Over the winter, Brian Cashman admitted that, on paper, at least, the Red Sox were better than the Yankees. (He specifically noted that the Red Sox had the better starting rotation.) That was the general consensus, too: Boston, after all, had made headlines for adding Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford to their roster, while the Yankees had made headlines for failing to add Cliff Lee to theirs. Anyway, Cashman yesterday told a Boston radio station that the Yankees have since "closed the gap considerably." And considering the Yankees enter this weekend's three-game series at Fenway tied with Boston atop the American League East, that seems like a pretty fair assessment.
Of course, the head-to-head series between the Yankees and Red Sox has been anything but even this year: Boston's won eight of nine games, including back-to-back three-game sweeps at Yankee Stadium in the two most recent series. As far as August series between the Yankees and Red Sox when they're tied atop of the division go, this weekend's series isn't particularly critical: Both teams are seven games ahead of the nearest Wild Card competitor, and Baseball Prospectus gives them both a better than 99 percent chance of reaching the playoffs. But there's no doubt the Yankees want to change their fortunes against the Red Sox. After an off-season in which the Red Sox acted more like the Yankees than the Yankees did, they've also owned the rivalry on the field.
You'll probably hear a lot about the 2009 season series on the YES broadcast tonight: That year, the Yankees dropped their first eight games against Boston before turning things around and winning eight of the final nine. (According to the Elias Sports Bureau, via ESPN Boston, it was the first time in MLB history that a team won its first eight games against an opponent but failed to win the season series.) Such a dramatic turnaround would be excellent, of course. But in the short term, the Yankees simply winning a series would make it easier to believe they could come out ahead of Boston this year, not just in the regular season, but in a potential playoff series. Heck, anything but getting swept again would be a start.
The good news for the Yankees is that they enter this series on a hot streak (though the pessimist in us knows that means they're bound to cool off sooner or later). And they'll start three pitchers this weekend with ERAs under 3.50 — something Boston, who will start John Lackey tomorrow, cannot say. (Lackey will pitch against CC Sabathia, though for as well as the Yankees' ace has pitched against everyone else this year, he's 0-3 with a 6.16 ERA against Boston.) And for what it's worth (not much, we'd think), the Yankees have had had quite a bit of success over the last decade at Fenway in August.
Bartolo Colon and Jon Lester kick things off tonight. And if you still need something to psych you up, here's the latest installment of the Alec Baldwin-John Krasinski New Era rivalry commercials. As always, Team Baldwin all the way.