Pieces fitting together quite nicely with the Yankees

Updated: June 8, 2009

Mark J. Rebilas/US Presswire

Joe Girardi's job no longer appears to be in jeopardy. Instead, he oversees a very happy clubhouse.

The Yankees, who knocked off the Rays on Monday and hold a one-game lead over the Red Sox team they visit starting Tuesday in Boston, seem to have pulled things together. The biggest reason for that is the chemistry in the Yankees' clubhouse is as good as it's been in a long, long time.

We know that teams don't really have to get along to play well. The Oakland A's, with Reggie Jackson, proved that years ago. It seemed like they were fighting every other day. They were so talented they could get away with it. But most times it is an important factor in a team's success. Although the team's record took a little while to reflect it, the Yankees' change in chemistry started back in spring training. CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett came in and set the tone by taking a lot of the young guys on the team on outings to basketball games or fishing trips.

Considering all the money spent in the offseason, the expectations were sky-high from the start this year. I remember back when the team was 10-10 and there was talk starting that manager Joe Girardi could be on the hot seat. I walked in the clubhouse expecting to be able to sense the tension, but there was nothing but positivity all around. I think it starts with Girardi. He was bouncing around and his enthusiasm can be contagious.

Featured Series: Yankees at Red Sox
TUESDAY
Yankees (A.J. Burnett) at Red Sox (Josh Beckett), 7:10 p.m. ET
WEDNESDAY
Yankees (Chien-Ming Wang) at Red Sox (Tim Wakefield), 7:10 p.m. ET
THURSDAY
Yankees (CC Sabathia) at Red Sox (Brad Penny), 7:10 p.m. ET,
As much as I like what Girardi has done, I love everything about Sabathia. He is one of those guys who is great on the mound but even better off it. The team has to love him. Even when he had a little trouble with his control this year, you just knew he would get it back soon. He has never had a losing season on any level. He's played on some teams that weren't that good, but he's always found a way to win.

Sabathia and Burnett aren't the only new faces to deliver in pinstripes. Mark Teixeira has made an impact as well. One of the things that has changed most in the 25 years in the game has been teams' recognition of the importance of defense at first base. I think first base is maybe the most important defensive position on the field.

If a player can consistently make the play at first like Teixeira can, that can be the difference between getting out of an inning and giving up three runs. That's a big deal. In the past, first base was kind of a dumping ground for guys who couldn't play third base or the outfield. But look at some of the recent World Series winners: Kevin Youkilis in Boston, Albert Pujols in St. Louis and Derrek Lee in Florida. All those guys play great defense. The Yankees really haven't had a strong glove at first base in a while. They've played some DHs out there and even Jorge Posada once or twice. Teixeira, another great defensive first baseman, has given the Yankees so much confidence.

Boston doesn't have the infusion of fresh faces, but they do have the steady hand of manager Terry Francona. What an amazing run it has been for Francona with the Red Sox. Boston is arguably the toughest media market in sports. When you talk about New York or Chicago, you have to remember that they each have two teams. Boston has one team playing all summer. The job he's done there continues to amaze me.

The division race between these two teams is a coin toss, and the coin is still in the air right now. The Red Sox won the first five meetings this season, but obviously A-Rod didn't play in any of those. He's only hitting .248, but his presence alone has seemed to help transform that batting order.

A-Rod has made an obvious impact, and there are many keys to this race. Still, two of the biggest factors are the guys behind the plate. Both of these teams lean on their catchers. In recent years, when Jason Varitek or Posada missed any prolonged stretches, their teams have suffered. I expect them to play big roles this series and all season for these two teams.

Past Baseball Tonight Clubhouses: June 7 | June 4 | June 3 | June 2 | June 1

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
T. Tulowitzki, Col6StLMotteTop 6: 1-0, 0 Outs. None on.
J. Dye, CWS15DetGalarragaBot 5: 0-2, 1 Outs. 1 on.
P. Konerko, CWS8DetZumayaBot 8: 2-0, 0 Outs. None on.
C. Jones, Atl8PitDukeBot 1: 1-0, 1 Outs. 1 on.
M. Teixeira, NYY18TBSonnanstineBot 1: 1-1, 2 Outs. None on.

The complete list of Monday's homers

ON DECK: TUESDAY'S BEST MATCHUPS

Yankees at Red Sox, 7:10 p.m. ET

The top two teams in the AL East open their series with a pair of power pitchers. Josh Beckett has won his past four decisions and has allowed only one run over his previous three starts combined. After losing two consecutive decisions, A.J. Burnett has won his past two.

Blue Jays at Rangers, 8:05 p.m. ET

The Rangers will be without slugger Josh Hamilton for four to six weeks. Hamilton is headed for surgery to repair a partially torn abdominal muscle. They will now rely a little more on their pitchers, and Brandon McCarthy takes the mound after a rough start against the Yankees his last time out.

Phillies at Mets, 7:10 p.m. ET

Johan Santana has owned the Phillies over his career, going 3-0 with a 2.44 ERA in seven starts. His opponent, J.A. Happ, is on a pretty good run so far this season. He is 4-0 with a 2.48 ERA. He has made two appearances already this season against the Mets, but both were relief appearances.

For the rest of Tuesday's schedule, click here.

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BBTN ON THE AIR: TUESDAY

TIME WHO'S ON? (SC DRAFT SPECIAL)
9 p.m. ET
ESPN
Host: Karl Ravech
Analysts: Steve Phillips, Buster Olney, Peter Gammons
10 p.m. ET
ESPN
Host: Steve Berthiaume
Analysts: John Kruk, Buster Olney, Chris Singleton
1:30 a.m. ET
ESPN
Host: Karl Ravech
Analysts: John Kruk, Peter Gammons, Chris Singleton

BBTN MINUTE: PHILLIES-METS PREVIEW

SIMON SAYS

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

Tonight, he takes a look at Jose Contreras, who made an impressive comeback after a stint in the minor leagues. Contreras started the season 0-5, then went down to the minors to figure things out. He returned Monday and tossed eight innings of one-hit ball as the White Sox took the second game of a doubleheader with Detroit. The thing with Contreras is, when he's on, he's on:

Jose Contreras in wins since 2008
Starts 8
ERA 1.48
BA against .180
K-BB 29-13

WEB GEMS

MONDAY'S BEST AND WORST

BEST
WestSean West, in only his fourth start in the majors, flirted with a no-hitter against the Giants. The Marlins lefty took his no-no into the seventh before giving up a leadoff single to Edgar Renteria. West allowed two hits over eight innings, striking out six for his first big league win, as the Marlins blanked the Giants 4-0.
WORST
JaramilloJason Jaramillo remained behind the plate for all 15 innings of the Pirates' 7-6 loss against the Braves. It was also a long night at the plate for Jaramillo, who went 1-for-7 with four strikeouts. His rough outing cost him 10 points on his batting average, dropping him from .277 to .267.

NUMBERS TO KNOW

Beckett Boston Red Sox ace Josh Beckett got off to a rough start this season, going 2-2 with a 7.22 ERA in April. Since the beginning of May, however, Beckett has been lights out, with a 4-0 record and a 1.94 ERA in six starts. Why the improvement?

Beckett's fastball was his main problem in April, as opposing batters were crushing the pitch and he was having rotten luck; his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) was well above the league average. As his BABIP moved closer to the league average, his batting average and slugging percentage against descended downward in a similar fashion.

Beckett takes on the New York Yankees on Tuesday, and he's 1-0 with a 9.00 ERA in two starts against New York this season. The Yankees, one of the best fastball hitting teams in the majors, are 16-for-36 (.444) with two home runs against Beckett's heater in his two starts against them.

Opponents vs. Beckett's fastball (2009)
BA SLG BABIP
April .346 .513 .424
May-June .230 .380 .253
AL avg. .283 .456 .303

-- ESPN Stats & Information

FANTASY: PREVIEW OF TUESDAY'S GAMES

Fantasy Adam Madison examines the 15 games on Tuesday's slate.

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