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July 4, 2003

by Larry Mahnken

Fourth of July Fireworks

Yeah, the Red Sox can hit. To shut this team down, you have to be flawless, and Boomer was certainly not that this afternoon, giving up five home runs before getting knocked out in the sixth. The Yankees had a couple of chances to get back into the game, but they could never get that two-out hit, and in the end, they fell 10-3.

For the Red Sox, this was huge. If they were to lose three of four this weekend, they would be in an almost insurmountable hole, with the Yankees getting Bernie and Nick back very soon. You've got to figure that they'll probably win with Pedro starting on Monday, so today's win probably means that they'll leave The Bronx in no worse shape than they were when they came in, and maybe closer.

But the Yankees don't need to put Boston away this weekend. They don't even need to be in first place at the All-Star Break. They have reinforcements coming off the disabled list, a relatively easy schedule the rest of the way, and are very likely to have a much better record than the Red Sox in the second half.

Thursday, Steven Goldman did a filler article about the Yankees and Red Sox lineups. It wasn't up to his normal level, and he compared the lineups position-by-position, rather than top-to-bottom, as I think is more appropriate. He also completely disregarded the pitching staffs, saying, "Once you turn to pitching, it's all Yankees."

Well, is it?

Red Sox Rotation:
Pedro Martinez
Derek Lowe
Tim Wakefield
Casey Fossum
John Burkett

Yankees Rotation:
Mike Mussina
Roger Clemens
David Wells
Andy Pettitte
Jose Contreras/Jeff Weaver/Brandon Claussen

Unless you're the Diamondbacks with Johnson healthy, you're not going to have a favorable matchup against Pedro. There are two ways to approach a game against Martinez; you can throw your weakest starter against him, basically conceding defeat and saving your best pitchers for non-Pedro games, or you can throw an ace out there, and hope that he matches zeroes with Martinez until you get into the bullpen. The Yankees have a pitcher in Mussina that is capable of doing just that when he is on, and that is the tactic they are utilizing this Monday, although that's really just because the rotation works out that way.

You could make a very strong argument that Derek Lowe should have won the Cy Young Award last season, even over Pedro, who was himself more deserving than Zito. Still, even as he was dominating last season, statheads predicted that it wouldn't continue. That's not to say that anyone figured him to stink like he did the first two months, but Lowe was exceptionally hit-lucky last season, and those things have a way of evening out. And so they have this year. Lowe is still capable of dominating an opponent, but he's also capable of getting knocked around the yard, because he relies so heavily on balls in play. Roger Clemens, on the other hand, is still capable of dominating an opponent all by himself, without having to rely on his defense. In a matchup of these two, you would take Clemens most of the time, though Lowe, as I said, can shut you down, too. Clemens is just more likely to.

Tim Wakefield, Boston's third starter, features the knuckleball, a pitch that is viewed with far too little respect among traditional baseball analysts. Knuckleball pitchers are almost viewed as not being real pitchers, they're relying on a "trick". Which ignores the fact that the curve ball is also a "trick". But Wakefield is a pitcher, and at times, a very, very good one. But the curse of the knuckleball is that sometimes you don't have it, and when you don't have it, you're throwing batting practice, and Home Run Derby often ensues. David Wells is a control pitcher who doesn't strike out a lot of batters, but won't give you a free base. He usually is pitching ahead in the count, a situation that finds many hitters being less agressive. The Red Sox are not one of those teams that gives in with two strikes, though, so when he's not locating his pitches, you get Friday's game. In a head to head matchup, this is a tossup, but over the course of the season, you favor Wells.

Casey Fossum better turn out to be good, because otherwise he'll always be remembered as the guy the Red Sox wouldn't give up for Bartolo Colon. I think he will be a good pitcher in the long run, but so far this year he hasn't been. Andy Pettitte is another pitcher who has struggled at times this season, but his results have been better. Pettitte is more likely to shut you down, but he's also much more likely to get smacked around, especially by the Red Sox. I'd give the Yankees a very slight edge in this matchup, though, but in two or three years, Fossum is likely to be a pitcher that the Red Sox can feel comfortable giving the ball to in a tough game.

John Burkett is a great bowler. A couple of years ago he put up a good ERA with the Braves, and got a lot of money out of the Red Sox for it. He was medicore last season, and godawful for the first two months of this season. The last month, he's been fantastic, but I don't see him keeping it up. The Yankees haven't quite figured out who they're going with in the fifth slot, Jose Contreras took Jeff Weaver's spot before going on the DL, and Brandon Claussen would have started later today if it hadn't rained Wednesday. I think the Yankees' starters are more likely to pitch well more often than Burkett, so I'll give them the slight edge here.

The bullpen is a weakness on both teams, but for the Yankees, things got a LOT better when Juan Acevedo got run out of town on a rail. Chris Hammond, now that he's not being miscast as a LOOGY, has been excellent, Jason Anderson has been much more effective since a shaky start, and Antonio Osuna has been mostly solid. The Red Sox have gotten good work out of Embree and Timlin, but filling out the rest of the pen has been a work in progress. According to Michael Wolverton, the Yankees' bullpen ranks 16th in MLB, preventing runs at about the MLB average. The Red Sox rank 29th. If you get to the end of the game with the lead, both the Yankees and Red Sox have a lights-out closer. It's just getting there that's the problem.

So, Goldman's right. The Red Sox have the better ace, and the Yankees don't have a big advantage anywhere in the rotation, but overall, the Yankees have a large pitching advantage. In the end, it will probably this advantage that will give the Yankees the division.