The Red Sox and Yankees kick off their final head-to-head series of the regular season in the Bronx on Friday night, and the opening game of the set is particularly important for the Bombers.
Friday night?s pitching matchup features Boston?s Jon Lester against New York?s Joba Chamberlain — Terry Francona?s most consistent pitcher against Joe Girardi?s least.
The Yankees need Joba to prove that he can match up against an elite offense and keep New York in the game, something he failed to do when he gave up seven runs to the Mariners in three innings during his last start. If the 24-year-old Chamberlain can?t be relied upon as a starter in the playoffs, the pinstripes may be forced to choose the ALDS scenario that requires only three starting pitchers, and start scratching their heads about what to do if they reach the ALCS.
Meanwhile, the Yankees must show that they can beat the Red Sox? ace, Lester. New York won 5-2 in a game Lester started at Yankees Stadium on Aug. 9, but Lester actually left that contest with a 2-1 lead after seven innings, before the pinstripes rallied with back-to-back home runs off Daniel Bard in a four-run eighth. The Red Sox were victorious in Lester?s two other starts against the Yankees this season, as the southpaw allowed a combined five runs in 15 innings, while recording 17 strikeouts.
In fact, shutting down the Yankees? vaunted lineup has been the 25-year-old Lester?s specialty throughout his young career. He has not been charged with a loss in seven starts against the pinstripes, logging a 3.11 ERA and 52 strikeouts in 46 1/3 innings. Lester also threw one of his two career complete-game shutouts in a masterful performance at Yankees Stadium on July 3 of last year.
The key to Lester?s success against New York is dominating the heart of the Yankees? order. While Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon are a combined 15-for-45 (.333 average) against him, Mark Teixeira is 3-for-12, A-Rod is 2-for-14, Jorge Posada is 3-for-11 and Robinson Cano is 3-for-20. That?s a combined 11-for-57 ? a .193 aggregate batting average for the four most powerful hitters in Girardi?s lineup.
If the Yankees can?t beat Lester on Friday night, they will be under even more pressure to do so when he takes the mound in either Game 1 or Game 2 of a hypothetical ALCS matchup. Lester proved last October that ice water runs through his veins when he starts in the playoffs, and the Bombers would certainly like to avoid losing their home-field advantage, especially considering the questions about the back of their rotation.
Even though the AL East race is essentially over, this weekend?s rivalry series in the Bronx will be no different than any other between the two teams.
It?s about making statements. And the Yankees can make a big one by beating Jon Lester on Friday night.