This has once again really become a two horse race between Boston and New York. The Rays are by no means bad- if they were in the Central they'd only be a half game out- but with less than 30 games to go, 9 games is just too many to make up. If the Sox played just .500 ball down the stretch (14-14), Tampa would have to go 23-5 to catch them. And so we're left to really talk about the Sox and the Yankees. Both sides can score runs like nobody else. In fact, they are the only two teams to eclipse 700 runs thus far this season. Starting pitching on the other hand is another story and that, more than anything else, will likely decide the fate of both of these teams.
Boston has Josh Beckett (11-5, 2.43) and Jon Lester (14-6, 3.09), but with Clay Buchholz limited to just 14 starts with injuries, it gets a little dicey after that. John Lackey has been terrible this season and while he does have 12 wins it's misleading. No pitcher with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title has a higher earned run average than Lackey's 5.94. In either league. The usually reliable Tim Wakefield is winless in the month of August, stuck on 199 wins for his career. Erik Bedard, acquired in a deadline deal, has thrown well for Boston, but he's not the pitcher he was before his injuries. It should also be noted that he hasn't made this many starts in a season since 2007 so there's no telling how his arm will hold up down the stretch. Finally, there's Andrew Miller who is 6-1, but has just 3 quality starts (6 innings or more, 3 earned runs or less) in 10 tries. He also allows nearly 2 walks/hits per inning.
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The one consolation for Boston, aside from Buchholz getting closer to returning, is that they're probably in better shape than New York starting pitching-wise. Sure, they have CC Sabathia (18-7, 2.99) who finally figured out how to beat Boston last night, but after that you have reclamation projects Freddy Garcia (11-7, 3.09) and Bartolo Colon (8-9, 3.63), youngsters Ivan Nova (14-4, 3.96) and Phil Hughes (4-4, 6.46) and the disaster that is A.J. Burnett (9-11, 5.31). Garcia and Colon have both pitched well, but I don't know that either is a true #2 guy any more. Nova has won 10 straight decisions, but his innings are starting to mount in this his first full season. And with Hughes, you don't really know what you're going to get. Since returning from the minors he's made 6 really good starts, and 2 really bad ones. There's been no middle ground. Finally, there's Burnett who is the proud owner of an 11.91 ERA in the month of August as he looks to give Lackey a run for his money in terms of who's the bigger underachiever.
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So as you can see, there's question marks on both sides. While the pitching questions aren't likely to keep either one of these teams out of the postseason, they'll certainly need to be resolved before the first round of the playoffs. As far as the schedule goes, I don't know that it really favors one team or the other. The two teams play head to head 5 more times, Boston hosts Texas while New York travels to Anaheim, each team has two series with the Rays and two series with the Jays, and the rest of their schedules is made up of games with bottom of the barrel teams (Seattle, Baltimore, Minnesota). It should make these last five Red Sox - Yankees games exciting to watch though as it's clear that one game could be the difference in winning or losing the division.