Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, July 6, 2012 at 9:31 AM
Don't try telling the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox that their legendary rivalry has cooled down:
Okay, so maybe the real "glory days" of this rivalry were back in 2003 and '04 when the teams took turns beating the other guy in a pair of Game 7 American League Championship Series showdowns and no doubt that's been a while (although it's worth mentioning both of these teams have won World Series titles since with the Red Sox snagging the crown in 2007 and the Yanks ruling the baseball world in 2009) but when Yankees-Red Sox is renewed this pre-All-Star Game weekend it'll be a monstrous four-game set that could conceivably catapult the Bombers to a runaway title in the AL East or it could have the Bosox back in the mix after Bobby Valentine's club has basically staggered around the .500 mark for the first three-plus months of this current campaign.
Here's a Yankees-Red Sox weekend preview as both clubs come off a much-needed day off on Thursday:
NEW YORK YANKEES (49-32) at BOSTON (42-40) - Fri, Sat (a day/nite DH) and Sun Nite
The here-and-now AL East standings say the Yankees have a 7 ½-game lead over Boston as play begins today but eternal optimists in "Red Sox Nation" will be quick to point how that the lead could be sliced in half by Sunday night if everything falls just right.
Yes, that is optimistic thinking when you consider that these Yankees are 24-16 on the road (only the National League East-leading Washington Nationals have more road wins this year) and already this year overcame a nine-run deficit to down Boston 15-9 way back on April 21st ... or did you forget that, Sawx fans?
However, Joe Girardi's club has not exactly dominated its fellow AL East teams as the Bombers are a so-so12-12 within the division this season - nope, we couldn't believe it either! - and no doubt there is real heat on the Yankees' rather makeshift starting rotation to deliver here with CC Sabathia (groin strain) out till after the All-Star Game and with fellow LHP Andy Pettitte (broken fibula bone) likely gone until early-to-mid-August and so here RHPs Hiroki Kuroda and Phil Hughes - both of whom have been exceptional in their recent starts - must give the Yankees "length" here and you gotta believe that in at least one of the games here this weekend Yankees lefty reliever Boone Logan is gonna have to handle 400-HR man David "Big Papi" Ortiz in a crunch-time situation in either the seventh or eighth inning. P.S., when we last saw Logan he was busy surrendering a two-run homer to Tampa Bay 1B Carlos Pena this past Wednesday afternoon.
Okay, so two not-so-much under-the-radar keys to this series:
The Red Sox - who, by the way, are only 21-21 at home this year - need 2B Dustin Pedroia (sore thumb) to get his at-bats in this series after he sat out the team's 4th of July loss in Oakland plus a Sox staff that ranks a lowly 11th in the league in team ERA (see 4.11) must not depend too much on a wobbly bullpen that includes ex-Yanks star Alfredo Aceves (0-6, 4.32 ERA with 19 saves in 23 opportunities in 2012).
Gut feeling is the Yankees will win at least one game this weekend by besting the Boston closer - if they win more than that with "5 o'clock lightning" than the Sox could be sunk by themselves in the AL East basement by week's end.
Editor's Note: We will be posting our AL and NL First-Half Report Card Grades in the next couple of Jim Sez columns, so don't miss out!
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NFL TEAM-BY-TEAM CAPSULES ROLL ON
On today's busy July pigskin menu, we bring you the five NFL Team Capsules:
The Denver Broncos, San Diego Chargers and Miami Dolphins from the AFC along with the NFC's Seattle Seahawks and New York Giants. Here goes ...
DENVER - The now-Peyton Manning led Broncos will enter the 2012 season with great expectations and remember that Denver's not sported a winning record now for the past five years (9-9 last year including a playoff split against Pittsburgh and New England). Still, Manning wasn't the only ex-Indianapolis Colts player to sign on the dotted line this past off-season as underrated TE Jacob Tamme inked a three-year, $9-million contract and you can expect this pass/catch tandem to be quite active while former Houston TE Joel Dreessen also figures to be targeted by Manning plenty in the season ahead. Note that the Broncos are counting on second-round pick Cincinnati Bearcats' DT Derek Wolfe (the club's highest draftee this past April) who had 9 ½ sacks in his final year in college last season and anything approaching double-digit sacks from his spot will be an absolute godsend.
SAN DIEGO - One reason the 2011 SD Chargers didn't win the AFC West outright (they lost the three-way tie-breaker to Denver) at 8-8 SU (straight-up) was because the Bolts lost three-of-four games played against NFC competition with setbacks against Green Bay, Chicago and Detroit. So do the 2012 Chargers than "catch a break" by this year playing their out-of-conference games against the NFC South? Note that San Diego will play non-conference road games at New Orleans (Week 5) and than at Tampa Bay (Week 10) and don't be surprised if the Chargers happen to lose both these games they'll be kayoed from the playoff chase again. Just sayin'! One under-the-radar key for San Diego this upcoming campaign: New free-agent WRs Robert Meachem (New Orleans) and Roscoe Parrish (Buffalo) must improve the team's yards-per-catch average of 12.6 yards per completion (the same as SD's opponents last year) and note Chargers' WRs only accounted for 16 TDs on the year. Not nearly good enough in a pass-first offense.
MIAMI - Last year's Dolphins were a true anomaly in that they outscored their opponents 329-to-313 and still finished a rotten 6-10 SU. Okay, so a pair of blowout wins - 31-3 at Kansas City in a Week 9 game and a 35-8 home triumph over Buffalo in Week 11 - helped to tilt the scoring column in Miami's favor but the bottom line is the 2011 Fish lost 5-of-6 games decided by 3 points-or-less and so don't dismiss how important the kicking game will be to this AFC squad. While everyone's all juiced up regarding rookie QB Ryan Tannehill (Texas A&M) there should be some real focus on PK Dan Carpenter who nailed 11-of-12 FGs from between 40-to-49 yards out. Overall, Carpenter connected on 29-of-34 FG attempts last year and don't forget that 58-yard field goal right before halftime in the season-ending 19-17 win against the New York Jets - whether he's on your "fantasy team" or not, expect this kicker to have a huge impact on the AFC East when all is said and done.
SEATTLE - No shocker here: One reason why the Seahawks didn't make it back-to-back post-season appearances under then second-year head coach Pete Carroll is because this NFC West crew was only ordinary at home with a 4-4 SU mark that included a 2-point loss to Atlanta, a 22-point loss versus Cincinnati, a 6-point loss to Washington and a 2-point loss on Christmas Eve versus San Francisco. It may interest you to know that Seattle boasted a 40-17 SU home mark between 2005-thru-2010 (that's a sizzling .702 winning rate) and so getting back the home "mojo" is key in 2012 and we'll see what the 'Hawks do out of the gate with their Week 2 home-opening tilt against Dallas. Note the other non-NFC West home games this year include showdowns against Green Bay (Week 3), New England (Week 6) and Minnesota (Week 9) while all three of the Seahawks' divisional home games will be played in December. Hmm. Key stat that must improve: Last year Seattle was a -17 in quarterback sacks as the Seahawks defense collected 33 sacks while Seattle QBs were sacked 50 times. Ugh!
NEW YORK GIANTS - So, what do the world champion Giants do for an encore? Well, leave it to some "greedy" New York sports fans to be saying this past off-season that the Giants have never repeated as champs after Super Bowl crowns in the 1986, 1990 and 2007 NFL seasons ... so how about a repeat now? No doubt the G-men themselves believe they can do better than last year's 9-7 SU mark in regular-season play - yes, NYG did lose twice to the 5-and-11 Washington Redskins! - and Tom Coughlin's club believes they'll be getting an energy jolt from the likes of newcomers rookie first-round draftee RB David Wilson (Virginia Tech) along with free agent DT Shaun Rogers (New Orleans) but if there's a player on this QB Eli Manning-led offense that could step it up to the next level come this 2012 season than check out new TE Martellus Bennett as the former four-year member of the Dallas Cowboys caught just 85 balls in his time in "Big D" but could get as many as 45-to-50 receptions in this tight end-friendly attack. Stay tuned for that distinct possibility, folks.