By Steve Silverman
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The Yankees finally make their first trip to Fenway Park this year, and they will be confronting a first-place Boston Red Sox team.
Unlike the team that struggled with Bobby Valentine as manager last year, this team is thriving under John Farrell. The Red Sox seem cohesive, and like strong Red Sox teams in past years, they are hitting the ball well and playing solid defense.
Hitting the ball well doesn’t tell the full story in this modern era. The Red Sox find a way to take pitchers deep in the count and they get on base.
The Red Sox lead all of baseball in runs scored with 498 — 123 more than the Yankees. They are also first in on-base percentage (.350) and OPS (.793), and second in slugging percentage (.443).
The players that are driving the Red Sox are familiar ones: Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz and Jacoby Ellsbury. Pedroia is having an MVP-type year at second base, Ortiz has been bombing the ball all over ballparks and Ellsbury has been hot in recent weeks, hitting doubles and stealing bases.
But the Red Sox also have cohesive role players and are playing tough and competitive on an everyday basis for the first time in more than two years.
But while the Red Sox may be in first place, they are a team that can be beaten. They have had serious problems with the closer role, even though Koji Uehara has given Farrell some success from that position. Uehara has registered saves in eight of 11 opportunities, but he’s not going to give them what former Red Sox reliever Jonathan Papelbon gave them in his prime.
Farrell has to be losing sleep over the top of his rotation. Clay Buchholz is 9-0 with a 1.71 ERA, but he has not pitched since June 8. His rehab has gone fitfully and he will be examined for further shoulder difficulties, but there’s no guarantee when, or if, Buchholz will pitch again this season.
Red Sox fans don’t want to think about their No. 1 pitcher not getting back on the mound, but it is a real possibility.
Jon Lester appeared to be getting back into form with his pitching in the early part of the season, but he is struggling once again. Since the midway point of the 2011 season, Lester has been a below-average pitcher. He is 8-6 this year with a 4.58 ERA, and his biggest problem is that he struggles to put hitters away once he gets two strikes on them.
Farrell is one of the best in baseball at handling a pitching staff, but when you have problems with your two guys at the top of the rotation, it is almost certain to lead to problems in the second half of the season.
So the Red Sox may look all-powerful while the Yankees are playing fitfully, but we have seen this scenario before. The Yankees can start their second half on a positive note and give the Red Sox a harsh dose of reality.
If the Yankees take two-of-three or better, it could be a head start to a strong second half. The Red Sox may feel good about the first half of their season, but reality is about to hit them in the face.
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