Around the Bases Vol VIX: Red Sox – Yankees Rivalry Renewed; Too Many Pitchers in Philly

soxyankeesfightTonight, the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees renew their bitter rivalry. And of course it’s an important series (aren’t they all?). As of today, the Yankees lead the division by 2.5 games. In the NL East Division, Philadelphia has the unique situation of having too many pitchers. Is that even possible? We look at both of these situations this week at Around the Bases:

Red Sox – Yankees Epic Battle
The Boston Red Sox have picked a lousy time to go into a free-fall. They looked great the entire first half of the season, and led the American League in most categories. Their pitching, both starters and bullpen, dominated over opponents.

Since the All-Star break, the Red Sox are a woeful 8-10, including losing their last two in a row to the Rays. The New York Yankees, on the other hand, are 14-5 over that same period, and have not only erased a 3 game deficit, but have gone 2.5 games up on the Sox.

In the past 20 games, the Yankees have outperformed the Red Sox in virtually every offensive category, from HR to RBI to hits to batting average. In pitching, it’s the same story. The Yankees lead them in ERA, strikeouts, walks allowed, opposing batter’s average, and more.

fisk-middle-fingerWhile it’s certainly true that the Red Sox lead the season series eight games to none, so far, it’s also true that both teams are very different than they were before the All-Star break. One of the biggest changes is the role reversal the teams seem to have taken in regard to pitching. The Red Sox now suffer similar problems that the Yankees had the first part of the season, both with their starters and relievers.

Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk salutes the Yankees dugout during a Red Sox game.

Sure, they have Josh Beckett (13-4) and Jon Lester (a very good 9-7), two of the premier starters in the game, and Brad Penny has been doing a much better job than anyone thought he would, but the John Smoltz experiment has got to be nearly over. At 45, he is just not doing the job the Sox had hoped he would. His last three starts have been awful. He has gone 1-2 with a 9.18 ERA, and he’s given up 17 hits, 6 of those HR. Batters are hitting .361 off of him. Not what the Sox anticipated. Not what Smoltz anticipated. And it’s not helping the Sox that the ancient one, Tim Wakefield (11-3) is on the DL.

The Yankees, on the other hand, have Joba Chamberlain at 7-2, A.J. Burnett at 10-5, CC Sabathia at 11-7, and Andy Pettitte at 9-6. Then they have a resurgent Philip Hughes coming out of the pen, and the infatiguable Mariano Rivera, who hasn’t given up a run since the break.

This will likely be a make-or-break weekend for the Boston Red Sox. If they can’t at least split this very important four-game series with the Bombers, they may be looking at the Wild Card slot.

Unique Problem for Phillies
The Philadelphia Phillies all of a sudden find themselves with the unusual position of having too much pitching. Pedro Martinez just made what is likely going to be his last rehab start, and it was a good one. He went six innings and struck out 11 for the Phillies Double-A franchise.

Here’s the problem that Philly has: Where do they put him in the lineup? Who gets bumped?

Newly acquired Cliff Lee who pitched a complete game shutout in his first start with the Phillies and his 2nd start today? Um, don’t think so. By the way, in case you forgot, Cliff Lee is the reigning AL Cy Young winner.

How about Cole Hamels? He’s only 7-6 with a 4.68 ERA and 107 Ks, and the World Series MVP, and a local folk hero. He’s not going anywhere anytime soon.

How about Joe Blanton? He’s 7-5 with a 4.02 ERA and 107 Ks, but he’s been the Phillies’ most consistent pitcher all season. I think he’s safe.

Maybe J.A. Happ, who is now 6-2 with a 2.80 ERA in 14 games as a starter? Happ pitched a beauty on Wednesday night, tossing his 2nd complete game shutout of the season and striking out a career high 10 Colorado Rockies. Phillies GM Rueben Amaro Jr. says he’s safe and he’s staying in the rotation.

The old man, Jaime Moyer leads the staff with 10 wins, but has a 5.52 ERA. He’s probably not going anywhere either.

Tough situation for manager Charlie Manual. But one that many managers would love to find themselves in during the first week of August, while their team is in the middle of a pennant run.

“We still haven’t made a decision, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility that six guys could pitch in our rotation,” Amaro said.

It’s going to be interesting, however it plays out.