Because the American League playoff chase is essentially settled at this point – the Tigers probably have the Central and the Rangers should be able to hold off the Angels in the West, and the Yankees and Red Sox are both in – this "big" series between the Yankees and the Red Sox still feels more like precursor than an event of actual import. It feels like scouting. It feels like Robert De Niro and Al Pacino eating together at the diner, knowing the battle is yet to come, just feeling each other out. This is what happened last year with the Rays too. This is sort of happening every year. Nobody cares about division championships anymore.
The Yankees lost 9–5 to the Red Sox last night to fall a game-and-a-half back in the standings that don't matter, but they can at least know that, if entirely necessary (as it might be in the playoffs, you know), they can in fact score off Josh Beckett. The Red Sox ace, who has bedeviled the Yankees all season, was mortal last night, giving up five runs. At one point, the Yankees lead in this game ... and then Phil Hughes went down, and Boone Logan made a bad pitch, and it was all over. The Yankees can bring it back to a half-game tonight. Pitching: A.J. Burnett! Should go great!
But again: This is all dress rehearsal for a potential ALCS anyway (even if we haven't had a Yanks–Sox ALCS since that 2004 series we won't talk about here), so much of these games' intrigue involve seeing potential flaws in both teams in a short series. Bronx Banter, in recapping last night's game, had a worrisome revelation.
The challenge of beating Boston in the ALCS is clear. The Yankee starters can’t get through more than five innings, but the bullpen isn’t deep nor durable enough to pitch four innings in every game. For example, if the Yankees played this game to win, Hughes should not pitch the sixth. But the Yankees needed three innings out the pen last night, and it’s a good bet they’ll need a lot more than that tomorrow night. So Girardi sent Hughes out there to cough up the lead and then turned to one of their lesser relievers because it was too early to call the big guns. Twenty seven outs is about six too many for the Yanks to cover.
Of course, that really only accounts for a Game 3 starter — or Game 1 or 2, depending on how an ALDS might or might not go — who would be either Hughes or Burnett. So we get another dress rehearsal tonight. Then again, in a month, we may all feel rather silly about thinking these games were a dress rehearsal for anything if Texas is playing Detroit in the ALCS. So if you think these games don't mean enough now, they may end up meaning nothing. That should adequately prepare you for Burnett's start tonight.