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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Tuesday, August 30, 2011 at 11:45 AM

The attention of the sports world is about to turn to football. We'll be doing that ourselves this week…getting you ready for the start of college football this weekend with a series of reports the next few days in THE NOTEBOOK. Baseball gets one last hurrah this week though with a HUGE series matching two of the sport's deep-pocketed powerhouses.

It's the New York Yankees visiting the Boston Red Sox. Not only have these two franchises been tied together through history. They enter this series tied together in some very interesting ways.

*They're currently playing in the closest pennant race out of all six Major League divisions. This isn't just a blood rivalry. It's a blood rivalry at the top of the tightest division!

*Both teams just had to deal with hurricane Irene. New York was playing at Baltimore this past weekend, so they got the first up close look at the storm. That led to a quiet couple of days, followed by a Sunday doubleheader before the Monday Night season finale. Boston, playing at home vs. Oakland, saw the storm coming, so they moved up Sunday's game to Saturday to create a twinbill (which they swept). The original schedule had them enjoying a day off Monday. So, the Yankees have played THREE GAMES and TRAVELLED since the last time Boston took the field at home. Fatigue vs. rustiness, tied together by a killer storm.

*The Yankees have enjoyed a friendly schedule perk for most of the season…having played more home games than road games at any relevant point you check. Boston wasn't as blessed. As a result, Boston was always in slightly better shape (at least) than it seemed in your newspaper standings. Well, that ends with this series!

Entering the series:
Yankees: 67 home games, 65 road games
Red Sox: 65 home games, 68 road games

Barring rainouts, this is what it will look like after the series:
Yankees: 67 home games, 68 road games
Red Sox: 68 home games, 68 road games

We're merging back to schedule equality. Boston has a slight lead now. What you see will truly be what you get by the end of this week's matchup. Boston can extend its lead by taking care of business at home. The Yankees can re-establish themselves in the race by taking two of three or sweeping.

Let's look at the projected pitching matchups and see how things might play out…

New York: Sabathia (17-7, 2.99 ERA, 1.16 WHIP)
Boston: Lackey (12-9, 5.98 ERA, 1.55 WHIP)

Casual fans may be tempted to pencil in a win whenever C.C. Sabathia takes the mound for New York. Well, the Yanks are 1-3 in his last four outings! His ERA has risen from 2.55 to 2.99 in that span, with 18 earned runs allowed in 28.1 innings (5.72 ERA in those four games). The first poor game in the mix was on this very field, when he allowed 7 earned runs in 6 innings to Boston. And, the opposing pitcher was John Lackey!

Lackey hasn't exactly righted his ship in turbulent waters just yet. But, his ERA is 4.97 over his last four games. If you look at full season stats, Sabathia should be a big favorite. If you think Sabathia is getting a little arm weary while Lackey is starting to build some confidence…this series opener might be more interesting.

New York: Hughes (4-4, 6.46 ERA, 1.53 WHIP)
Boston: Beckett (11-5, 2.43 ERA, 0.97 WHIP)

Hughes has had a Jeckyll and Hyde quality to his recent starts. He had strung together some good outings, only to allow 7 runs in two innings to Oakland the last time out. The Yankees would come back to win that game 22-9. (Funny, he had an earlier bad game vs. Oakland that the Yanks came back to win 17-7!). Good test for him here against a potent offense in a good hitting environment.

Outside of an oddly bad outing in Seattle, Beckett has been in fairly sharp form of late. He held the Rangers to one run in six innings in the heat in Arlington. The last time he faced the Yankees in Fenway, the numbers were the same. That's some pitching! You have to give Beckett the edge here. Though Hughes is capable of throwing a good game that at least cancels Beckett out. It's worth noting that Beckett has gone six innings or less in four of his last five outings. Boston needs him to go deeper.

New York: Burnett (9-11, 5.31 ERA, 1.44 WHIP)
Boston: Miller (6-1, 4.42 ERA, 1.69 WHIP)

Nobody will be happier to see September arrive than A.J. Burnett (and this game will be played on September 1st). His August woes have been fairly well documented. Even Yankees management were saying they weren't concerned about Burnett's recent slump because he's always horrible in August! We'll find out here if the calendar matters or not.

You know it's a shaky year in the Red Sox rotation if Fenway fans are happy that Andrew Miller came along with his mediocre 4.42 ERA and appalling 1.69 WHIP to help settle things down. He did pitch well on the road in Kansas City and Texas his last two outings though. Boston really needs rotation depth to have any confidence in the postseason. They can't just hope to keep outscoring everyone all the time. Same thing for the Yankees of course. Great to see a sneak preview of the playoffs in this showcase series.

Note that Wednesday's game will be nationally televised on ESPN.

Other series of interest right now that JIM HURLEY is paying a lot of attention to:

Tampa Bay at Texas
LA Angels at Seattle
Philadelphia at Cincinnati
St. Louis at Milwaukee
Colorado at Arizona

We know you're very excited about the start of college football this week. We are too! Just remember that smart Las Vegas bettors take every edge they can find. THAT means they keep betting baseball even when football starts! Lines are known to get even softer in September because oddsmakers are overwhelmed by football money. They'll live with bad numbers in the bases figuring they'll make back any baseball losses in football bets from the general public. They're literally giving away money to handicappers who know what they're doing on the diamonds.

You can sign up for football and baseball here at the website. Or, go day-by-day and pick your spots based on your personal schedule. If you have any questions about combination packages, call us in the office at 1-800-323-4453.

Obviously, this is a GREAT time to sign up!

Now: Yankees vs. Red Sox in a 3-game series

Thursday: The start of college football, including our annual KICKOFF CLASSIC! If something special arises in NFL Preseason action, customers will get that too.

Friday: TCU/Baylor in a Southwest sleeper game that could turn out to be a thriller

Saturday: Showcase matchups like South Florida/Notre Dame on NBC, Oregon/LSU on ABC, and Boise State/Georgia on ESPN will make sure we hit the ground running. Don't forget about our annual BACK TO SCHOOL PARLAY!

College action and pennant race baseball continues through Labor Day weekend. That leads into New Orleans at Green Bay kicking off the NFL regular season next week. The dust won't settle until January. GET READY FOR A WILD RIDE!

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