There are nearly two months and 50 games before the 2011 playoffs begin, during which anything can happen, but barring significant injury, the Red Sox and Yankees could well be on a collision course for another ALCS meeting in mid-October. If they get there, both clubs would presumably prefer to have Josh Beckett and CC Sabathia as their Game 1 starters. And the two have had remarkably disparate results when facing the opposing teams.
So far New York has barely scratched Beckett, who is personally 3-0 and the team 4-0 in his outings against the Yankees. Beckett has thrown 27 innings and allowed just three runs (1.00 ERA) and 16 hits while striking out 30; he received a no-decision for his six innings of one-run ball Sunday night.
Sabathia's record, meanwhile, is very much in the red against Boston. After the Sox pounded him for nine hits and seven runs over six innings on Saturday afternoon, Sabathia fell to 0-4 with a 7.20 ERA in four starts. It's the first time in his career he's lost four times to the same opponent in the same season.
Both have been especially effective when the score is close late. The Yankees entered the night with a 65-6 (.915) record when tied or leading after seven innings, and the Red Sox were 68-5 (.932). Almost every team has a prohibitive winning percentage in those situations, but these two are still remarkable. For comparison, look at the records in the same situations for the other primary AL contenders: Tigers 57-8 (.877), Indians 51-8 (.864), Angels 61-14 (.813) and Rangers 58-14 (.806).
Each team has trotted out a dominant eighth- and ninth-inning reliever -- All-Stars David Robertson and Rivera for the Yankees; Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon for the Red Sox -- and both have seventh-inning relievers that can match up. The Yankees signed the high-priced former closer in Soriano, who struggled early in the year but since returning from the disabled list has retired all 12 batters he's faced with five strikeouts. Boston has found a diamond in the rough in Matt Albers. He entered the season with a 5.11 career ERA but has a 2.31 ERA in 46 2/3 innings this season, with the go-ahead home run he allowed to Brett Gardner on Sunday as the rare blemish.
On Friday night the Yankees won thanks to a bullpen that extended itself into the mid innings. Situational lefty Boone Logan struck out Boston's Adrian Gonzalez with the bases loaded in the fifth inning, the first of 4 1/3 scoreless innings hurled by the New York bullpen.
On Friday night it was a literal fight -- benches cleared after the Phillies' Shane Victorino was hit by a pitch and walked toward the mound; Giants catcher Eli Whiteside tackled Philadelphia's Placido Polanco as he ran toward the plate -- and on Sunday it was more of an inner resiliency as the Giants rode ace Tim Lincecum (7 2/3 innings, one run) to victory over Roy Oswalt (
One interpretation of those final two games is that, should the Giants bats once again get hot at the right time (read: October), their pitching could carry the day. But the real take-away ought to be this: San Francisco was only close to beating Philadelphia in their home park when its top two starters faced its opponents' Nos. 3 and 4 starters (though calling Hamels and Oswalt a third and fourth starter is hardly fair). Consider that the Giants missed facing Roy Halladay altogether, were shut down by rookie Vance Worley on Friday and were shut out by Cliff Lee, the obvious trump card when comparing last year's Phillies team to this one.
The Giants, who are clinging to the NL West lead over Arizona by a half-game, only scored six runs in the four-game series and remain one of only two major league teams -- along with the 49-64 Mariners -- not to have scored their 400th run yet. The Giants are on pace for 562 runs, which would make them the 33rd team to score fewer than 600 runs in a 162-game schedule since 1982; the first 32 teams to do so won an average of 67 games and only two, the 1988 Padres and 2003 Dodgers, managed a winning record; neither made the playoffs.
On the morning of the trade deadline the Twins were in fourth place but only six games behind the AL Central leader, and they stood firm, believing their in-house talent could carry them to the playoffs. The Pirates were even closer on the same date, sitting in third place and trailing only by 3 1/2 games, prompting acquisitions of first baseman Derrek Lee and outfielder Ryan Ludwick.
Now, however, the hopes of both clubs have sunk. The Twins have lost four straight and the Pirates have lost 10 straight; both are now 10 games out of first pace in their respective divisions.
Strasburg struck out four of the eight hitters he faced in his 1 2/3 innings, allowing a solo home run and two singles in his 31 pitches (25 strikes). According to reports, his fastball regularly reached 96-to-98 mph, which was in line with his 97.3 average fastball velocity in making his 12 electrifying starts last year. "I'm right where I want to be," Strasburg told reporters afterward.
Several players with long-term injuries have said in the past how helpful a short September cameo has been for their psyche, helping them enter the offseason with confidence that their body is back to where it should be. Indeed, a Strasburg return to the majors for a major-league start or two ought to be viewed as an important milestone in his recovery rather than, as some critics have noted, a ploy for the Nationals to sell tickets. Washington, after all, has far more invested in the man to whom it's already given a $15.1 million contract than it does in selling a few extra seats to a handful of games.