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The New York Yankees comes to Boston tonight to start the second act of the perennial drama that is the Red Sox/Yankees rivalry. In their first meeting the Sox dropped three out of four games in New York. The Yankees have since found themselves at the top of the AL East with an 11-8 record. The Red Sox haven’t faired so well and have dropped to the bottom of the division with a 9-11 record. The AL East is extremely tight in the early going and this four game series could completely change the complexion of the division.
Jacoby Ellsbury returns to Fenway Park for the first time since his departure from the Sox and joining the Yankees this past off-season. So far this season Ellsbury has been doing very well for himself in pinstripes. He’s batting an impressive .338 with 10 runs scored and 8 stolen bases.
It is going to be interesting to see how the fans react to his name being called for the Sox’ archrival. Personally, I’m expecting 75% cheers and 25% boos. I think most Red Sox fans understand all the circumstances that go into baseball free agency and the fact that the Red Sox didn’t exactly try their hardest to keep him around. He was here for two championships and always left it all on the field. The 25%, on the other hand, will pretty much hate anybody who goes from the Sox to the Yanks, and that I can also understand.
Masahiro Tanaka is the Japanese phenom the Yankees signed this off-season. Last year in Japan he went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA and 183 strikeouts. If he had thrown those numbers in the MLB he would have no doubt been the Cy Young award winner and probably MVP, even over Miguel Cabrera. The Red Sox missed his spot in the rotation the first time around so this is their first time seeing him in action.
He now has some major league starts under his belt and he has been nothing but impressive. So far this year he is 2-0 with a 2.28 ERA and 28 strikeouts in just 3 starts. He has one of the highest K/9 rates through a pitcher’s first three starts in all of MLB history. He is very similar to ex-Red Sox Japanese pitcher Diasuke Matsuzaka. They were both very high profile Japanese starters who had terrific careers in Japan only to come over to the states for huge sums of money. Matsuzaka did very well his first two seasons in the states (33-15) but fell off after that never to return to being an effective pitcher. Only time will tell what the future holds for Tanaka, but on Tuesday night the Sox will be looking to hand him his first loss of the season and put a bruise on some of his currently stellar numbers.
The Red Sox defense this year has been uncharacteristically bad. They are seventh in fielding percentage this year in the AL but that doesn’t accurately account for their woes. The rookie shortstop, Xander Bogaerts, has been struggling to make what some would call “routine plays.” He has two errors this year, but it seems like he isn’t quite comfortable yet in his position. Some may chalk it up to being rookie mistakes, but the sooner he figures it out the better off the Sox infield will be.
Even Dustin Pedroia, three time Gold Glover winner, hasn’t been making the plays we, as fans, have become accustomed to seeing. Along with him, there is a gaping hole at third base with Will Middlebrooks out with a calf injury. The Red Sox, in recent years, have relied on solid defense to help out their pitchers and keep themselves in the game. It is important for the Red Sox to put together a string of good defensive games and make the routine plays that can make or break a game.
This series will have a sudden impact on the AL East. The Red Sox could go from last to first and the Yankees could do the opposite. With the return of Jacoby Ellsbury and coming fresh off a tough Marathon Monday loss to the Orioles, the Sox are going to be playing in another emotional game and they need to bounce back quickly. They seem to be stuck in neutral and can’t seem to make any headway. They are still looking to gain momentum and this is the series that just may be able to provide it.