It’s back.  Yankees vs. Red Sox.  A little less drama then last time, but still – a series to watch.  With a 6.5 game lead over the Red Sox, even 3 straight losses wouldn’t usurp them as division leaders.  That being said, despite an impressive 3-game sweep of the Toronto Blue Jays by Boston, I think the Yankees are still the stronger team.

After losing the first 8 games against the Sox for the first time in history, the Yankees bounced back to sweep their 4-game series just two short weeks ago.  They will face each other 6 more times this season.  This three-game series at Fenway and one final 3-game set in the Bronx in September.

Both teams have been virtually equal in the last two weeks and that’s what will make this series interesting.  The Yankees took 2 of 3 from Toronto, 3 of 4 from Seattle and 2 of 3 from Oakland to win 7 of 10.  The Red Sox swept the AL Central leading Detroit in 3 games, lost 2 of 3 to Texas, but came back to sweep Toronto in 3.  They also have won 7 of their last 10.

The Yankees currently hold the best record in the Majors, while Boston holds a 1-game lead over Texas for the wild card.

Pitching Matchups:

Andy Pettitte (9-6, 4.09 ERA) will face off against Brad Penny (7-7, 5.22 ERA) in the first game, Friday night at 7pm on YES.  AJ Burnett (10-6, 3.69) will face off against Junichi Tazawa (1-2, 5.40) on Saturday, 4:10pm on FOX.  And in the “gem” game, the team’s two aces will face each other – CC Sabathia (14-7, 3.58) against Josh Beckett (14-4, 3.38).

Penny is 0-3 with an ERA over 7.00 in his last four starts, so you know the Yankees will jump on him early and try to get off to a big lead.  Andy Pettitte typically throws well overall but tends to allow 3 and 4 run innings that can put the Yankees behind quickly.

UPDATE 9:32 pm – This is exactly what I am talking about with Pettitte.  He allows 3 runs in the bottom of the fifth.  Fortunately the Yankees were leading 12-1, so it only made the score 12-4.  But he has this weird tendency to allow multiple runs in the same inning.  That’s gotta be fixed by the post season!

After six wins in 7 starts dating back to the 1-hitter he threw against the Mets, Burnett has faltered as of late, going 0-2 in four starts in August.  But one thing Burnett has demonstrated this season is after a horrid stretch of pitching, he will come back strong and throw a good game.

Sabathia and Beckett share the league lead for wins with 14 – but I would take Sabathia over Beckett on Sunday.  Sabathia has won 6 of his last 7 starts – including 4 in a row – thus, perfect in August.  Beckett is 4-1 in his last 7, but the Red Sox are only 4-3 during that stretch.  Beckett seems to be fading, while Sabathia is surging.

Key to a Yankee Sweep:

With Derek Jeter hitting .331 and making noise for the MVP, he will be the guy the rest of the Yankees look towards to be the catalyst for this series.  I’ll say this right now and stand behind it: this series rests on the shoulders of the greatest shortstop to ever play the game.  If he has a great 3 games, the Yankee sweep.  If he’s just good, they take 2 of 3.  If he struggles, they lost 2 of 3.

But, he’s Derek Jeter.  Captain Clutch.