Why The Yankees Can Stay Ahead Of The Red Sox Now

July 22, 2009   ·     ·   Jump to comments
Article Source: Bleacher Report - New York Yankees

You can feel the tide turning in the American League East.

The New York Yankees have won six in a row since the All Star break. The Boston Red Sox have lost four in a row out of five games.

The Tampa Bay Rays are still around at four and a half back, but something tells me the AL East is going to come down like a heavyweight prize fight between the Yankees and Red Sox.

In the first half, the Yankees were 0-8 against Boston. The Yankees were also hammered with first half injuries with Alex Rodriguez, Xavier Nady, Chien-Ming Wang, Jorge Posada and Hideki Matsui all missing significant time. A.J. Burnett was struggling, as was CC Sabathia. Joba Chamberlain wasn’t living up to the expectations and the bullpen, save for Mariano Rivera, was dreadful.

The Red Sox in the first half could do no wrong.

Kevin Youkilis, Jason Bay and Dustin Pedroia hit very well. Josh Beckett, Tim Wakefield and Jonathan Papelbon were all-stars and any young relief pitcher to get called up threw gas and blew the ball right by the Yankees.

That was then, this is now. This is late July, when the dog days of summer are kicking in.

Since the break, the Sox have dropped four in a row, but their players are starting to get injured and starting to wear down some.

For instance, Mike Lowell has bounced around on the disabled list because of his recovery from hip surgery. Also, with David Ortiz’s struggles and nagging injuries in 2009, it forced the Red Sox to make a trade as they got Adam LaRoche from the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday.

Now, LaRoche is a decent player to have, but Lowell is a two time World Series Champion and a former World Series MVP, he’s as clutch of a player as you get. And all Yankee and Red Sox fans know the October legend of Big Papi, you don’t want him up to bat in the late innings with runners on, because more than likely, the ball is exploding off his bat.

If Lowell and Ortiz are either injured or just not playing well, is LaRoche going to pick up the slack?

The Red Sox pitching has taken a couple shots to their staff. Daisuke Matsuzaka was horrible in 2009 and ended up injured and may miss the rest of 2009 with arm problems; some blame it on his participation in the World Baseball Classic back in March. Matsuzaka was a key part of the Red Sox playoff rotation in 2007 and 2008.

Also, Wakefield was just placed on the disabled list with a back injury. Wakefield doesn’t throw hard enough to have any shoulder problems, so that’s not an issue. But Wakefield will turn 43 next month, he’s an older pitcher and now with a back injury. We’ve seen what happens to older pitchers with back injuries, just look at Randy Johnson.

Now, Josh Beckett, despite his loss to the Rangers, is still pitching like an All Star at 10-4, but Jon Lester has not been.

Lester was so key for the Red Sox in 2008, going 16-6 and was almost unbeatable in the playoffs, except for the 3-1 Game 7 loss in the ALCS to the Rays. Lester is only 8-7 in 2009 and his ERA has been around the four to five level, although he just got it below four. Lester is a huge part of the rotation and if he doesn’t pitch well, the Red Sox are in trouble, just like Beckett.

The Yankees on the other hand, seem to have gotten their players back to good health. Although Wang’s on the disabled list again for the second time and Nady is finished with the Yankees with Tommy John surgery on his elbow, A-Rod, Posada and Matsui are all back and playing well. Plus, the Yankees will eventually get lefty reliever Damaso Marte back and Marte knows how to pitch well in the playoffs, just look back to the White Sox run in 2005.

The bullpen was once seen as dreadful.

Brian Bruney was dominant then injured, Edwar Ramirez and Jose Veras were terrible, Marte was injured, Phil Coke and Brett Tomko were inconsistent and even Rivera started to show some aging.

That was the bullpen of April and May, when the games hardly counted.

The bullpen that is pitching now are pitching in the games that mean more and are pitching extremely well.

Alfredo Aceves has been great in the pen, giving the Yankees length and quality. Coke has been much better as of late, getting key outs. Phil Hughes has been lights out and throwing gas as the new setup man. Rivera is pitching like the Rivera of old, converting 24 saves in a row.

Now Bruney is still there, but has been inconsistent, Veras was traded to the Indians, Ramirez was sent down to AAA Scranton/Wilks-Barre, Marte is in rehab games and Tomko was designated for assignment.

I mentioned the Red Sox rotation before. The Yankees rotation at one time was struggling, but now, has become a great strength.

Sabathia is 9-6 and pitching like the workhorse everyone expected. He’s over 130 innings and goes deep into games. He has been the ace.

Burnett is now 9-4 and has been injury free. He’s pitched over 120 innings and been a strikeout machine, with 108 punch outs. He’s been a great front of the line pitcher.

Andy Pettitte, at 37, has given the Yankees more than expected. He’s already pitched 115 innings and is 8-5. He doesn’t strike out as many batters as Sabathia and Burnett, but that’s not Pettitte’s game. He’s also figuring out how to pitch better in the new Yankee Stadium and is always a better second half pitcher.

Joba Chamberlain has had his ups and downs, but if his last start is any signs of the future, then he can be a valuable weapon. Joba is 5-2, has pitched over 95 innings and has 86 strikeouts. Joba needs to attack the hitters and strike zone like the Joba of 2007 and part of 2008.

If Joba pitches like he did against the Tigers, watch out.

The Yankee lineup is starting to play well-rounded baseball. They are hitting in clutch situations, they hit and run, they steal, they move over runners, they hit sac flies, play good defense, get good pitching and yes, hit the occasional home runs. This was the formula for success during the 1996-2001 Yankee dynasty run. The Yankees are starting to show that type of play in the second half and if they bring that in games against the Red Sox, it can be a much different series in the second half.

The Yankees and Red Sox will resume the rivalry with a four-game series from Aug. 6-9 at Yankee Stadium. They will play the last three games in Fenway Park from Aug. 21-23, then will play their last three games of the series at Yankee Stadium from Sept. 25-27, so the Yankees will play seven of the last 10 games against the Red Sox at home, where the Yankees are 32-16 and the Red Sox on the road are 24-24.

The most important games are starting to be played.

The Yankees of 2008 did not play well in those games, but this 2009 Yankee team is much different. This is why I feel like when the dust is settled and the calendar turns October the Yankees can be able to overcome the Red Sox and get deep into playoff baseball.

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