The Red Sox beat the Yankees 3-2 in 10 innings Sunday night, a game that took well over four hours and had maybe two exciting innings. With the victory, the Red Sox won their fourth consecutive series against the Yankees this season, clinched the tie-breaker for the AL East and retook the division lead.
So what did we learn? Here are my initial five thoughts:
1) The Red Sox and Yankees will see each other in the ALCS. Despite my concerns about Justin Verlander (my pick for AL Cy Young) or Jered Weaver in a short series (notice I fear no Rangers pitchers), I don’t see any teams in the AL on par with the Red Sox or the Yankees. The Yankees lead the wild card by seven games, and they rarely collapse late in the season. The AL East will send two teams to the postseason this year, and no team has the offense to hang with them or beat them, setting up the first Red Sox-Yankees ALCS since 2004. While I certainly would prefer the Red Sox to win the AL East, they are the best road team in the majors. The wild card would not be catastrophic for the Red Sox, even with the enhanced atmosphere of the playoffs.
2) Boston’s rotation is still better than New York’s. Just one starting pitcher recorded a victory this weekend: John Lackey… the guy with the ERA over 6.00. Three starting pitchers took no-decisions, and two – Jon Lester and CC Sabathia – lost. Lester’s loss was due to one bad inning, the same problem that has plagued him throughout his career. Given Lester’s career winning percentage of 70.6, however, the Red Sox can still confidently send him out in a Game 2 of a playoff series. Sabathia’s loss is far more problematic for the Yankees. Sabathia is 0-4 with a 7.20 ERA against the Red Sox this season. By comparison, Josh Beckett – who took a no-decision Sunday after making basically one bad pitch in six innings – is 3-0 with a 1.00 ERA. Given a seven-game series, the Red Sox are far better set up. Beckett can beat Sabathia, and Lester can beat anyone. No matter how many stem cells Bartolo Colon eats, I still go with Lackey in a Game 3, because he always has the potential for a quality start (Erik Bedard pitches Game 4, or maybe reverse that if Bedard pitches well down the stretch). With or without Clay Buchholz, you still have to like Boston’s odds. However….
3) The Yankees have the bullpen edge. Yes, the Red Sox won Sunday by beating Mariano Rivera, in no small part because of Marco Scutaro‘s third four-hit game ever with the Red Sox. Most nights, however, Rivera is going to get it done. Phil Hughes, the Yankees’ losing pitcher Sunday, was a starting pitcher getting extra work in. Take them out of the equation, and you have two games (Friday and Sunday) in which the Yankees’ bullpen completely dominated the Red Sox. If a starting pitcher for the Yankees can’t get it done (which frequently seems to be the case), they should feel way more comfortable with turning a game over to the bullpen. The Red Sox have some decent relievers: Jonathan Papelbon is pitching for a mega-deal, Daniel Bard has shook off his early-season jitters, and Dan Wheeler – who I thought was a great off-season pickup – is finally coming around. But Boston’s overall bullpen ranks just middle-of-the-pack in the AL, whereas New York’s ranks near the top. Blowouts are hard to come by in the playoffs, and the Red Sox might need one more quality arm to lock down late-game leads. Which brings me to…
4) When is Tommy Hottovy coming back? Seriously, can someone explain to me why Franklin Morales and Randy Williams are still on the big-league roster? Morales has an ERA of 4.40 and looks out-of-sorts on the mound. Williams (6.48 ERA) is a complete mess. The Red Sox may need two lefties, but shouldn’t one of these crap factories be sent down or even DFA’d? They bring nothing to the table. Tommy Hottovy, meanwhile, has a 2.16 ERA and .171 opponent batting average in the minors this year. I don’t know that Hottovy is the lefty specialist the Red Sox need; he certainly wasn’t in his first trip to the majors. But if what the Red Sox currently have isn’t working, isn’t the definition of insanity to keep trying it and hope something different happens? The rosters will expand in three weeks. If both Morales and Williams haven’t settled down completely, I say the Red Sox bring up Hottovy and at least give him another shot.
5)The Red Sox and Yankees have different offensive strategies. The Red Sox lead the majors in hits, runs, RBIs, doubles, total bases, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging and (logically) OPS. The only offensive category the Red Sox don’t rule is home runs, a category which belongs to the Yankees. Sunday night highlighted the differences in how the Red Sox and Yankees score runs. The Red Sox use a “continuation” offense: leadoff hitters get on base, then power hitters drive them in without clearing the bases via the homer, forcing pitchers to always throw from the stretch and leaving them always vulnerable. The Yankees, on the other hand, score in brief, powerful moments. When the Red Sox offense is on – like it was Saturday – the team has 10-run games or even innings. In close games, however, the Yankees’ offense is more likely to get that one game-changing hit. One Red Sox hitter – Sunday night it was almost Jacoby Ellsbury, who personally stranded nine base-runners – can derail their offense. The Yankees don’t run that risk. We’ll see which strategy works better in the playoffs.