We asked ESPNNewYork.com's Wallace Matthews and ESPNBoston.com's Joe McDonald five questions in anticipation of the upcoming four-game series between the Yankees and Red Sox. Here's what our scribes had to say.
Question: How do fans in your market perceive the chances of the Red Sox making the playoffs?
Joe McDonald: Red Sox fans have been patient despite all the injuries to key players this season. But the majority of the fans I have talked with say they don't think the Red Sox can overcome the current deficit in the American League East standings, particularly now with Kevin Youkilis done for the season. What a devastating blow that is.
Of course, there will be those positive-thinking fans who believe the Red Sox can make a push down the stretch. GM Theo Epstein said after the trade deadline that he believes this current team has enough to pull it off.
Wallace Matthews: Not having taken a survey of the fans, I can't speak for their collective mindset. But having covered this rivalry and the hostility and passions it has aroused for the past 20 years I can guess that, ever since what happened in 2004, Yankees fans would be very leery about dismissing the Red Sox's chances at any time. Plus, sports fans being the fatalistic bunch that they are, I'm sure Yankees fans would not want to declare Boston dead until they saw the stake through its heart or, preferably, drove it in themselves. My perception is most Yankees fans consider the AL East a two-horse race this year, but they're still looking over their shoulders at the third horse just to be sure he's not catching up.
Q: What's the biggest issue facing the team you cover right now?
McDonald: No question, the biggest issue facing the Red Sox is injuries. Their roster has been decimated all season, and it just got a lot worse with word that their MVP, Youkilis, is done for the season. Now that Youk is gone, it is even more critical that their sparkplug, Dustin Pedroia, returns to the lineup soon. Every player in the Sox clubhouse will admit as much, too.
If all goes well in his continued rehab from a fractured left foot, Pedroia should be able to return in the middle of this month. He has done everything possible to remain in baseball shape, and once he's given clearance to play, his presence will give the Sox another shot in the arm.
Now that we know Youkilis is done for the season, the Sox might also try to find a lefty-hitting first baseman to platoon with Mike Lowell.
Matthews: No doubt the pitching, both in the starting rotation and the bullpen. With the injury to Andy Pettitte, the continued erratic pitching of A.J. Burnett and the recently diminished effectiveness of CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes, there is certainly cause for some alarm there. Plus, the Yankees' inability to come up with a solid bridge to Mariano Rivera has been a lingering problem all season. Casting off Chan Ho Park was part of the solution, but adding Kerry Wood may just be substituting one problem for another. Plus, the up-and-down nature of Joba Chamberlain's season only adds to the anxiety everyone connected with the Yankees must feel whenever Joe Girardi has to go to the bullpen. Even more than the age of the core players and the constant threat of injury, this has got to be the Yankees' No. 1 worry.
Q: Which team had the smarter approach at the trade deadline: Yankees (went for it) or Red Sox (didn't find any values so stood pat)?
McDonald: In my eyes, it was the Yankees. Theo Epstein met with the local media after the deadline came and went July 31 and admitted he was a little disappointed nothing major he was working on came to fruition. He wasn't ready to part with the organization's top prospects in a deal for a marginal reliever. Epstein decided the club would seek bullpen help from within, and that's why pitching prospects Michael Bowden and Felix Doubront have switched from starters to relievers for at least the remainder of this season.
The Sox were also looking for a catcher they could still contractually control through 2011, and Epstein found that with Jarrod Saltalamacchia. The Sox have been scouting, and wanting, this guy for the past three years and now they have him. However, his impact will not be felt immediately. Yankees GM Brian Cashman was smart in thinking he had the opportunity to make some deals at the deadline that could bury the already-hurting Red Sox.
Matthews: There are arguments to be made in favor of both approaches, and the case can be made that the Yankees were getting along fine with Colin Curtis and Juan Miranda as their pinch hitters/DHs/bench players, but it is easy to see how the Yankees would prefer to entrust the crucial game down the stretch to more experienced players like Lance Berkman and Austin Kearns. Plus, the price was right; they really gave away nothing to get either one of them, and if they don't work out, well, there's always Curtis and Miranda to fall back on in Triple-A. As for Kerry Wood, we'll know soon enough whether he can cut it. If not, the Yankees will cut him. I can't fault the Red Sox for standing pat, but the Yankees approach of taking on proven players at little or no cost to themselves looks like a pretty good one.
Q: What is your prediction for this four-game series in the Bronx?
McDonald: This one will come down to pitching. If the Red Sox have any chance of making the AL East race interesting, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, Josh Beckett and Jon Lester will have to pitch their butts off against one of the best lineups in baseball this weekend in New York. If the starters are at their best and the offense can get going, I think they take the series.
Matthews: On the pitching matchups alone, it looks as if the Red Sox have an advantage in three of the four games, the one exception being Sabathia over Lackey on Saturday. But as we know, very little ever runs to form when these two teams meet, and often the starting pitchers are long forgotten by the time the games are decided. Considering the way these two fight each other down to the wire no matter what is at stake, I'll cop out and say they will split the four game series -- Yankees losing Friday, winning Saturday and Sunday, and losing again Monday with Dustin Moseley on the mound.
Q: Which team, as constructed, will have the best chance to win in October: the Yankees, Red Sox or Rays?
McDonald: It's the Red Sox, believe it or not. When Boston's starting rotation is healthy and productive, it's one of the best in the game, and that's what helps a club win in October. The Sox bullpen, however, is suspect and that could be a problem. Offensively, if leadoff hitter Jacoby Ellsbury can contribute and once Pedroia returns to the lineup, the Red Sox could make some noise in the postseason. They have to get there first, however, something that's very much in doubt.
Matthews: Probably the Rays, who are the youngest of the three, have perhaps the best starting pitcher in David Price and have a good, reliable closer and setup men who can get him the baseball. All they lack is the experience of having gone all the way, which the Yankees and Red Sox have. As far as having the personnel and the ability to get not only to October but even to November, the Rays seem more durable and resilient than the Yankees and Red Sox.
Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com and Wallace Matthews covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com.