettitte and Tim Wakefield on Saturday, and Jon Lester vs. Sidney Ponson, who is probably himself trying to figure out how he’s 6-1.

Not that this is of great value, but it is interesting to note that last July, when the Yankees began their successful push for the wild card, their pitching staff was 19-9 with a 4.16 ERA (Boston: 15-12, 3.66). Last August they were 18-11 with a 5.16 ERA (Boston: 16-13, 3.97). Bottom line, their staff is pitching at an ERA about a run better than what they were a year ago, which seems to suggest that unless Mike Mussina stops taking his playing-for-a-contract pills anytime soon, they’re not going anywhere over the next two months.

Whether that should most concern the Rays, Red Sox, Twins, White Sox, or Tigers is certainly up for debate. But as for the Yankees being dead and buried, not this year, which we, of course, say every year about this time or so.

But there’s a big difference this time around. Chamberlain-Pettite-Mussina has proven to be as dangerous a starting trio as anything the Red Sox or Angels can toss out to the mound. And the scariest thought: Chien-Ming Wang could be back by the end of next month.

Add him to the mix and suddenly the Yankees look like World Series contenders. As excited as Red Sox fans are to add David Ortiz back into the mix tomorrow night, imagine how Yankee fans might feel about the possibility of adding a guy who won 19 games for them last season.

No longer do the Yankees solely win by slugging their way to 10-9 wins, though they have the firepower to do that as well. Their pitching, thought decimated about a month ago with the loss of Wang and Phil Hughes, has allowed just 12 runs in New York’s six-game winning streak since the end of the All-Star break. Boston allowed 11 in its first game back alone.

Yes, there are lineup concerns, especially considering Jorge Posada is back on the disabled list, but even that could be a blessing in disguise for the Bombers. As Yankees blog the Bronx Block points out, “Yankees pitchers have a 3.49 ERA throwing to Molina and a 4.65 ERA pitching to Jorge. I am sure that some if the disparity may be explained by Mike Mussina insisting on throwing to Molina, as well as some luck factoring into the equation. However, a gap that large suggests that something real and tangible may in fact differentiate the game calling of these two backstops.”

Hideki Matsui remains a long shot to return, but Johnny Damon is back just in time to return to Boston this weekend, and there’s still the possibility the team secures a bat prior to the trading deadline, or at least one without the stiffness of Richie Sexson. In fact, it’s somewhat odd that the offense is where certain things are lacking with this team rather than the pitching, which used to be the annual trademark. The Yankees are just seventh in the AL with 474 runs scored. They’re just ninth in the league with 88 runs this month, a.262 batting average, and a .730 OPS.

But the starters have more than made up for offensive inefficiencies. Mussina yesterday won his 13th game of the season by shutting down the Twins over eight innings. In eight of his last 10 starts, Mussina has allowed two runs or fewer.

Tomorrow night, Chamberlain gets his first Fenway start. The jury’s still out on the righty, but in his two starts since facing Boston at Yankee Stadium earlier this month, he’s allowed four earned runs, with a strikeout to walk ratio of 17:1, and has not earned a win. Andy Pettitte in five of his last nine starts (since getting blasted for 10 runs by the Royals) has allowed one earned run or less.

Give skipper Joe Girardi credit. Ever since his bizarre postgame meeting and ensuing press conference after the July 4 loss to Boston, his team is 11-3. New York has won 10 in a row at Yankee Stadium, its longest such streak there since 1998, the year they rolled to 114 wins and a World Series title.

Thanks to the Rays’ emergence, we’ve got what promises to be a thrilling three-team race in the AL East. Mix in the three teams going at it in the Central, and its evident no wild card is assured for second place.

The Yankees are now 33-22 at home, and 23-23 on the road, which believe it or not, is the second-best road mark in the league. Boston would like nothing more than to put a dent in that record this weekend, when the Red Sox and Yankees meet head-to-head for the second straight time with neither of them in first place.

The pennant race officially begins tomorrow. And this time, the Yankees’ midseason surge is something of major concern.

17 comments so far...
  1. It's inexplicable how well Mussina is pitching this year. If he keeps this up he's going to easily get 20 wins and have a legit shot at the Cy Young for the first time in his career. (If he is truly pitching like this because it's a contract year, what does that say about his character as a player? Sortof reminds me of Clemens during his final years with the Sox.)

    My two cents on the Yankee rotation:

    Joba: ML hitters may figure him out, but unlikely--he's probably got the best stuff in their entire rotation.
    Pettite: If elbow stays healthy, he'll be solid. Seems like he either owns the Sox or gets lit up, though usually the former and not the latter.
    Mussina: He can't keep this going, right? Sox need to make him throw alot of pitches and kick him out of the game in the 5th or 6th inning. Their bullpen is pretty solid these days, too, though. Even Farnsworth. But I'd rather take my chances with them than with the starters.
    Rasner: He's actually not bad. Good back of the rotation guy.
    Ponson: There's no way he can keep this going, right? Right?

    The Yankees are a dangerous team even without Posada. But what do people expect? They've got a million all-stars on their team and the highest payroll. There's no way they're going to be bad over the course of a season.

    Posted by jamie July 24, 08 07:22 PM
  1. Well, we figure to be better if Masterson is legit in middle relief, Lowrie is an upgrade & Papi makes for a pretty good bat at the trade deadline. Manny's head always a concern, but both teams are solid. Going to be a great two months.

    Posted by Jeff July 24, 08 08:45 PM
  1. Funny how the media comes up with all of these stats, to make things as exciting as possible, only to leave out the most obvious, which then cools things a bit.

    Who made out the schedule this year? Yankees are a +9 in home games played this year, the Sox are a -5. That is a 14 game swing. If everything was even (as it will be at the end of the season), you would have to give the Sox an extra 3 games (at least). Turning a 3 game lead into a 6 game lead. Plus, it may get worse before it gets better. After the Yanks 3 games at Boston, they are at home again for 7 more games. Giving them an incredible 13 more games at home than on the road with only 2 months to play.

    Not only do the Yankees have to make up all of those home games. They have to go out west TWICE, where the Sox are finsihed. They have to play the Angels 10 TIMES !!! Where the Sox only have 3 games left with them (all at home).

    The Yankees are a good team. DUH !, if you didn't know that. But, add in this data of the schedule, which the media conviently left out, and maybe the race isn't quite as close as it seems.

    Posted by sjddaj July 24, 08 10:08 PM
  1. Damn Yankees!

    Posted by Bosoxergirl July 24, 08 10:30 PM
  1. It's The Yankees. It'll always be the Yankees. Whether they're 10 1/2 games out, or 2 1/2 games out, they're going to haunt us until Steinbrenner XII picks them up and moves them to Poughkeepsie.

    Posted by --D. July 24, 08 10:42 PM
  1. The Sox are the best team of this two, this columns suck (ups that's the banned word i'n using!!!)
    The Red Sox have survived without their best hitter for two months, how many teams can do that?
    They'll win the divison and the yankees the wildcard.

    If we win tomorrow then the sweep is on the line, as the sox will win easily on sunday.

    Posted by Telfe July 24, 08 10:52 PM
  1. The Yankees are better than expected, but the schedule shifts soon. They have to still make two west coast swings, having played exactly ONE series so far on the west coast, while the Red Sox have lived out there it seems. Also, the number of home games left for the Red Sox is a major advantage.

    Posted by furpal87 July 25, 08 12:02 AM
  1. When you have a payroll over 200 million and money to spear, how can you possibly even be counted. Many make this mistake every year. Yankee's this year don't have the team to win the World Series, but they do have the team to make it to the playoffs. The Sox need a massive wake up of the bullpen and of key players like Manny, Jacoby and Tek. We have a great team, but only on paper. The team needs to step up as a whole.

    Posted by Tom July 25, 08 12:15 AM
  1. good article and correct on all points. The schedule may favor the sox but I wouldn't put all my chickens in that basket. What I want to know is, why is there more intelligent discussion and better writing on these blogs then in the actual printed paper?

    Posted by samoeba July 25, 08 08:34 AM
  1. As a Yankees fan, the schedule concerns me over the second half, but while the hitting is improving slowly, the pitching is top notch - including the relievers (except those guys in the pen named Hawkins). While Rasner and Pontoon are tepid, Kennedy is waiting in the wings, as is Alfredo Aceves. Hughes will probably be back in August, and The Wanger August or Sepember, probably. As long as the pitching stays where its at, or at least relatively close, The Yankees are not only a playoff team, but a title contender.

    Posted by FredZeppelin July 25, 08 10:53 AM
  1. It would have been nice if we had their schedule the last month and a half and they had ours....I wish they had been playing the Diamondbacks and the Angles on the road...it seems like every time we get to this part of the season, the teams they are scheduled to play are the ones that are not doing so good this year (not knocking other teams...) and we always end up with the ones who are a billion games over 500 and on the hottest streak of winning their last 700 games...while they get the ones who are 900 games under 300 and could only win if the other team didn't show up (again, no offense directed at any one team....OK, not trying to pick on any one team - its a general comment so sorry if I offend...not trying to)...so it seems like the NYY make this great "surge" - and they do....but they always seem to hit the cement wall in October. Oh well. Sox will do well in this series. I'll do my part - wear the t-shirt they seem to like (we never seem to win when I wear my Wakefield or Beckett shirt...so I avoid those on game days), sit in that spot on the couch (avoid the LazyBoy...they don't like that one either).....do my routine...to keep the Baseball Gods happy......

    Posted by Yoshimi July 25, 08 12:41 PM
  1. Something tells me the Yankees don't plan on finishing the season with Molina as their #1 catcher.

    Posted by J-Bone July 25, 08 12:43 PM
  1. Boston sucks!! The Yanks are gonna sweep and its gonna be Boston Massacre III for the Red Sux. Manny's a bum, and he's quiting on his team in a big spot against the Yankees like he did in '06. His knee's really hurting, which is why he was hitting .487 over his last 11 games. The only thing that's hurting him his his wallet, because apparrently 20 mil a season and two rings isn't enough for him. He always has to have his way, which is why he pushed down a sixty year-old man. The Red Sux have a history of bullying old men (Don Zimmer in '03) while the Yankees have a history of winning championships. After this weekend series, the Yanks will be back on top over the Red Sux where they belong, just like old times.

    Posted by br0nxxx b0mba July 25, 08 01:17 PM
  1. A couple of you guys pointed out that the Yanks still have to play the Halos 10 times while Boston only has 3 left against them. To me, that's a huge advantage for Boston. We all know (Yanks/Sox fans) how the Angels seem to own the Yanks. Forget about that 3 game sweep out there. You guys do very well against that team. Plus, Boston has most of their remaining 59 games at Fenway where you guys have proven to be really tough to beat. Two games in this series favor Boston as Beckett is always tough on the Yanks and Lester has proven himself to be a really good and very dependable starter. I'd give the Yanks the advantage for Saturday's game only because Pettitte has been outstanding recently and the Yanks can get to Wakefield.

    It should be a fun weeke

    Posted by John G July 25, 08 01:45 PM
  1. I see some Red Sox fans still talking about payroll! You have the fourth highest payroll in baseball, which doesn't even include the $50 million or so posting you had to give for Matusaka. So let's stop!

    Posted by Celerino Sanchez July 25, 08 03:28 PM
  1. Red Sox and Yankees both suk. I can't wait to see two of the highest paid teams in baseball finish 2nd and 3rd in the division, behind the new beast of the east RAYS!!!

    Posted by Bill July 25, 08 03:33 PM
  1. sox and yanks are like Bird and Johnson.just sit back and watch the two best
    teams play and enjoy it .

    Posted by rick July 25, 08 04:46 PM
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