Monday, August 10, 2009

Yanks sweep Sox with timely hitting, dominant starting pitching

On Friday night, it was A-Rod's first home run in 72 at-bats in the bottom of the 15th inning. On Sunday night, it was Johnny Damon and Mark Teixeira going back-to-back for the second time in a week to put the Yankees up for good, 3-2. And after a 13-6 victory in the series opener, it was A.J. Burnett, C.C. Sabathia and Andy Pettitte throwing 22.1 scoreless innings against a depleted Red Sox lineup that, if it weren't for a two-run home run by Victor Martinez in the eighth inning on Sunday, would have been shut out for 33 consecutive innings in the final three games of the series.

It was complete dominance by the Yankees at the Stadium this weekend, in stark contrast to the 8-0 mark Boston had compiled against the Yanks this season. And with the four-game sweep, New York has opened up a comfortable 6.5-game lead in the AL East, the largest lead of any division leader. They also dropped the Red Sox into a tie with Texas for first in the Wild Card race, with Tampa threatening just 1.5 games out.

The Red Sox are now left with plenty of questions heading into the season's home stretch, riding a season-high six-game losing streak. After allowing eight earned runs in three-plus innings on Thursday, 42-year-old John Smoltz was designated for assignment by the team, another blow to their weakened rotation with Daisuke Matsuzaka and Tim Wakefield already on the disabled list. The health and effectiveness of Jason Bay, who missed the first three games of the series and is batting just .252, is up in the air and David Ortiz has fallen into another slump since his rumored use of performance-enhancing drugs became public. Speaking of Ortiz, does anybody really buy his explanation? I certainly don't.

The Yankees, on the other hand, now have the best record in baseball at 69-42, ahead of the 67-45 Dodgers by 2.5 games. After Joba Chamberlain imploded in game one, allowing four earned runs, six hits and seven walks in five innings, the starters were lights-out in the next three games. The bullpen did solid work in relief of Joba and put together seven-plus innings of shut-out baseball in the marathon that was Friday night's game two, while the Red Sox were down to the final man in their bullpen, rookie Junichi Tazawa, who allowed A-Rod's game-winning blast into the left field seats.

The one negative to take from the series, if any, is the fact that the Yankees did struggle against Boston aces Josh Beckett and Jon Lester, who combined to allow just one earned run in their 14 innings on the mound. It isn't every day you get to face the John Smoltz's and Clay Buchholz's of the world, so the Yankees will need to hit good pitching to make noise in the playoffs. When the bottom third of your lineup consists of Robinson Cano (.313 average, 16 home runs), Nick Swisher (18 home runs) and Melky Cabrera (.279 average, 11 home runs) that shouldn't be a problem, especially once Brett Gardner returns from injury and gives the Yankees the base-running threat they lack in his absence.

The Yankees will stay home for another three-game set with the Blue Jays and Roy Halladay is not scheduled to pitch. Boston will try to get back on track at Fenway Park as the AL Central-leading Tigers come to town. Detroit is just 23-33 on the road this season, so this opportunity will be as good as any for the Sox to right the ship. If they don't they could be looking up at teams in both the AL East and the Wild Card race.

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