BOSTON -- At first glance, Saturday afternoon’s pitching matchup does not seem to bode well for the Red Sox.
For the middle game of this weekend’s showdown, New York will send CC Sabathia to the mound, the ace of the Yankee staff and a legitimate candidate for the AL Cy Young award. Sabathia enters the afternoon with a Major League-leading 16 wins and sports a 2.55 ERA, fourth-lowest in the American League. He has also recorded 162 strikeouts in just 24 starts, a mark that ties him for second in the AL with Seattle’s Felix Hernandez.
Boston will counter with John Lackey, who will definitely not be receiving any Cy Young votes this year. Although he hasn’t lost since July 4, Lackey owns a career-high 6.23 ERA and has had well-documented struggles. In his last start against Cleveland on Monday, he was tagged for five runs and eight hits through 6 and 2/3 innings but received a no-decision in a 9-6 Sox loss.
While the season statistics of Saturday's starters overwhelmingly favor Sabathia, the head-to-head stats of both hurlers against their respective rivals tell a surprisingly different story.
Despite his difficulties against everyone else, Lackey has actually had success against New York since joining Boston in 2010. In three starts against the Bronx Bombers as a member of the Sox, Lackey is 2-0 with a 3.86 ERA.
In his last start of the 2010 season, Lackey put together a 10-strikeout performance against the Yankees, surrendering only two earned runs in 7 2/3 innings pitched. On April 8, he was tagged for six runs in just five innings in his only start against New York this season, but the Sox offense provided nine runs of support to give Lackey his first win of the season.
Sabathia, meanwhile, has been downright awful against the Red Sox this season. In three starts against Boston this year, CC is 0-3 with a 6.16 ERA. Take out his three rough outings against the Red Sox, and Sabathia owns a 16-2 record with a 2.11 ERA.
Before the series opener on Friday night, Sabathia was asked about his struggles against the Sox and why Boston’s lineup is so difficult to face.
“I think it’s the speed, really. [Especially] at the top with Ellsbury, and Pedroia can steal a bag,” said Sabathia. “You got Crawford in there [too], and they got the heavy hitters, so you don’t want to let those guys get on and start causing havoc on the bases. [Then] you lose concentration for Papi and Youkilis and the rest of the guys in the lineup.”
Sabathia was especially impressed with Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, and noted that the leadoff man has made considerable strides as a hitter since last season.
“He seems more comfortable at the plate. He seems more assured of himself, knows what he wants to do,” said Sabathia.
Ellsbury is having a career year, and has achieved hero status of late with a walk-off single and a walk-off home run in back-to-back wins against the Indians this week. Ellsbury is batting .319 and has reached career highs in home runs (18), RBIs (66), doubles (31), and extra-base hits (51) with more than 50 games remaining in the season.
Ellsbury drove in the first run of the series on Friday night with an RBI double off the Green Monster in the third inning.
“When you make mistakes to him, here lately he hasn’t been missing them at all, so you just got to try to make quality pitches,” added Sabathia.
Despite his struggles against the Sox, the big left-hander says he treats Boston like any other team and won’t change his approach for Saturday’s start.
“Every start is different,” says Sabathia. “You go out there with different stuff every time out, so you just got to know what you have that day and attack with what you got.”
Sabathia is unique in his preparation in that he doesn’t watch video of opposing hitters. While many starters pore over video clips before a start to determine their pitching strategies, CC says he doesn’t believe in it.
“Never did, never have,” said Sabathia. “I tried it for one year and didn’t like it.”
“I’m going to pitch the same way,” Sabathia explained. “I’ll attack. Attack hard in, be aggressive in the strike zone, and pitch off my fastball, so it really does nothing for me to watch old videos.”
Sabathia would do well to put his starts against Boston in the past.
In his last start against the Red Sox on June 9, he allowed eight hits and a season-high-tying six earned runs in 6 and 2/3 innings, taking the loss in an 8-3 Sox win.
His woes against Boston aside, the lefty is one of the best in the game and he has been on a torrid stretch recently. He has allowed just seven earned runs in his last eight starts dating back to June 25, posting an impressive 7-1 record and a 1.01 ERA during that stretch. No matter how poorly he's performed against Boston in the past, Sox hitters are expecting his A-game on Saturday.
“He’s always tough," said Dustin Pedroia after Boston's 3-2 loss on Friday night. "He’s been on a roll, too, so we got to come out swinging the bats better than we did tonight.”