The matchup that everyone outside of the New York metro area and New England loves to hate is back, for a three-game set at Fenway Park that leads us into the All-Star break. Naturally, all four Red Sox and Yankees games will appear on national television, as follows:
Friday: 7 p.m. ET, MLB Network
Saturday, 12:35 p.m. ET, MLB Network
Saturday: 7:15 p.m. ET, Fox-TV (regional; coverage map here)
Sunday: 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
The fourth game in this set, at 12:35 p.m. ET on Saturday, was made necessary by a rained-out game on April 22.
The Red Sox got off to a horrendous start -- they were 11-16 on May 6, 7½ games out of first place -- and manager Bobby Valentine spent much of the early season shooting his mouth off on various topics. But since that date, Boston is 29-24, and though they are still 7½ games out of first place, they've played better of late, particularly offensively, outscoring their opponents 143-111 since June 1. Perhaps not coincidentally, Valentine hasn't been heard from much lately.
The Yankees muddled around .500 for much of the early going; they stood 21-21 on May 21, 5½ games behind the then-division-leading Orioles, but since that date they have posted the best record in baseball, 28-11; their overall record of 49-32 is virtually tied with the Rangers for the majors' best mark going into this weekend.
Truth be told, it's a bit of a mystery why either of these teams is contending at this juncture. Only Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson can be said, among Yankees, to be having an outstanding year offensively. Even so, they lead the major leagues with 126 home runs, and they've needed almost all of them -- it took them until June 16, when they beat the Nationals in 14 innings, to win a game without hitting one.
Their rotation has been good, but not great; CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda have been good, and Andy Pettitte was -- until he went down with an injury. The bullpen has tried to pick up for the loss of Mariano Rivera, but they've had some meltdowns even while Rafael Soriano was picking up 19 saves.
Meanwhile, the Red Sox have been an injury-depleted mess; 13 different players have started at least one game in the outfield for them this season and Dustin Pedroia is back on the disabled list for the second time. The only regular hitting at his career norms is David Ortiz; the jury's still out on whether Will Middlebrooks can keep his .298/.335/.538 line up for the rest of the year. Boston has gambled that he can, by shipping Kevin Youkilis to the White Sox.
The pitching staff hasn't been much better; not one starting pitcher has an ERA under 4.00 and they're still trying to figure out what to do with Daniel Bard. Alfredo Aceves has 19 saves, but also four blown saves and six losses.
And yet, here Boston stands, just two games behind the Orioles for the second wild-card spot. A year ago, they were in a far different position, leading all the way until their spectacular September collapse. This year, they're going to have to come from behind and fight off several other teams to get themselves a shot at the one-and-done wild-card game, since it doesn't seem likely they'll make up the current deficit. Or will they? Stranger things have happened in the AL East between these two teams (just ask the 1978 versions).
Friday: Hiroki Kuroda vs. Josh Beckett
Saturday day game: Phil Hughes vs. Franklin Morales
Saturday night game: Freddy Garcia vs. Felix Doubront
Sunday: Ivan Nova vs. Jon Lester
It could be that the Yankees will continue their hot streak and sweep this set and bury the hosting Bostonians. They do, after all, have the majors' best road record (24-16). Or the Red Sox could defy their own mediocre home record (21-21), sweep the visitors, and take over a wild-card spot.
Most likely, though, they'll split this set and we'll have to watch them take up this fight again -- the two teams meet 12 more times after the All-Star break. And yes, no matter how much those of us located outside the Northeast complain about the over-the-top attention these series get, we'll likely be watching.