While the Toronto Blue Jays celebrate their back-to-back World Series victories in 1992 and 1993 with a reunion of former players this weekend, two of this year's top contenders are going head to head at the new Yankee Stadium in New York. First in the American League East, the Yankees are attempting to build on their lead in the division over the Boston Red Sox.
With no wins in their first eight meetings against Boston, the Yankees have taken the first three games of the series, including a 15-inning marathon Friday night and going into today’s game, they have a 5.5 game lead as the schedule hits the 110 game mark. The Yankees have now won six in a row, while the Red Sox have dropped their last five games; including a two game sweep at the hands of the Tampa Bay Rays before this series began. As Boston chases the Yankees, the Rays have quietly moved into the race for the American League wild card and now trail the Red Sox by only 1.5 games.
The Yankees appear to have the edge at this point of the season, as A.J. Burnett (10-5 in 22 starts) and CC Sabathia (12-7 in 24 starts) displayed their talents in games two and three of the series. Burnett pitched 7.2 innings in Friday’s 2-0 Yankee win, limiting the Red Sox to one hit while striking out six batters. Alex Rodriguez finished the Sox with a two-run shot over the fence in the 15th inning and Phil Coke (3-3) picked up the win as Burnett and the bullpen limited the high powered Sox to only four hits.
Game 3 saw Sabathia take a no-hitter into the sixth inning, finishing with nine strikeouts in 7.2 innings and allowing only two hits, while walking two. In his post game comments, Sabathia explained the extra incentive for the Yankees going into the series, “We want to set the tone for the rest of the season.” said Sabathia. As their lead in the division grows, the Yankees certainly are setting the tone for the rest of the season.
The Red Sox now find themselves with a 27-30 record on the road and questions surround their pitching rotation. MLB veteran and former Atlanta Braves star, John Smoltz (2-5 in 8 starts), allowed eight runs in Thursday’s loss, pulled after only 3.1 innings of work and he has been designated for assignment with Boston’s triple A affiliate. The team has ten days to release Smoltz or trade him if he refuses the demotion. Early speculation has Smoltz accepting the triple A assignment in hopes that he re-discovers his game.
The Sox now await the return of knuckle ball pitcher Tim Wakefield (11-3 in 17 starts) and their number one pitcher, Daisuke Matsuzaka (1-5 in 8 starts). Wakefield is currently on the 15 day DL with a lower back strain and is expected back in the coming days after a throwing session August 6th showed no signs of trouble. It will be a longer wait for Matsuzaka’s return to the line-up. Currently on the 60 day DL with an injury described as “weakness in his right shoulder”, Matsuzaka will attempt a throwing session August 11th, which could lead to his return in early September.
The final game of the four game series goes tonight in New York with Boston’s Jon Lester (9-7 in 22 starts with a 3.79 ERA) attempting to stop the losing streak against 15-year veteran Andy Pettitte (9-6 in 22 starts with a 4.35 ERA). A loss will see the Red Sox fall to 6.5 games behind the Yankees for the division and depending on the outcome of the Texas Rangers game against the L.A. Angels, the Sox could find themselves tied with the Rangers for the wild card in the American League.
While there is still plenty of baseball to be played, the Red Sox must regain their winning form quickly or they may find themselves on the outside looking in come playoff time. Baseball’s biggest spenders still have six games against each other, a three game series in Boston (August 21-23) and three games in New York (September 25-27).
It may be the Rays playing spoiler in the battle for the A.L. East division. The Rays and Red Sox play six more times, while the Yankees play seven more against Tampa Bay. If Tampa can keep pace with the bid spenders, they could be in position to win the division with a strong effort in their head-to-head meetings. It should be an interesting run to the end of the season. Have a great sports day everyone.