The first place New York Yankees roll into town tonight for a 3 game series vs. the Red Sox. The Bronx Bombers have been red hot since the return of slugger Alex Rodriguez and have recovered from a slow start to bypass the Red Sox and Blue Jays into first place.
Big ticket free agent acquisitions Mark Teixiera and CC Sabathia have both produced according to their contracts, and Nick Swisher has brought a fun attitude into the notoriously stiff Yankee clubhouse as well as having belted 12 HR and bringing flexibility to the bench.
LF Johnny Damon is having a tremendous year, hitting 12 HR from the second spot in the order, after he and SS Derek Jeter were flip flopped. Jeter is sporting a .379 OBP from the leadoff spot and has 8 HR. Despite his critics who think he is overrated and a defensive liability, Jeter is still an excellent player who can get on base and has the power to take advantage of the short porch in RF, where he has been known to deposit seemingly lazy fly balls the opposite way into the first few rows of seats for home runs. Jeter's ability to handle the bat and use the entire field with an occasional inside-out swing is one of the most underrated aspects of his game. Regarding Jeter's lack of range at SS, all I know is he has far more range at SS than the much maligned Julio Lugo of the Red Sox.
From the looks of it, the Yankees are settling right into their home at the new Yankee Stadium, which has already earned a reputation as a launching pad for home runs. Things are going so well for the Yankees right now, that even CF Melky Cabrera, who was all but left for dead on the side of the road at the end of last year, has reclaimed the starting CF job and has been a key contributor with 6 HR and a few game winning hits. The Melk Man is the player teams don't want to face at the plate in the 9th inning right now - he's batting a scorching .471 in the 9th inning this season.
On paper, the Yankee starting rotation looks excellent, but other than Sabathia and Joba Chamberlain, has been shaky. Chamberlain has become an occasionally dominant starter and is pitching very well. Free agent acquisition A.J. Burnett has been a disappointment - the low point being when he blew a 6-0 lead vs. the Red Sox back in April. Andy Pettitte has benefited from good run support, thus his 6-2 record. Chien-Ming Wang has been excrutiatingly bad and has a 14.46 ERA.
The biggest area of weakness for the Yankees is their bullpen, which is a mess. Mariano Rivera, while good, is still getting back to full strength after offseason shoulder surgery. Besides Rivera, none of the other members of the Yankee relief corp would make the Red Sox bullpen. The Yankees are hopeful that young Phil Hughes can stabilize the set up role. Considering Hughes' struggles at the major league level, that may be wishful thinking. When healthy, Brian Bruney is a decent reliever. However, it seems his arm is showing the effects of being abused during the Joe Torre era. The rest of their bullpen is filled with pitchers who are borderline major leaguers.
This series will be a good benchmark for the Yankees to see where they are at. The Red Sox are 5-0 against them so far this season. They've played significantly better baseball since the last time they faced the Red Sox and during that timeframe the Yankees set the record for most games without an error.
While most of the Red Sox-Yankees series are overhyped, this June series has more meaning to it than cynics think. If the Yankees do well, and take 2 out of 3, then they will still be cruising along playing good ball. If the Red Sox take 2 or sweep the series, it could slow the Yankee Express down a bit or even derail them.
Let's hope that the weather holds out and we get to catch the playoff type atmosphere at Fenway Park (America's Most Overrated Ballpark) over the next three days.