Yanks/Red Sox Renew Rivalry

JIM HURLEY'S HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK

FOX SATURDAY, ESPN SUNDAY SHOWCASE THE GREATEST RIVALRY IN BASEBALL

It's not exactly what the TV networks dreamed of when they picked up the famous Yankees/Red Sox rivalry for national telecasts this week. Instead of showing the two top teams in the American League, they're showing the slumping Red Sox trying to bounce back from a disastrous start!

Boston would love nothing better than to win a weekend series from the Yankees, then the subsequent weekday series with Tampa Bay. That would help erase the memory of two series sweeps in Texas and Cleveland that stuck Boston in an 0-6 hole before even getting to see storied Fenway Park.

The Yankees had an easier time of it starting at home. But facing AL Central contenders Detroit and Minnesota is no walk in the park. New York was satisfied with a 4-2 start to the season, and knows they can really put the hammer down in terms of the recent "big three" of New York/Boston/Tampa Bay with a big weekend. Yes, Baltimore may be a team they have to worry about down the road. First things first.

Let's take a closer look at the Yanks and Red Sox to get you ready for this weekend's big TV games. We'll hop back to the NBA in our Sunday NOTEBOOK to get you ready for ABC's TV doubleheader of Chicago/Orlando and Boston/Miami. There's a lot to look forward to in BOTH the NBA and MLB in the coming days and weeks.

Since Boston's 0-6 start to the season is one of the lead stories to this point, lets start with brief notes on the Sox.

*Carl Crawford may be feeling the pressure of living up to the monster contract he signed in the offseason. Through the first six games, he was batting just .174 with four singles. We all know he's much better than this. But, is he the type of hitter to succumb to pressure in crunch time? There's a big difference in terms of local media between playing in Boston and playing in Tampa Bay. There's now a big difference in expectations too given his contract. How Crawford handles these early challenges could play a big role in the direction and scope of the 2011 season in Boston.

  • Adrian Gonzalez, another prominent newcomer, started well. He hit .304 in his first six games with a homer and two doubles. Gonzalez was an unrecognized superstar in San Diego because it's extremely difficult to hit in the Padres home ballpark. Gonzalez will have much better hitting conditions in Fenway (particularly after the weather warms up), but he is facing a slightly better class of pitcher in the AL (though the difference between leagues started drifting back to equality last year). We expect big things from Gonzalez this year.
  • Nobody on the Red Sox outside of Gonzalez was hitting better than .231 heading into the Yankees series! That's horrible considering three games were in Arlington's hitting paradise, and three games were against the lowly Indians. Clearly this is something that won't last very long. The bats will start hitting, and Boston will start winning. Will they win enough to reach 95 or 100 wins as was projected by many before the season? That will depend on their pitching. And...
  • The pitching so far has been awful! Staff ace Jon Lester has done well with a 3.65 ERA in two starts. But, in the other four games heading into the Yankees series, Clay Bucholz, Josh Beckett, John Lackey, and Daisuke Matsuzaka had allowed 19 earned runs in 20 innings! The bullpen had allowed 14 earned runs in 15.2 innings. The media was focusing on Crawford. He's taking the blame for a team-wide debacle. It's horrible hitting AND horrible pitching that's doomed Boston to it's shaky start.

Notes so far from the Yankees...

  • New York hasn't been on fire themselves offensively, hitting just .241 in chilly Gotham temperatures. But, they did smack 13 home runs thanks to the short porch at Yankee Stadium. This offense is ideally suited to take advantage of that stadium quirk. Mark Texeira hit four homers in six games, Jorge Posada three. Seven different Yankees have already homered.
  • Unlike Boston, the Yankees don't have any high profile new acquisitions that are under the spotlight. This whole team is always under the spotlight! You do get the sense from watching games that this group has a lot of chemistry. They know each other well. They'll handle the challenges of a cantankerous owner and media together.
  • The starting rotation hasn't sparkled. But, they did have to play six straight games in a good hitter's park. You can pretty much assume that C.C Sabathia is going to turn in his typical solid year. Questions revolve around:

AJ BURNETT, whose inconsistency is a headache...but whose best stuff is often untouchable. He has 11 strikeouts so far this year in 11 innings.

PHIL HUGHES, an 18-game winner last year who always seems to hit a wall just when you think he's got it all figured out. He allowed five earned runs in four innings in his only start this season.

IVAN NOVA, who held his own last year in limited action...but is far from a sure thing to thrive this season. If he does, the Yankees will exceed preseason expectations. If not, the offense will have to do a lot of heavy lifting again this year.

Here are the probable pitchers for Saturday and Sunday.

SATURDAY AT 1:10 P.M ET ON FOX
New York: Ivan Nova
Boston: Clay Buchholz

Buchholz allowed four solo home runs to the Rangers in his debut at Arlington. The Yankees are the last team you want to see if you're having gopher ball problems!

SUNDAY AT 8:05 P.M. ET ON ESPN
New York: C.C. Sabathia
Boston: Josh Beckett

This one will have a playoff feel to it. Sabathia suffered horrible luck in his last start. He left after throwing seven shutout innings vs. Minnesota. The normally reliable Yankees bullpen blew the lead, then lost the game in extra innings. Beckett put nine guys on base in five innings at Cleveland, throwing more than 100 pitches in the process. The patient Yankees will try to eat away at his pitch count from the get go.

You regulars know we can't post formal selections here in the NOTEBOOK. That information is for paying customers. But, we can tell you that we're very likely to have a big side or total release in one of these games this weekend. You can purchase our top daily plays here at the website with your credit card. We'll have early sessions both days on the weekend, and on any weekday where there's afternoon baseball.

This is the last weekend of the regular season in the NBA. Be sure you check out our rates in the NBA playoffs while you're online. We'll include these last few days of the regular season for no additional charge if you sign up for the playoff package.

This weekend's big game highlights:

MLB (Saturday and Sunday)
NY Yankees at Boston
Philadelphia at Atlanta
Texas at Baltimore
Chicago Cubs at Milwaukee
St. Louis at San Francisco
LA Dodgers at San Diego

NBA (Sunday-5 game matching playoff teams!)
Chicago at Orlando on ABC
Boston at Miami on ABC
New Orleans at Memphis
New York at Indiana
Oklahoma City at LA Lakers

March Madness may be in the rearview mirror. But, there are plenty of big play winners ahead in the NBA and MLB. Plus, the Triple Crown horse races are right around the corner too. Don't make a move in any major sporting event until you hear what JIM HURLEY has to say!

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