Yankees-Red Sox Rivalry Back in Boston

It’s July 19 and the Yankees are in Boston for the first time this season for Games 96, 97 and 98. So good job, MLB schedulers! You nailed this one!

But it’s not only the first time the Yankees are in Boston for the first time this season, it’s all the first time a Yankees-Red Sox series in Boston has meant something since July 2012 and you can argue it’s been longer than that. And with a Yankees-Red Sox series comes the mandatory email exchange with Mike Hurley from CBS Boston.

Keefe: Is that you? Is that really you, Mike Hurley? (Or Michael F. Hurley as your Twitter handle suggests.) It’s been a while. Actually it’s been a really long time. It’s been two months to the day since we last did one of these. Back then the Rangers and Bruins were about to start their Eastern Conference semifinals series, the Knicks were about to play Game 5 against the Pacers and the Yankees had a one-game lead in the AL East. Since then, the Rangers were embarrassed by the Bruins in five games, the Knicks were eliminated two nights later and the Yankees are now six games out of first place in the AL East. So things have been going great over the last 61 days! Thanks for asking!

But I’m not emailing you to rehash what happened to the Rangers against the Bruins and I’m certainly not emailing you to talk about basketball. That leaves us with baseball where the Makeshift Yankees have put together a run to be proud of when you consider Lyle Overbay, Vernon Wells, Travis Hafner, Luis Cruz, Alberto Gonzalez, Chris Stewart, Austin Romine, Zoilo Almonte.

This winter, even without A-Rod, it looked like the Yankees lineup would look something like this:

Derek Jeter, SS
Ichiro Suzuki, RF
Robinson Cano, 2B
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Curtis Granderson, LF
Kevin Youkilis, 3B
Travis Hafner, DH
Francisco Cervelli,
Brett Gardner, CF

But that has been the lineup for zero games this season. Instead here is a list of the players that have the most plate appearances for each position:

C – Chris Stewart
1B – Lyle Overbay
2B – Robinson Cano
3B – David Adams
SS – Jayson Nix
LF – Vernon Wells
CF – Brett Gardner
RF – Ichiro Suzuki
DH – Travis Hafner

And here are the other players that have gotten at least one at-bat with the Yankees:

Brennan Boesch, Ben Francisco, Luis Cruz, Reid Brignac, Chris Nelson, Alberto Gonzalez, Thomas Neal, Corban Joseph and Travis Ishikawa.

I didn’t even put Eduardo Nunez, Zoilo Almonte or Austin Romine on that list because they represent the top-tier of Makeshift Yankees.

But don’t worry, I’m doing fine! Everything’s going well!

How’s your summer?

Hurley: Hey, Thomas Neal is a friend of mine, good guy, we used to work the Saturday night shift at the liquor store down the street. I’m glad to see he made the Yankees this year. Good for him.

My summer? My summer is confusing. I didn’t think the Red Sox were going to be terrible this year, but I definitely didn’t expect them to sit 58-39 at the all-star break, looking like a legitimate playoff team. In April, I hardly gave it much attention, figuring they’d level out at some point. Yet they rebounded from a .500 May to maintain their spot in first place for months. It makes no sense, really.

Consider that through 97 games, the Red Sox have 58 wins. Through the same number of games in 2007, when they were the best team in baseball, they had the exact same record — 58-39. Um, huh?

It’s been pretty impressive, and frankly it’s giving this summer an unexpected boost. I was sort of anticipating a mediocre Red Sox team playing out the string, waiting for a decent but not great Patriots team to kick off their season in September. Instead, thinking about the playoffs is something that non-crazy people are allowed to do. And, the general population still hasn’t caught on, so tickets are still easy to come by for most games. Pretty cool if you ask me.

Hold on, I’ll be right back. Corban Joseph just showed up at my door with my pizza.

Keefe: I hope you tipped him well.

In the offseason, we laughed about the Red Sox rotation after Jon Lester citing Ryan Dempster pitching in the AL, Clay Buchholz’s constant injuries and decline in results over the last few seasons, John Lackey’s awfulness and Felix Doubront being in experienced.

Despite the Red Sox’ record, we weren’t that far off.

Jon Lester hasn’t been good (and hasn’t been since pre-2011 collapse). Ryan Dempster has pitched the way everyone thought “Ryan Dempster in the AL” would pitch. Clay Buchholz got off to an All-Star start, but hasn’t started since June 8. That leaves us with John Lackey, who is having his best season since 2007 and has actually been better than that and Felix Doubront, who has been much better than last year, but hasn’t been anything special.

So if we weren’t that far off, how are the Red Sox in first place in the best division in baseball?

Hurley: Despite you saying so (based on nothing except for your desire to just say it), we actually were pretty far off.

If you can have just five guys make most of your starts, it means you’re in a pretty good spot. And the Red Sox have gotten 86 percent of their starts from those five guys. Buchholz was exceptional for two months, and John Lackey has defied all odds by losing 300 pounds and pitching well, but the rotation as a whole has just simply been consistent and better than you want to give them credit for. The starters’ 3.82 ERA is the second-best mark in the AL, and they’ve gotten 582.1 innings out of their starters, just 3.1 innings fewer than league-leading Detroit. Boston’s starters are second in the AL in strikeouts, too, with Dempster — Dempster! — leading the way with 104 and Lester just behind with 103.

I get your confusion, because when you look at the guys individually, it doesn’t look good. Lester is 8-6 with a 4.58 ERA, Dempster is 5-8 with a 4.24, and Buchholz has joined the witness protection program because — 🙁 — his neck is sore. But collectively, they’ve done the work necessary to keep the Red Sox in just about every game they play. And when you lead all of baseball in runs scored by a huge margin, it always makes the pitching staff look a little bit better.

Keefe: I know that hockey season in Boston just ended like 15 minutes ago and you have a terrible memory anyway, so we’ll let it go, but we did talk about it.

After the magical month that was September 2011, I was treated to the hire of Bobby Valentine and everything that came with the 2012 Boston Red Sox and hoped it would last a lifetime. But here we are at the All-Star break and the Red Sox are right back to where they were in August 2011 thanks to being able to dump their trash on the Dodgers by throwing Snickers wrappers and newspapers and spray painting “The Red Sox were here.” If that trade in August 2012 doesn’t happen, we’re probably still talking about Josh Beckett’s off days and Adrian Gonzalez’s lack of accountability for anything. Instead the Red Sox are in first place and it’s like they got a mulligan for all of their bad decisions and were freed of their clubhouse cancers. It’s bullshit.

Did that trade change the Red Sox back to their pre-September 2011 ways or are guys just performing better after the atrocity that was last season?

Hurley: Are you saying that the Red Sox f’d the Dodgers’ whole a-hole up? That’s a bold call, Larry.

That ridiculously lopsided trade was the most bizarre thing I’ve ever seen. Everyone — locally in L.A. and nationally in places like SportsCenter and Sports Illustrated — rushed to praise the Dodgers for “proving they were committed to winning!” Meanwhile, everyone in Boston was just like, “Wait, for real? What’s the catch? Don’t those people know that Josh Beckett is just the worrrrssssttt???

But that’s not the only reason the Red Sox are playing so much better. It cannot be overstated how much of a poison Bobby Valentine was to this team. From everything I’ve heard from behind the scenes, the guy was every bit the clown he looked to be publicly and then some. Publicly, we got little snippets of it, like the time he didn’t know whether the opposing starter was a righty or lefty and had to be told by Jarrod Saltalamacchia that the lineup was wrong. Stuff like that was a common occurrence with that goober in charge, and frankly I’m a little surprised the athletic department of Sacred Heart hasn’t completely crumbled yet.

So getting rid of him was huge in that players’ spirits weren’t completely broken down upon their arrival at the ballpark every night. Ben Cherington, who’s still hard to really read or evaluate to this point, also made a few small but key additions. Shane Victorino, much to my surprise, has been pretty awesome filling a spot in the top of the lineup that’s been vacant for years. Mike Napoli signed on for $39 million, only to be told his hip was so bad that he’d only be getting $5 million, and he’s been a pretty solid, reliable addition to the middle of the order, despite all the strikeouts.

Add in Ortiz, Pedroia and Ellsbury all pretty much playing like you’d expect them to, and it’s easy enough to see how it’s all working. The Dodgers, committed to winning, are one game under .500 since taking on all of the Red Sox’ dead weight. Thanks, L.A., you’re the best!

Keefe: Shane Victorino’s playing? And Mike Napoli? And David Ortiz? And Dustin Pedroia? And Jacoby Ellsbury? Wow, that must be nice. I guess you’re feeling the way I would feel if Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson, Alex Rodriguez, Kevin Youkilis and Francisco Cervelli (yes, Francisco Cervelli) were playing. But they’re not and we’re stuck with the names I gave you earlier.

Things aren’t getting any better either as Derek Jeter will start the second half on the disabled list retroactive to when he injured his quad in his first game back since the Game 1 of the ALCS. But A-Rod is coming back on Monday night in Texas, if he isn’t given a 150-game suspension or banned from the game Pete Rose style, so at least we’re getting back our 38-year-old $29 million singles hitter!

The weird thing is I still believe in the Yankees. Not the Makeshift Yankees. But the real Yankees, when and if they ever come back. I think it’s a miracle this team has the record it does and is in the position its in despite having everyone short of you playing for them this season.

If I believe in the 51-44 Yankees who are six games back in the division then you must really believe in the Red Sox for the first time in 23 months. Do you believe in the Red Sox or do you miss the days of 2012 when Bobby Valentine was being praised for building a fence, fans were wearing paper bags over their heads and tickets to Fenway Park cost less than a single T Fare?

Hurley: It’s weird here. On the one hand, seeing this team compete like this has been a pretty fun, refreshing change of pace. Don’t get me wrong, last year was hilarious, and it was fun to watch, but only in the way watching awful reality television is entertaining. (Speaking of which, I can’t believe Bob Valentine doesn’t have his own reality show.) This year’s team has done enough to prove to me that they’re for real.

The problem with the Red Sox is, like you, I’m not counting out the Yankees, and you can’t count out the Orioles or the Rays. All of this positivity for the Red Sox could end up leaving them at the end of the season with the same playoff prospects as last year. It’s a pretty ridiculous race in the AL East right now, but hey, thank goodness some crappy team from the NL West will by default be given a free pass to the divisional round while a much more qualified team in the AL East (or perhaps two teams) will be forced to put its season on the line in a three-hour exhibition that will wipe out the work done over the previous six months! Wahoo!

With the reality of a one-game playoff, how can you ever feel good about your team’s chances when it’s involved in a tight divisional race? An idiot umpire could botch an infield-fly call and allow a team that won six fewer games than you to advance to the divisional round while you go home for the winter.

I guess my point is that baseball is stupid.

Keefe: You still haven’t come around on the one-game playoff? OK, good because I haven’t either and I never will. But don’t forget what everyone says: Just win your division! It’s that easy!

I guess my optimism for the Yankees comes from the fact they still play the Red Sox 12 times, the Rays nine times and the Orioles seven times. And let’s not forget the Yankees have three games with the Padres and close the season with a three-game series in Houston. So if the season comes down to the final weekend, I will feel good knowing that the Yankees will play the Astros, but I will be worried about my emotional state if the Astros keep the Yankees out of the playoffs. Let’s hope the season doesn’t come down to the final three games.

As for this weekend, we get Andy Pettitte-Felix Doubront, Hiroki Kuroda-John Lackey and CC Sabathia-Jon Lester. So that means the Pettitte-Doubront game will be the 2-1 pitching duel and the Sunday Night Baseball matchup will be the 14-12, six-hour affair that leaves you owing all of next weekend to your wife for staying up until 2 a.m. to watch baseball on Sunday night and being too tired to do anything on Monday after work.

The Yankees are still very much alive, but they need to start putting together series wins like they did in April and May. What better place to start doing that than this weekend in Boston?

Hurley: D will be asleep before first pitch, because she’s better at life than you and I.

This is a fun series, though. For the first time in a while, I’m really excited about a series in Boston. I kind of feel like baseball’s back, though I do have this sort of guarded position. When things were as bad as they were last year, it still feels like this whole “winning” thing is a mirage. At the same time, if the Red Sox sweep the Yankees this weekend and crush your soul, I might be fully on board.