For the second consecutive year, the Red Sox and Yankees will meet for an opportunity to go to the World Series. Last year’s series will forever be remembered by Red Sox Nation as the Aaron-fuckin’-Boone series, when the then Yankee third baseman hit the series ending home run in extra innings. Many names have changed since a year ago, but the rivalry is as fierce as ever. Here is a look at how they match up.
Catcher: Jason Varitek vs. Jorge Posada. Varitek is the heart and soul of this Red Sox lineup. Many believe that his bench-clearing confrontation with Alex Rodriguez sparked this team and started the hot stretch they continue three months later. Posada is an all-star and considered by many to be one of the best all around catchers in the game.
First Base: Kevin Millar vs. John Olerud. Olerud was added to the Yankee roster in August after struggling on a weak Seattle Mariner team. He brings veteran leadership, plays outstanding defense and is not an easy out. Millar is not as good defensively, but has been one of the Sox hottest hitters down the stretch. He is also the team’s unofficial “class clown”, doing what he can to keep teammates loose in tense situations.
Second Base: Mark Bellhorn vs. Miguel Cairo. Cairo is the weakest link in the Yankee’s offense. His primary purpose is to play solid defense, committing only eight errors during the regular season. Bellhorn has exceeded expectations, putting up career highs in hits, doubles, RBI’s and batting average. He is the Sox weakest link defensively and will be replaced by two-time Gold Glove winner Pokey Reese in late game situations.
Third Base: Bill Mueller vs. Alex Rodriguez. Sox GM Theo Epstein attempted to acquire Rodriguez last off-season, but ultimately the trade was nixed for financial reasons. The Yankees traded All-Star second baseman Alfonso Soriano to Texas to acquire last season’s most valuable player. Mueller won the batting title during Rodriguez’s MVP campaign last year, but does not hit with the same type of home run power or RBI capabilities as Rodriguez.
Advantage: New York.
Shortstop: Orlando Cabrera vs. Derek Jeter. Cabrera replaced the former Boston mainstay, Nomar Garciaparra, with solid defense and timely hitting, satisfying both fans and management. Jeter is a postseason veteran who is considered one of the toughest players in the game. Jeter is the captain and heart of this lineup, as Jeter goes, so shortstop goes to the Yankees.
Advantage: New York.
Outfield: Manny Ramirez, Johnny Damon, Trot Nixon vs. Hideki Matsui, Bernie Williams, Gary Sheffield. Ramirez and Sheffield are the top two candidates to win this year’s AL MVP. Damon and Matsui each put up the most impressive numbers of their careers. Nixon missed 114 games this season with injuries to his back and hamstring. He has exceeded team expectations simply by returning to the lineup this season. Williams has lost a step since his early days, but is one of the few tenured veterans on this Yankee team. His leadership is more important than his bat and he has been a solid defender throughout his career.
Starting Pitching: The Red Sox combination of Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez are the best one-two punch in the majors and Shilling has a postseason history of overwhelming success. The Yankees were the first team to win 100 games in a season, without having at least one pitcher win 15 and don’t even have a clear number one starter.
Relief Pitching: The Red Sox have one of the most versatile bullpens of the playoff teams. The Yankees have two tough right-handers, Paul Quantrill and Tom Gordon, to get to the best closer in postseason history, Mariano Rivera. However, they do not have the bullpen depth and balance the Sox have with lefty specialists Mike Myers and Alan Embree. The Sox handed Rivera two of his four blown saves this season and do not seem to fear him as much as other teams do.
Bench: David Ortiz is the best designated hitter in the game and along with Ramirez and Sheffield will get MVP considerations. Ruben Sierra is in his 19th major league season and has power as both a left and right handed hitter. Boston acquired defensive replacements Doug Mientkiewicz and Dave Roberts in late season trades; they may be the difference in this series. High priced starters leave the New York bench thin.
On paper it looks like the Red Sox have the better team, but many thought the same of last year’s lineup. These games are not played on paper, but on the field and the Red Sox must prove this over the seven game series.
My prediction: Sox in six games, on their way to their first World Series title since 1918.