Five keys to Yankees-Red Sox series

Jacoby Ellsbury and Curtis Granderson have each been

Jacoby Ellsbury and Curtis Granderson have each been on a tear this season, and may play crucial roles in this weekend's series between the Red Sox and Yankees. (Credit: AP / Jim McIsaac)

CENTER STAGE.

To think that a year ago at this time, Jacoby Ellsbury had to deal with public criticism from teammate Kevin Youkilis because he rehabilitated his fractured ribs away from the team, and first-year Yankee Curtis Granderson stood as a pinstriped flop. Now the centerfielders rank among the most valuable players on the baseball superpowers. Who will produce more this weekend? For what it's worth, Ellsbury has a .992 OPS (.421 OBP, .571 SLG) with a home run in 38 plate appearances against the Yankees this season and Granderson has a .913 OPS (.341 OBP, .571 SLG) with three homers in 41 plate appearances against the Red Sox.

LEAVE IT TO BOONE.

The Yankees have been searching all season for lefthanded relief help, but we're past the two-thirds mark and Boone Logan still is their man. He'll be plenty busy this weekend, as Joe Girardi will have to choose when to go to him against the likes of Carl Crawford (2-for-11 with three strikeouts against Logan), Ellsbury (3-for-5), Adrian Gonzalez (1-for-2 with a walk) and David Ortiz (3-for-10). Of the other non-closing Yankees relievers -- Luis Ayala, David Robertson, Rafael Soriano and Cory Wade -- none possesses much experience or much success against the Red Sox's lefty hitters.

HOT AND COLD.

The Yankees' most expensive free-agent signing of the offseason, Derek Jeter, started the year very poorly before going on the disabled list (right calf). He has been on a roll (.380 OBP, .495 SLG in 108 plate appearances entering Thursday night's game) since coming back. The Red Sox's most expensive free agent of last winter, Crawford, started the season very poorly before going on the disabled list (left hamstring). He has continued his subpar offense (.297 OBP, .367 SLG in 64 plate appearances) since coming back July 18. Can the Yankees pitch around some of Crawford's more dangerous teammates to go after him? And can Jeter further infuriate Red Sox Nation by hurting them as he did so often in the past, as opposed to this year's .273 OBP and .225 SLG in 44 plate appearances?

THE WRONG STUFF?

Boston righthander John Lackey, who will start Saturday, is suffering through a dismal 2011 season, and in accordance with that, he pitched very poorly against the Yankees in a previous outing, allowing six runs in five innings April 8, although he picked up the win. The Yankees' Sunday starter, Freddy Garcia, is enjoying a terrific season, but his two starts against the Bosox haven't gone well, fueling the perception that he can beat worse-hitting teams with his savvy but not a dynamo such as Boston. He permitted five runs (four earned) in 51/3 innings May 15 and lasted just 12/3 innings while giving up four runs June 7, getting the loss both times. Can either man find ways to handle his imposing opponent?

HEAD STRONG.

It sure has felt as though the Red Sox have held a mental edge over the Yankees this season, hasn't it? As if it were just a matter of time before Boston broke open the game and won. That's what happens when one team beats another in eight of nine games. Of course, there was precisely the same sensation back in 2009, when Boston won the first eight of the season series, and then, starting on the first August weekend, the Yankees won nine of 10. Will the momentum turn this first August weekend? Last time, it was just a matter of the Yankees playing well heading into the series. As is the case this time.

 

Prediction

The forecast calls for rough sailing for the Yankees. The Red Sox will crush Bartolo Colon Friday night in a 10-2 victory; they'll catch CC Sabathia on an off day Saturday, outlasting the Yankees in an 11-9 slugfest, and they'll beat up on Garcia again Sunday night, prevailing 6-0.

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