Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Yankees Turn the Page: Top 5 Reasons This Trip to Fenway Won’t be Déjà Vu

The calendar reads June 9, and the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox are once again prepared to battle over a three game series.

New York will certainly be looking for payback after a Fenway sweep the last time around from April 24-26, and come in playing much more consistent baseball.

Terry Francona’s Sox are far from slumping, however, and should pose as challenging an opponent as is always expected of them—especially in a home ball park they seemingly never lose in.

This time around, the Yankees are determined to prevent a repeat of recent history. Luckily for them, there are at least five reasons why they can begin to calm their nerves.

The countdown will run readers through a quick list of extenuating circumstances from the first Fenway series that should no longer be factors over the next few days.

Any feedback and suggestions are always welcomed and requested, especially from the always confident members of Red Sox Nation. Enjoy the list, and I hope to talk to all of you soon.

5. The Presence of CC Sabathia

While the Red Sox have been able to deploy Josh Beckett and Jon Lester a combined four times in five games against New York this year, the Yankees have yet to release ace CC Sabathia into the rivalry.

Boston will not miss Sabathia during this trip, and will likely have a much tougher time scoring runs. A matchup with Brad Penny should also benefit the Yankees, and could provide a nice end to the three-game set.

Even is Sabathia has faced Boston in their April series, they would still be seeing an entirely different pitcher on Thursday night.

He was 1-3 with a 4.85 ERA on May 2, but has since gone 4-0 with a stellar ERA—returning to the dominant pitcher New York thought they had signed this offseason.

Sabathia was coaxed into the Bronx to win games exactly like this one, and Boston should provide the first test as to whether or not the Yankees made the right decision.

4. Red Sox No Longer Aided By “The Streak”

The last time New York visited Fenway Park, Boston was in the midst of one of the more impressive win streaks in recent memory.

They had just finished winning seven games in a row before the Yankees arrived, and stretched the overall streak to 11 before it was said and done.

Momentum and confidence are as important to baseball as balls and strikes, and winning does wonders for a team’s overall play. Instead of wondering who is going to deliver a clutch hit, each player begins to expect it to occur.

Boston has recently lost two of three against the Texas Rangers coming into the series—a team New York has handled rather easily thus far this season.

By no means are the Red Sox lacking in confidence or swagger, but there is a stark difference between a seven-game win streak and losing a series at home.

3. No Jon Lester:

The Red Sox are not armed with their talented young lefthander for the series with New York, and the Yankees could not be happier.

The hard throwing southpaw is 3-0 with a 2.02 ERA and 1.12 WHIP over the last two seasons against them. Lester also boasts a remarkable 41:8 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 35 2/3 IP.

In 2009 alone, the Red Sox are 2-0 in Lester’s starts against the Yankees, and he managed to shut down their lineup even without his best stuff for the majority of the games.

To further emphasize the relief of avoiding Lester, he is currently 16-2 with a 3.30 ERA in his career at home.

When coupling his tremendous home success with the Red Sox 18-8 record in Fenway in 2009, it will be comforting to instead stare out at Tim Wakefield or Brad Penny.

2. The Cooling of the “Jason Bay Factor”

Shortly after the last Yankees-Red Sox series in Fenway, Jason Bay peaked at a .523 OBP and .359 AVG on April 28.

Bay hit the biggest home run of the 2009 rivalry to this date—a two out home run off of Yankees closer Mariano Rivera. It clearly shook New York’s confidence, and provided the fuel needed to finish the April massacre.

The Red Sox slugger remained hot for many more weeks, but has since cooled drastically on the heels on the Yankees return to New England.

Bay is just 19-for-86 since May 14, which calculated to an anemic .221 batting average. His power numbers have sustained themselves throughout the decline, eerily similar to Teixeira’s April struggles.

The Yankees will be facing a lineup without a healthy David Ortiz and a struggling Jason Bay, which should help to somewhat reduce the potency of an always dangerous Red Sox offensive attack.

1. The Return of Alex Rodriguez

The Yankee lineup that faced the Red Sox in April was struggling, and was forced to battle without their best hitter.

Furthermore, the absence of Alex Rodriguez helped to spiral new acquisition Mark Teixeira into an unimaginable slump.

When the final out was recorded in April’s three-game sweep, “Big Tex” was hitting just .218—representing a virtual automatic out in most games. He was as susceptible to the strikeout as any point in his entire career.

Rodriguez’s return has reenergized the entire lineup, as well as placing a true “fear factor” back into the middle of the batting order.

Since A-Rod’s return on May 8, Teixeira is hitting .374, and now leads the American League with 18 home runs. He has undoubtedly entered the MVP discussion, and truly appears as though he has been reborn in pinstripes.

The domino effect resulting from A-Rod’s return has finally delivered a feeling of self-assurance to the Yankee clubhouse, which should help to erase the current 0-5 head-to-head record from their minds.

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