These next four days feel a little bit like high noon for this Yankees season.
At this point, a four-game series against the Red Sox is a massive confrontation fueled by the rivalry’s most recent meeting in Boston — when Alex Rodriguez was drilled — and carrying the added weight of a 10-game home stand that even Joe Girardi has acknowledged being a real make-or-break situation.
The Yankees have so far taken care of business by winning five of six here at Yankee Stadium. Fall apart during these four, though, and those past six games don’t mean much.
“I think our guys understand what’s at stake,” Joe Girardi said.
A few thoughts coming into this Red Sox series…
• Would you have guessed two months ago that the Yankees could come into this pivotal series with their rotation being their biggest question and their middle-of-the-order being one of their legitimate strengths? Weird year.
• The biggest exception to that is tonight’s Yankees starter Ivan Nova, who was just named the American League Pitcher of the Month for August. He had a 2.08 ERA last month and his season ERA is down to 2.88. Not so long ago, the Yankees decided they’d rather have Nova in Triple-A than have him in the big league rotation. Now there’s no one they’d rather have starting the first game of a series like this. Nova vs. Jake Peavy is a pretty good pitching matchup.
• Ryan Dempster will not pitch in this series. He pitched the Red Sox series finale against Detroit last night.
• When Dempster hit A-Rod and the Yankees didn’t immediately retaliate, I remember thinking the Yankees might wait to get their retribution during this series. Now, I’m not so sure. The Yankees had such a big win in that Dempster game, and the Yankees rallied so completely around Rodriguez, and the rest of baseball seemed to actually take the Yankees side in that fight (including David Ortiz). I’m just not sure there’s a point to be made any more. Police the things that need to be policed, but is there a real sense in putting a man on base this weekend? “I think time is always good,” Girardi said. “I think that obviously we know what’s at stake, and we have to go out and play the games and win the games. That’s the most important thing.”
• Robinson Cano on whether there will be any carryover from the Dempster-Rodriguez thing: “No. We’re not looking to do that. We’re just going to go out there tomorrow, play the game the right way that we have always been, and what’s in the past we’re going to keep in the past.”
• That said, will I be stunned if the Yankees drill someone? Of course not. I’m not sure it’s a message that needs to be sent — and I think there’s a chance it could have the same unintended impact that Dempster’s actions had last month — but that certainly doesn’t mean it’s off the table.
• Leading into David Huff’s start on Saturday, it’s worth knowing the Red Sox have baseball’s best OPS against right-handed pitching, but they have the American League’s fifth-best OPS against lefties. Not sure that played into the timing of this decision — Huff has outpitched Phil Hughes lately, regardless — but it could be a secondary factor.
• Have to assume Austin Romine will be behind the plate for Huff. Romine had been catching Hughes, and because of that, he’s caught almost every one of Huff’s outings. In fact, Huff has gotten only one out with a Yankees catcher other than Romine.
• Has little to do with this series other than the Red Sox connection, but is anyone thinking about Kevin Youkilis right now? Remember, the Yankees were saying earlier in the year that there was an outside chance he could be activated by the end of the year, but at this point, I’m not even sure what they’d do with him. Wouldn’t you rather Mark Reynolds or Vernon Wells or even Eduardo Nunez get any at-bats that might go to Youkilis? Maybe if he’d stayed healthy and had been getting some at-bats it would be a different story, but the Yankees are no longer in desperate need for a right-handed bat.
• I think there are some players who check the standings every day, but I also fully believed Brett Gardner when he said this last night: “I don’t know how many games back we are in the division or the wild card, to be honest with you. I’m always a firm believer, until you’re six back with five to play, you’re still in it. We’ll see what happens this weekend, but we’re ready for the challenge.”
• Obviously being swept this series would be devastating, and losing three of four would be pretty crushing. Winning all four would be huge, and even taking three of four I think would be awfully good. Question is, what’s a split worth? Is that not enough? Is winning three pretty good, but winning only two a bad step backwards? Maybe it doesn’t wipe out all playoff hope, but a 7-3 home stand feels a lot worse than an 8-2 home stand.
Associated Press photos