WORLD SERIES OF THE WEEK: Red Sox at Yankees

"To the last, I grapple with thee; From Hell's heart, I stab at thee; For hate's sake, I spit my last breath at thee"

by Steven GoldmanIt’s been a tough month for both the Yankees and the Red Sox. The Yankees’ crew of wheezing geezers is just 14-13 on the month and is looking for an influx of life from fellow wheezing geezers Mark Teixeira and Kevin Youkilis, who are expected to rejoin the team on Friday. The Red Sox are just 15-14, with the pitching staff giving up some high run totals throughout the month -- 15 runs to the Twins on May 8, something you wouldn’t have thought possible; 12 runs to the Blue Jays on May 12; 12 to the Indians on May 23. It’s hardly been a disaster -- the staff’s ERA for the month is 3.98 -- but it’s been just enough to make for a difficult stretch.

The Red Sox-Yankees rivalry doesn’t need any further ingredients to set fan-interest in this series to boiling, but with the two clubs unable to pull away from each other and the Orioles and Rays crowding in from behind, this contest will have a disproportionate impact on the state of play in the American League East.

For the Yankees, what’s at stake is literally the premise of their entire season. With so many injuries, many counted them out early, but Hail Mary gambles on Vernon Wells and Lyle Overbay paid off enough that, when combined with strong pitching, they were able to hang in the race. Now Wells has cooled and Overbay has likely become redundant (before he inevitably cooled as well). As a switch-hitter, Teixeira will give the Yankees something extra against left-handers, but he won’t be any better than Overbay was against righties (.286/.328/.540), so his return is likely a marginal upgrade, and the Yankees will still need to find additional sources of offense -- Youkilis should help, but at .239/.337/.410 over roughly his last full season of play, he can no longer be classed as a major run producer.

In addition, the pitching is in flux with the starting rotation unsettled. CC Sabathia’s reduced velocity and sketchy recent performance -- .326/.351/.562 against with a 5.95 ERA -- being especially worrisome.

The Red Sox have had some rotation instability of their own. Lester has been roughed up in his last two starts, Clay Buchholz has been hurt, Ryan Dempster has been a disappointment, leaving John Lackey as the guy you can rely on for now. Yes, that induces cognitive dissonance in Boston, and no, it’s not exactly likely that Lackey will continue to pitch at a higher level than he has in about seven years. Still, pitchers can reinvent themselves, and perhaps Lackey has. Boston’s offense also has yet to hit on all cylinders. Though Jacoby Ellsbury has shown signs of heating up recently (going 11-for-23 in a five-game hitting streak), the team’s aggregate outfield production of .255/.338/.372 is among the worst in the majors, ranking 21st overall -- just above that of the Yankees.

Players to watch

by Steven Goldman

Mike Napoli

How to pull off skull + beard

Now about a month away from having enough plate appearances to appear on the active leader boards, at which point he’ll show up in the lower half of the top-25 for both OPS and slugging percentage. As well as he’s done so far, he hasn’t been quite what the Sox bargained for -- he’s hit a ton of doubles, but his walk rate is down and his home-run rate is the lowest of his career. You can’t draw a straight line from his hip problem to his current output, and perhaps we shouldn’t try to read anything negative into the change at all. Napoli has always been a variable player, and maybe this has been his version of a slump.

Daniel Nava

Baseball Player

A great story you would like to see less of, the Red Sox plucked the non-drafted Nava out of the Golden Baseball League back in 2007. He proceeded to hit .317/.415/.498 in the minors, earning his way to the big leagues at 27. There’s a great deal he can’t do -- he’s far from Tris Speaker in the outfield (though he's improved immensely since returning to the majors in 2012), and he’s one of those switch-hitters who can’t switch-hit, with career averages of .206/.311/.335 from the right, albeit less important side. But he’s now had roughly a full season of plate appearances as a left-handed hitter, and he’s batted .273/.384/.428, numbers that won’t win you any awards but are more than solid. Ideally, he’d play a bit less often than he has of late, but injuries and disappointing performances from outfield wings Jonny Gomes and Shane Victorino have led to a rotating cast in the corners. One of them will ultimately end up with Jackie Bradley, Jr., but for now Nava remains an asset.

Clay Buchholz

Hopefully maybe

This is a kind of pointless bit of baseball trivia, but we haven’t had namesakes win the Cy Young Award since 1980, when Steve Stone and Steve Carlton swept the awards. An all-Clay award seems possible this year. Since reinventing himself last June, Buchholz has made 29 starts with a line of 205.2 innings, 161 hits, 63 walks, 170 strikeouts, and a 2.84 ERA. Seemingly the only thing that can stop him is injury, and it nearly did -- Buchholz hasn’t pitched since May 22 after feeling some soreness in the AC joint, which lurks near the collarbone. Healthy or not, there’s probably one part of his act that’s not going to sustain itself -- his ultra-low 2.5 percent rate of home runs per fly ball. As the weather heats up, some of those are going to find the stands.

Brett Gardner

Where do they come up with these guys

Gardner is a good example of the confusion that speed creates in managers. Major league center fielders are hitting .255/.321/.405 this season, so at .262/.330/.421, Gardner is ahead of the pack. Put that together with his excellent speed and defense and you have a very valuable player, one who might even come close to repeating his seven-win season of 2010. In an ideal world, he wouldn’t be a leadoff hitter, as his hitting skills are normally just adequate. However, the Yankees are hardly living in an ideal world this year, and Gardner is where he belongs. Subject for further discussion: Though it feels as if he just got here, Gardner is 29; is his career mostly over?

Mark Teixeira

You'd be smug too

Watch Teixeira when he hits -- his face goes completely slack, as if his focus is so extreme it doesn’t leave him any extra brain power to control the nerves in his face. Teixeira has been roughly the same player for the last three years, averaging .252/.347/.484 from 2010-2012. What makes that depressing is (a) it’s a lot less than the Yankees expected to be getting for their $22.5 million and (b) it comes courtesy of a healthy Yankee Stadium subsidy. Teixeira is returning from a strained wrist tendon. We’ve often seen that with wrist problems, a player being healthy enough to play doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s healthy enough to hit. Stay tuned, not just now, but indefinitely -- there are still another three seasons to go after this one.

CC Sabathia

This just isn't fair

Possibly the world’s largest living land mammal, at least in baseball terms. That’s not a fat joke but rather a recognition that there just haven’t been many specimens as large as he is in the history of the game, and as such it was, until very recently, hard to know what his career trajectory was going to look like. People always like to say, "He can handle it" of players who have carried tremendous workloads, but the truth is, like all of us, he can handle it until he can’t. Sabathia, built something like a triceratops, might have seemed like the exception, but no -- with his fastball down 90 mph, it seems that the mileage has told on him as it eventually must on all pitchers. Having said that, he’s still just 32, and until recently had pitched quite well; the best pitchers reinvent themselves and carry on despite the reduced velocity, and the guess here is that Sabathia will eventually figure out how to succeed despite his new limitations.

about the stadium

by Steven Goldman

Yankees Stadium III:The dictionary defines "travesty" as "a literary or artistic burlesque of a serious work or subject, characterized by grotesque or ludicrous incongruity of style, treatment, or subject matter," and "a literary or artistic composition so inferior in quality as to be merely a grotesque imitation of its model." That’s Yankee Stadium III, a travesty. Given the opportunity to make a grand statement in the same manner the original Yankee Stadium did when it opened in 1923 -- no other ballpark was as grand -- the Yankees opted instead for a Disneyland imitation of the original, one which reproduces some of the surface features of the old ballpark in a gaudier, more commercialized aspect while deprecating things like sight lines and the idea that all customers are created equal. The new Yankee Stadium, now in its fifth season, improves on its model in some ways: the concourses are wide and capacious. Whether you consider it’s tendency to yield home runs at a high rate an improvement depends on your personal tastes -- the short porch in right field, modeled after the one built for Babe Ruth nearly 100 years ago, is far friendlier than its predecessor. Over the last three years, the park factor for home runs by left-handed hitters is a cool 153; by such means did Raul Ibanez become a legend in his own time. In his sole year in pinstripes, Ibanez hit 14 of 19 regular-season home runs at home. When Ruth hit his 60, he actually knocked 32 of them on the road.

""The new Yankee Stadium undoubtedly has its faults. Monument Park is not nearly as well-displayed as it was across the street, and while the closest seats were never that affordable or accessible, they feel even more removed by the proclaimed "moat." Is it so different compared to the old place though? I order my tickets the same way (not Ticketmaster), sit in the same areas with the same beautiful ballpark views (1B/3B upper deck), and witnessed some thrilling offensive performances. The prices are irritating at times, but it remains a wonderful place to see a game. Don't forget--for as much as people mock the short porch in right field, it was even shorter in the days of Ruth, Mantle, and Murcer. -- Andrew Mearns, Pinstriped Bible

Just Ask the locals!

from Pinstriped Bible and Over the Monster

Not quite Splinter vs. Joltin' Joe

"Player comparisons are just one part of what has made the Yankees/Red Sox rivalry so enticing over the years. From DiMag & The Mick vs. Teddy Ballgame & Yaz to Munson vs. Fisk and Jeter vs. Nomah, there have been plenty of all-stars and Hall of Famers to go around. Given the current injury-depleted Yankees roster that just got swept by the Mets though, what is there? Sure, there's Cano vs. Pedroia, but what else? Pronk vs. Papi? Ichiro vs. Victorino? It's slim pickings, even with the return of Mark Teixeira and Kevin Youkilis to the Yankees lineup. Youk's return from the DL against his old team does add some spice though, and the fact that he and Teixeira (in place of the crashing-down-to-Earth Lyle Overbay) will be in the lineup makes it a little more watchable. The Yankees were just shut down by Dillon Gee, and now they must face the sizzling Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz in two of the three games. Maybe the familiarity will help and maybe it won't, but Yankee fans will certainly feel uneasy about the slumping offense entering each game. -- Andrew Mearns, Pinstriped Bible

The enemy of my enemy is my enemy

"Of course the Red Sox/Yankees rivalry still exists, but it's changed over the years. Now, the Rays are competitive all of the time, the Orioles are back in the mix, and even the Blue Jays are making waves. (To this point, in the off-season only, but still. They're trying!) Yankees/Red Sox series feel a little different these days for those reasons, as it seems like the geographical rivalries of the AL East have helped to widen the scope of where worry and dislike and schadenfreude and all of the best parts of a rivalry need to be directed. Red Sox and Yankees fans aren't just contending with each other for bragging rights: they need to listen to Rays fans rub 2008 in both of our faces -- Boston was eliminated in the ALCS and the Yankees sat out the playoffs entirely -- watch the Orioles stop a Red Sox playoff run and be a Yankees playoff opponent in 2011 and 2012, respectively, and listen to Blue Jays fans tout the superiority of Jose Reyes and Josh Johnson while forgetting those boxes were marked "Fragile." With all that being said, the Red Sox start the series in first, the Yankees in second, with the rest of the bunch behind. What matters this weekend is this specific rivalry." -- Marc Normandin, Over the Monster

One Key Stat:.232/.283/.278

by Steven Goldman

That’s what the Yankees are hitting for the month of May. In 27 games, they’ve scored over four runs just seven times and have been held to one or no runs six times. During the five-game losing streak they carry into this series, they’ve hit .225/.243/.314 and averaged two runs a game. No pressure, Messrs. Teixeira and Youkilis.

Bottom Line: Yankees 2, Red Sox 1

by Steven GoldmanThe Yankees aren’t as bad as they’ve looked lately, but then, both clubs are coming in at something less than their best. Jon Lester is coming off a couple of rough starts; CC Sabathia is too, and neither team has hit left-handed pitchers particularly well. As such, the likely winner of Friday’s game is… nobody. Well, that won’t work; we’ll flip a coin and say Red Sox, leading to a night of panic for the Yankees. On Saturday, Felix Doubront goes up against Phil Hughes. Hughes in Yankee Stadium sometimes make for a poor combination, but he’s been pitching for his rotation spot the last two times out and seems to have found an extra gear. Finally, Sunday night has a terrific match-up of Buchholz against Hiroki Kuroda -- a good reason to put "Game of Thrones" and "Mad Men" on the DVR and catch them later. Let’s guess that Buchholz is a little rusty and takes his first loss of the season. Thus, Yankees 2, Red Sox 1.

Please post your predictions below.

Game 1: Yankees 4, Red Sox 1

CC Sabathia bounces back with a strong start, striking out 10 in seven innings.

Pinstriped Bible recap: CC is still an ace.

Over the Monster: The Red Sox spent more time complaining than playing, falling to the Yankees 4-1 looking very much unlike their usual, congenial selves.

Game 2: Results pending

Saturday 6/1, 7:15 PM ET at Yankee Stadium | Come back to continue the discussion!

Game 3: Results pending

Sunday 6/2, 8:00 PM ET at Yankee Stadium | Come back to continue the discussion!

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