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Thursday, April 23, 2009
Updated: April 27, 12:26 AM ET
Pitching point of interest in first round of Yankees-Red Sox

ESPN.com

Tom Szczerbowski/US Presswire

Josh Beckett will lock up with the Yankees' A.J. Burnett on Saturday at Fenway Park.

SETTING THE TABLE FOR RED SOX-YANKEES

By Steve Phillips, ESPN

Temperatures should be well into the 80s in Boston this weekend, so the upcoming Red Sox-Yankees series will have the feel of a midsummer classic.

Cooler temps haven't held down the Yankees' bats so far this year, and they've been pounding home runs at an alarming rate. Maybe we'll find out now whether it's been the Yankees or just Yankee Stadium.

Friday's pitching matchup is really intriguing to me. You have two of the best young guns in the game in Jon Lester and Joba Chamberlain squaring off. Both will be trying to set the tone for the series. Chamberlain is coming off a game in which he had difficulty commanding the strike zone. He is going to have to work ahead in the count against a very selective, patient Boston lineup. Lester, who got that five-year contract extension during spring training, also has had an uneven start to his season. His last start, however, looked more like the Lester from 2008 -- he struck out nine in seven innings against the Orioles. But he too will have to work ahead in the count and throw strikes against a tough Yankees lineup. I look for both these young starters to rise to the occasion and go deep into what should be a very close, well-pitched game. They both have the ability to take their stuff to the next level when the pressure is on.

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Saturday's game features an extraordinary matchup and, in A.J. Burnett and Josh Beckett, two pitchers with arguably some of the best stuff in the major leagues. Burnett has given the Yankees exactly what they hoped for when they signed him to an $82.5 million deal. He has a fastball in the mid-90s, one of the tightest, hardest-breaking curveballs in the big leagues and an exceptional changeup. But throwing strikes is going to be very important for him to get the Red Sox hitters off his fastball.

Beckett has one of the best four-seam and two-seam fastballs in the game. And, like Burnett, one of baseball's best curveballs. This game will be a pleasure to watch, and if you are a fan of the 12-6 curve, you'll see two of the best in the business. I could not have paired up two better pitchers in this series. They are very similar in their stuff and approach, plus they are former teammates with the Florida Marlins -- that should only add to the rivalry.

On Sunday, we have Andy Pettitte, a veteran of this heated rivalry, against Justin Masterson, the youngster who hasn't had nearly the experience in these sorts of games. Pettitte is no longer a strikeout pitcher. Now, he relies on moving the ball around and keeping hitters off balance. He has to pitch to contact now and let the defense work behind him. If he tries to miss Red Sox bats, he could find himself in trouble and making an early exit. Every pitch Masterson throws moves in a significant way.This is the wild-card game in the series. Whichever starter performs better and can stay in the game longer, that's the team that will win.

Another interesting thing to keep in mind was how differently these teams approached the offseason. The Yankees spent more than $400 million on CC Sabathia, Burnett and Mark Teixeira; the Red Sox ended up lowering their overall payroll and signed John Smoltz, Brad Penny, Takashi Saito and Rocco Baldelli for $12.5 million. The Yankees scored a victory on two fronts when they signed Teixeira, a player Boston also coveted. Not only did they add him to their lineup but they kept him away from their archrivals.

One other factor whenever these teams meet is what type of impact David Ortiz will have. He has had plenty of memorable moments against the Yankees in the past, but he has gotten off to a slow start this year and has yet to hit a home run this season. It will be interesting to see whether the energy of this rivalry gets him completely back on track.

It's way too early to label this as a critical series as far as deciding the division, but any time these two teams play each other, it sure feels important. This is only Round 1 of a summerlong battle between the heavyweight contenders in the American League East.

Past Baseball Tonight Clubhouses: April 22 | April 21 | April 20 | April 19 | April 16

TOUCH 'EM ALL

Touch 'Em AllWho went deep? Keep track of all the home runs hit each day on "Baseball Tonight" and on the Baseball Tonight Clubhouse page.

For more, check out the Home Run Tracker page.

Home Run Tracker
NAME HR OPPPITCHER SITUATION
R. Braun, Mil4PhiHamelsTop 4: 2-1, 1 Outs. 1 on.
A. Pujols, StL5NYMHernandezBot 1: 2-0, 2 Outs. None on.
G. Sizemore, Cle6KCMahayBot 8: 0-1, 1 Outs. 2 on.
A. Pujols, StL6NYMHernandezBot 5: 2-0, 0 Outs. 1 on.
R. Ankiel, StL1NYMHernandezBot 5: 0-1, 1 Outs. None on.

The complete list of Thursday's homers

ON DECK: FRIDAY'S BEST MATCHUPS

Phillies at Marlins

The Phillies haven't quite gotten into a groove this season in defense of their title. This is the chance to remind the Marlins, the talk of baseball so far this season, that the NL East won't be won so easily.

Pirates at Padres

Two of the surprise teams -- a pair most expected to be cellar dwellers in their divisions this season -- get together. Ross Ohlendorf, coming off a seven-inning gem against the Marlins, faces Padres' ace Jake Peavy in Sunday's series finale.

Cubs at Cardinals

They spent last weekend together at Wrigley Field, and they'll be together this weekend in St. Louis. The series opens with a pair of quality pitchers, with the Cubs sending Ryan Dempster to the mound on Friday against Adam Wainwright.

For the rest of Friday's schedule, click here. To see what's on tap for Saturday, click here. And for Sunday's full slate of games, click here.

BBTN ON THE AIR: FRIDAY

TIME WHO'S ON?
1 a.m. ET
ESPN
Host: Steve Berthiaume
Analysts: Buster Olney, Fernando Vina, Buck Showalter

BBTN ON THE AIR: SATURDAY

TIME WHO'S ON?
11:30 p.m. ET
ESPN2
Host: Steve Berthiaume
Analysts: Buster Olney, Fernando Vina, Buck Showalter

BBTN ON THE AIR: SUNDAY

TIME WHO'S ON?
12:30 p.m. ET
ESPN2
Host: Karl Ravech
Analysts: Peter Gammons, John Kruk, Dave Winfield

7 p.m. ET
ESPN
Host: Karl Ravech
Analysts: Peter Gammons, John Kruk, Dave Winfield

BBTN MINUTE: KEYS TO YANKS-RED SOX

SIMON SAYS

Simon Says ESPN researcher Mark Simon digs deep, looking for the night's best baseball numbers.

Tonight, he looks at Mark Teixeira, who makes his Yankees-Red Sox debut this weekend. Fenway Park has not been kind to Teixeira:

Mark Teixeira (worst BA by AL stadium)
Fenway Park .194
Rogers Centre .225
Comerica Park .247
Camden Yards .253

WEB GEMS

THURSDAY'S BEST AND WORST

BEST
Albert PujolsAlbert Pujols had a typical Albert Pujols kind of day against the Mets -- 3-for-4, two home runs, three RBIs and four runs scored. His manager, Tony La Russa, summed it up: "Perfect player, in my opinion," La Russa said.
Dave BushDave Bush took a no-hitter into the eighth inning against the Phillies before Matt Stairs hit a homer with one out in the eighth. Tough to see this one coming, considering Bush entered the game with a 5.40 ERA and had allowed 16 hits in 13 1/3 innings over his first three appearances.
WORST
Sean Green• The hope for the Mets was that their bullpen was improved this season. It hasn't quite worked out, as evidenced by this line from reliever Sean Green in a 12-8 loss against the Cardinals -- two innings, seven hits and five runs.
Bartolo ColonBartolo Colon started out well with a strong debut for the White Sox. His past two outings haven't gone as smoothly. Last week, he was hit hard by the Rays. On Thursday, he gave up eight hits and five runs in just three innings of work in a 6-2 loss against the Orioles.

NUMBERS TO KNOW

Ryan Braun spent the first 12 games of the 2009 season mired in a 10-for-45 slump, a stretch in which he collected four extra-base hits. He also struck out 10 times.

However, when the Brewers rolled into Philadelphia this week for a three-game series with the defending champions, things quickly changed as Braun went 8-for-10 with three home runs and four walks as the Brewers won two of three. How did Braun shake off the rust? By getting back to what made him successful last year -- punishing pitches middle and away.

Ryan Braun
Middle/away pitches BA SLG HR
Series vs. Phils 1.000 2.286 3
First 12 games .200 .257 0
2008 .287 .567 29

-- ESPN Stats & Information

FANTASY: PREVIEW OF FRIDAY'S GAMES

Adam Morrison examines the nine games on Friday's slate.

Fantasy Morrison ranks the pitchers scheduled to take the mound and supplies loads of other information that could help shape your roster for Friday. Daily Notes