The 4-8 Boston Red Sox begin a three game series against their old rivals the New York Yankees Today at 3:05 PM. Before the game, there will be a massive celebration commemorating the 100 year anniversary of Fenway Park. The Red Sox organization will have hundreds of former players and team personnel on hand for the event and composer John Williams will introduce his new “Fanfare for Fenway” before the game. The historic ballpark first hosted regular baseball 100 years ago to the day, when the Boston Red Sox beat the New York Highlanders (now the Yankees) 7-6 on a walk-off infield single by Tris Speaker.
Fast-forward 100 years later and the two teams are set to go at it again. Both teams have been slow out of the gate. The New York Yankees also lost their first three games, but they have rebounded and now hold a 7-6 record, good for second place in the division. The Red Sox briefly bounced back from their horrible start, beating the Tampa Bay Rays three out of four games but they will begin the series with the Yankees coming off the a three game losing streak after dropping the final game against the Rays 1-0 and losing two games to the Texas Rangers.
Both teams have been hitting the ball well thus far. The Yankees are third in the league in runs scored per game and the Red Sox are fifth.. However, both teams have been pitched inconsistently. The Red Sox have been horrible on the mound; leading the league with 6.17 runs allowed per game. The Yankees have not been nearly as bad, thanks in large part to their excellent bullpen. However, their starting pitching has been almost as bad as Boston’s, possibly even worse. The Red Sox starters have a dreadful 5.97 ERA as group while the Yankees starters have a 5.59 ERA, but looking at FIP, Boston has been the superior staff, with a 4.38 FIP against the Yankees 4.63 FIP. The Yankees starters have been hit hard allowing an incredible 17% of fly balls to reach the seats.
When the starters exit the game, the Yankees have one of the best bullpens in the game. Behind Dave Robertson, Rafael Soriano and of course, Mariano Rivera, the Yankees relievers have just a 1.83 ERA in the game. At the other end of the spectrum, the Red Sox bullpen has been an unmitigated disaster. The Sox relievers have a 6.63 ERA and a just-as-terrible 5.70 FIP in 36 innings of work. There has not been any one clear go-to reliever in the higher leverage situations and the problem has been made much worse by manager Bobby Valentine’s incredibly slow hook. Facing a team like the Yankees, that can wear down the starting pitcher early, the Red Sox are at a serious disadvantage in the series.
Game One features Clay Buchholz facing off against Ivan Nova. Buchholz has struggled thus far, but in his last start he managed to pitch seven innings. The righty settled down and pitched very well after giving up four runs in the first, earning the win against the Rays. He faces Ivan Nova, who has been solid thus far allowing six runs on 18 hits in 13 innings work while picking up wins in both starts. This game will be important for both starters as they look to step up their game and help give the rotation some consistency
Game Two rookie starter Felix Doubront will face veteran Freddy Garcia. Doubront has shown some very encouraging signs in his two starts this season, striking out thirteen and walking just four, but the major issue for the young Venezuelan has been efficiency. Doubront has not gone beyond five innings thus far despite pitch totals of 102 and 95 in his two starts. Given the sorry state of the Red Sox bullpen, Dourbont will need to improve on that aspect of his game if he wants to earn a W any time soon. Garcia has had similar issues, pitching just 4 2/3 and 5 2/3 in his two starts but he has not given Yankees fans anything to be optimistic about. In ten innings he has allowed 9 runs and two home runs, striking out just eight. This one is seems destined to be a high scoring back and forth battle; Doubront is clearly superior right now, but it will not be long before he has to yield to a bullpen that can easily surrender any lead.
Game Three will see converted reliever Daniel Bard try to earn his first win as a starter against a pitcher who has 177 wins in his 12 year career in C.C Sabathia. While this is definitely a miss match, Bard showed lock down stuff in his last start throwing 6 2/3 scoreless innings before tiring while Bobby Valentine twiddled his thumbs. Like Doubront, Bard has struggled to go deep into games, thanks in large part to his high walk rate. He has been able to offset that with excellent strike out ability and a large percentage of ground balls, but this game will be a major test for the former set up man. Sabathia has not been his usual dominate self thus far, carrying a 5.59 ERA into Sunday’s game, but he has often been a slow starter and his strike out and walk rates suggest that he will be dominating the American League once again very soon.
What to watch for-
Bobby Valentine is on the hot seat as much for his poor game management as for his mouth. He has done a terrible job handling the bullpen, adding to the team’s troubles there. Facing a team that wears starters down, this series is going to be a big test for both Valentine and the Red Sox bullpen. With Bard and Doubront both starting in the series, there is going to be no way to avoid using the bullpen heavily. Valentine can’t afford sit on his hands and wait in these games. If he can mix and match relievers with some rational plan in mind and those pitchers can stake claim to some useful role, a good deal of the pressure on the club could subside. However, this series has all the makings of a catastrophe forBoston. If the team gets swept here, things are going to get very ugly for Valentine and for a number of the players in the Red Sox bullpen.