Commentary

Real CC must stand up against Red Sox

Sabathia needs to start shouldering the load against Boston ... or this could get ugly

Updated: August 30, 2011, 6:13 PM ET
By Andrew Marchand | ESPNNewYork.com

There are no must-wins before late September and there are plenty of examples littered through baseball history that prove the regular season has nothing to do with the postseason.

But CC Sabathia will pick up the ball Tuesday night with the Yankees Universe needing a shot of confidence. The 2011 Red Sox have thus far done what was previously thought to be impossible -- they have made Sabathia look small.

[+] EnlargeCC Sabathia
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireCC Sabathia is 0-4 with a 7.20 ERA against Boston -- and 17-3 with a 2.40 ERA against everyone else.

Boston has dominated the 6-foot-7, around-300-pound -- give or take a box of Cap'n Crunch -- Sabathia. The man who is known for doling out 0-for-4s is 0-for-4 against the Red Sox. Overall, the Yankees are 2-10 against Boston.

It has not been one of those "Sabathia got outdueled" type of things, either. It is one of those "this could be the biggest topic in a potential ALCS matchup" sort of things.

Thus far, Sabathia is 17-3 with a 2.40 ERA against the rest of baseball and 0-4 with a 7.20 ERA against the Yankees' biggest enemy.

He faces John Lackey, whose ERA is a tad under six. The next two nights, the pitching matchups -- mis-matchups for the Yankees, should we say -- heavily favor the Red Sox.

The better, but not all-the-way-back, Phil Hughes (4-4, 6.46) versus the mostly dominating Josh Beckett (11-5, 2.43) are your Wednesday night starters, while A.J. Burnett (9-11, 5.31) figures to finally walk the rotation plank after facing Jon Lester (14-6, 3.09) on Thursday.

So Sabathia on Tuesday night is not a must-win because, as a famous local play-by-player likes to say, "You can't predict baseball." Heck, last time in Boston, who saw Lackey beating Sabathia?

But if the Yankees want to head north in the standings by the time they leave Thursday, it'll have to start with Sabathia.

Cherry-picking some of the inside numbers by our own researcher Katie Sharp, it is easy to see some of the reasons Sabathia is a different pitcher this year against the Red Sox than against other teams.

The Sawx lefties have been unimpressed with Sabathia. Newcomers Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford have joined fellow lefties David Ortiz, Jacoby Ellsbury and J.D. Drew to hit .333 (16-for-48) with two homers.

In 109 more at-bats, the rest of baseball's lefties have hit the same number of homers off Sabathia -- and are hitting just .153.

The Red Sox are also recognizing Sabathia's slider better than other teams. While other batters have chased sliders out of the zone at a 45 percent clip, the Red Sox have only gone after outside sliders 30 percent of the time.

The Yankees -- trailing by 1.5 games in the AL East -- need at least one win in this series to keep from falling too far behind Boston.

The Yankees are dealing with the fragility of age as Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez limp into Fenway. Jeter probably will play Tuesday night, while A-Rod is less of a certainty.

It is hard to argue the Yankees are better built for October than the Red Sox with Boston's superior pitching. In the Yankees' 12 games against the Red Sox, their team batting average is .225, the worst against any team. Overall, the Yankees are hitting .269.

Mark Teixeira has almost been an automatic out, hitting just .136 with 12 strikeouts in 36 at-bats, all left-handed. The reborn Jeter has not yet re-emerged against the Red Sox. He has only one extra-base hit and a .189 average against them. A-Rod has batted .194 with 10 strikeouts in eight games.

This is the trend for the Yankees. They have had trouble getting the bat on the ball against the Red Sox. The Yankees have struck out 105 times and walked just 44, while the Red Sox have struck out just 75 times and walked 55.

But if the Yankees are going to win this year, it seems nearly impossible to imagine them doing it without the 2009 playbook. The Yankees, after losing the first eight against the Red Sox, won nine of the final 10.

Then they watched Sabathia pitch every three days in the playoffs and celebrated with a parade. Sabathia will have to be the man again. It is not a must-win, but before the calendar turns to September, it is as much of a must-pitch-well as you can get.

ESPN Stats & Information researcher Mark Simon contributed to this story.

Andrew Marchand is a senior writer for ESPNNewYork. He also regularly contributes to SportsCenter, Baseball Tonight, ESPNews, ESPN New York 98.7 FM and ESPN Radio. He joined ESPN in 2007 after nine years at the New York Post. Follow Andrew on Twitter »

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