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The Red Sox just dropped the two-game set to the Rays, which has turned the East into a three team race. However, the Red Sox, now trailing the Yankees by 2.5 games, have a chance to cut into the lead with the four game set in the Bronx. The Sox are 8-0 against the Bombers this season and took the first two games of the rivalry at the new Yankee Stadium. The Sox have been struggling since the first half wound down and have not won a series yet this half, except against the Orioles.
John Smoltz (2-4, 7.12 ERA, 1.50 WHIP in 2009), who earned a sloppy win last time out, opens the series against Joba Chamberlain (2 GS, 0-1, 11.0 IP, 5 ER, 15 H, 14 K, 6 BB). He pitched well against the Red Sox for the most part in his two outings, as he was just victimized by an unsteady first inning in the loss, but settled in nicely after that. Josh Beckett (3 GS, 2-0, 17.0 IP, 11 ER, 21 H, 16K, 7 BB) has had two electric outings against the Yanks and takes the hill against A.J. Burnett (2 GS, 0-1, 7.2 IP, 11 ER, 13 H, 4 K, 8 BB). Burnett has faced Beckett in both of his starts against the Red Sox this season.
Clay Buchholz (1-1, 6.05, 2.02 in 2009), coming off a shelling against the O’s, meets the Yankees big offseason pitching acquisition, CC Sabathia (0-1, 7.0 IP, 4 ER, 6H, 6K 2 BB). Jon Lester (2 GS, 1-0, 13.0 IP, 5 ER 13 H, 17 K, 5 BB) hooks up with Andy Pettitte (0-1, 6.0 IP, 3 ER, 6H, 6K, 4 BB), famously victimized by Jacoby Ellsbury’s straight steal of home earlier this season. As bad as Lester has been against Tampa Bay, though he did redeem himself Tuesday, he has been that much better against the Yankees.
Mariano Rivera is a familiar face to Red Sox Nation and is having a phenomenal season with 31 of 32 save chances converted with a 0.89 ERA, 1.96 WHIP, and 9.78 K/9. Of course, his only blown save was against the Red Sox in his only appearance against the team and he has converted 27 straight since then. The Red Sox know him well and seem to have a mastery of his cutter, but manager Joe Girardi will go to him with the game on the line in the series.
The Yankees offense is, as expected, near the top in many offensive categories, especially power related: runs, hits, doubles, home runs, total bases, and extra base hits. What was not so expected was how giving (to hitters) the new Stadium has been, especially to right field. It appears that the Red Sox will have to use this to their advantage as Smoltz has yielded a big inning in all but one start this season and Buchholz seems to be unraveling with each start. The Red Sox need Beckett and Lester to step up and force the split at the very least to hold their ground in the division. There are no let ups in the schedule any time soon, so they cannot afford to fall any further behind.