By Steve Silverman
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A series with the Boston Red Sox should be just what the Yankees need to get well.
The Red Sox are out of the playoff picture and seem likely to end up with their first 90-loss season since 1966.
The team has been gutted. First baseman Adrian Gonzalez has been moved to Los Angeles, and so has fried-chicken-loving pitcher Josh Beckett.
Former star Kevin Youkilis is thriving in Chicago. Will Middlebrooks, the heir apparent at third base, is injured and done for the season.
It also seems likely that David Ortiz is done for the year. The Red Sox were not playing impressive baseball before Ortiz injured his heel in July; they have been flat-out disastrous since.
Their manager, Bobby Valentine, is being attacked on all fronts. The fans don’t like him, the players are angry with him and the media is scrutinizing him.
Bobby V doesn’t like scrutiny, especially when his team is losing. He threatened to punch veteran Boston talk-show host Glenn Ordway in the face for asking him if he had “checked out.”
But instead of going into Fenway Park and whipping an overwhelmed Boston Red Sox team that has fallen apart – 13-28 in their last 41 games with a tragic number of 6 – the Yankees may get pushed hard by Boston.
Derek Jeter knows whatever the Red Sox have left will be focused on beating the Yankees. Dustin Pedroia is not having his best year, but he is still punching unlike many of his teammates. His average has risen to .289 amidst the carnage, he has hit 14 homers and he has driven in 58 runs.
Cody Ross has hit 20 homers for the Red Sox and Jacoby Ellsbury is back in the lineup after missing the first half of the season with a shoulder injury. Ellsbury is nowhere near the MVP form he had last year – he was second to Justin Verlander of the Tigers – but he is a live body who can hit, run and field his position.
While that’s not enough to scare the Yankees, they can look to their own lineup for that sensation.
The big problem is at first base. Mark Teixeira is not in the lineup and won’t be for at least two more weeks due to his tender left calf.
When Teixeira is not in the lineup, the Yankees infield defense suddenly gets shaky. Teixeira can dig nearly every errant throw out of the dirt and that makes life a lot easier for Alex Rodriguez, Jeter and Robinson Cano.
Nick Swisher simply can’t do it. Swisher is a liability at first base. He often seems to be pleased with himself when he catches a standard short hop. That’s the kind of play that Teixeira makes in his sleep. But when Swisher makes the play it’s time to celebrate.
And there’s one other problem when Swisher is in the lineup. He can’t hit.
He is in a miserable slump at the worst time. He has not had a hit in his last 28 at bats and he has only had three hits in his last 45 at bats.
When this happens in September, a hitter of Swisher’s ilk should be banished to the bench. But the Yankees have to play him at first base.
Swisher could come out of his difficulty and the Red Sox pitching staff offers the perfect opportunity. But when a player is in a slump like Swisher, it seems like he will come up with runners in scoring position every time and fail every time.
His reputation as a clutch hitter in important games is not a good one. Swisher has a career postseason average of .169 with 4 homers and 6 RBI.
The Yankees are fighting for their postseason lives. When Joe Girardi has to pencil in Swisher’s name at such an important time, it can’t be a good feeling.
The Red Sox are enduring the worst of times. But finding a way to beat the Yankees would at least give them a momentary respite. The Red Sox will almost certainly give Swisher that chance if they can take the bat out of the hands of a legitimate threat.
That means anyone else in the Yankee lineup.
Will the Yankees add to Boston’s misery — or are the Bombers in for big ol’ flop? Be heard in the comments below…