The Rivalry

One week left to decide to the American League East title. The Red Sox find themselves in the driver’s seat with a two game edge over the Yankees with 6 to play.

So are the Sox going to hold onto the lead or are they going to fold like a house of cards?

In 1978, the Sox took over first place on May 24th and by July 17th led Milwaukee by 8.5 games and the Yanks were 14 games behind. They still had a 9 game lead over New York as late as August 13th before they collapsed under the weight of injuries and mounting pressure by the Yankees. They actually fell behind New York by 3.5 games on September 16th. Down the stretch of the final week or so the team won numerous games while the Yankees struggled to hold on to the division. As you know the teams ended up tied and met in a one game playoff to decide who won the AL East.

This year the Sox largest advantage over the nearest competition was 10 games, they had a 14.5 game over the Yankees who had fallen down the standings and at one point looked done. While the Yanks had continued to produce runs the starting pitching was awful.

But slowly the Yankees righted the ship and showed the rest of the league why you can never ever count them out.

Varitek squishes A-RodAt the all-star break on July 9th the Red Sox held a 9.5 game lead over the New Yorker’s who were battling just to stay at .500 for the season.

Red Sox 53-34 .609

Yankees 43-43 .500 9.5

Funny thing is for as much as the average Red Sox fan wants to say they have blown the division lead the fact of the matter is that they Sox have played at a .562 clip since the break. Right now there are only 5 teams out of 30 who are ABOVE .562 for the season. Only the Indians, Angels, Red Sox, Yankees and Diamondbacks have done it and Arizona is barely holding on to stay above that percentage.

The Yankees are the team who made this a race, playing a sizzling .671 since mid-July. I don’t think anyone, even the Yankees themselves, ever imagined they could keep up this pace for two and half months.

Difference since break

Yankees 47-23 .671

Red Sox 39-30 .562 7.5

They have won 47 of the 70 games in the second half after winning only 43 of 86 prior to the break.

Currently the Sox are in first place, exactly where they have been since April 18th. So who does that put the pressure on? The team that is in front or the one that is doing the chasing?

Current 9/24

Red Sox 92-64 .590

Yankees 90-66 .577 2.0

Will it be 1978 all over again as we wind down in the final week?

Petey v the GerbilI’d like to think the pressure is on the Yankees. Let’s face it, barring a monumental collapse reminiscent of the 1964 Phillies the Yankees are in the post season. But is that enough for them or do they want the division for the 10th year-in-a-row?

I think the Sox have the advantage for a few reasons.

First off they are the team in first place with a magic number of five to clinch their first division crown since 1995.

Secondly, the Sox finish at friendly Fenway Park where they have had the first or second best home record all season long. And in the homestand they face the A’s for two games and the Twins for four.

The Sox will face Chad Gaudin and Joe Blanton for Oakland. Blanton, if you remember was Curt Schilling’s opponent during his one hitter in Oakland, has pitched very well against Boston. Gaudin also put up a good game in Fenway earlier this season.

Third, the Sox will not have to face Johan Santana in the four game set barring Ron Gardenhire changing his rotation. Santana pitches Wednesday for the final time of the season. Instead they will see three guys they are yet to face this year, in Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey and Matt Garza, plus Carlos Silva who they beat in Minnesota back in May.

Fourth, the Yankees have to finish on the road. Three games in Tampa Bay and three in Baltimore. The road has not been very good to the Yanks this year as they are barely above .500 at 38-37.

Hopefully Jason Hammel, JP Howell and Scott Kazmir can pin a loss or two on them. Kazmir has already beaten them twice this year and a third time would be really nice. The Trop at times has been a bit of a house of horrors for the Yanks, the Rays always seem to hang tough and as the Sox can attest to are playing some pretty good ball lately.

In Baltimore the Bombers draw Jon Leicester, Daniel Cabrera and Brian Burres who are a combined 2-6 against New York this season. But the Orioles actually have a winning record against the Yankees going into the series having won 8 of 15 this year.

Big Papi magicSo I guess it comes down to who makes the plays, who hits the best and who pitches the best. With that said it comes down to the starting rotations.

Schilling gets two starts in the last six games, he and Jon Lester will face Oakland. 20-game winner Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Tim Wakefield join Schilling on the bump against Minnesota.

The Yankees will march the ancient one, Roger Clemens, out twice in the final week. He will be joined by Chien-Ming Wang and Philip Hughes in Tampa and Mike Mussina and Andy Pettitte in Baltimore.

So who has the advantage? If I knew that I’d go to Vegas.

I really think the Sox will hold on. If the Yanks win 4 of 6 on the road, that means the Sox can go 3-3 at home and take the division. I think the Yanks will win 4 on the road I also think the Sox will do better than 3 wins in the last six.

I think Boston fans should feel pretty confident with Schilling and Beckett on the mound in a big game. I also think Wake is a big game guy I just wish he had looked better in the last month.

So it comes down to Matsuzaka and Lester. It’s time to see what $52 million gets you and what the kid lefty is made of.