Red Sox-Yankees Preview

Terry Francona’s solution for how the Boston Red Sox can hold on

to their shrinking wild-card lead sounds simple. It’s the execution

of it that continues to be a problem.

Looking to snap a three-game skid, the sinking Red Sox conclude

their season series with the archrival New York Yankees in a

day-night doubleheader Sunday in the Bronx.

After winning its first six games at Yankee Stadium this year,

Boston (88-69) hoped its success in New York would continue and

allow it to halt its ongoing September collapse. Instead, the AL

East champion Yankees scored six times in the second inning en

route to a 9-1 win Saturday, dropping the Red Sox to 5-17 this

month.

While the victory and Detroit’s loss later in the day secured

homefield advantage throughout the AL playoffs for New York

(96-61), Boston’s wild-card lead fell to 1 1/2 games after Tampa

Bay beat Toronto. The teams could be tied with three games left if

the Red Sox are swept in the doubleheader and the Rays win

Sunday.

Boston ends the regular season at Baltimore, while the Rays host

New York.

Regardless of opponent, Francona knows what his team must

do.

“It’s up to us to go win,” he said. “We know what’s in front of

us, we just have to play better.”

That has not been easy for the Red Sox, who are 4-15 since

holding a nine-game wild-card lead over Tampa Bay on Sept. 4.

“That’s surprising,” manager Joe Girardi told the Yankees’

official website. “I don’t think any of us could have predicted

that because of the talent.”

Boston’s starting pitching has been perhaps the biggest concern,

as the rotation has posted a 7.35 ERA over the last 19 games. With

the struggling pair of Tim Wakefield and John Lackey set to pitch

Sunday, Jon Lester did not help matters by giving up eight runs in

2 2-3 innings Saturday.

Scheduled to start the first game, Wakefield (7-7, 5.08 ERA) has

gone 1-3 with a 6.21 ERA in his last six starts. After recording

his 200th victory Sept. 13, the knuckleballer allowed six runs in

five innings of an 8-5 loss to the Rays last Sunday.

The right-hander gave up five runs in 5 1-3 innings but came out

ahead in an 11-6 victory at Yankee Stadium on June 8.

Lackey (12-12, 6.49) is 0-3 with a 9.12 ERA in his last five

starts. He gave up eight runs and 11 hits in 4 1-3 innings of an

18-9 win over Baltimore on Monday.

“I’m pretty frustrated,” Lackey said.

The right-hander is 2-1 with a 6.50 ERA in three starts against

New York this season – all at Fenway Park. He has gone 0-1 and

allowed nine runs over 12 innings in his last two regular season

starts in the Bronx.

New York will send A.J. Burnett (10-11, 5.28) to the mound in

the first game and Ivan Nova in the nightcap. While Nova (16-4,

3.62) is the likely Game 2 starter for the AL division series,

Burnett’s postseason fate remains uncertain.

Burnett lasted four innings and allowed four runs despite

striking out eight in a 6-4 win over Minnesota on Monday. The

right-hander, who has recorded 19 strikeouts over his last two

outings, is 0-1 with a 7.36 ERA in two starts versus Boston this

year.

Nova allowed six hits in 7 2-3 innings of a 5-0 victory over

Tampa Bay on Tuesday, moving to 12-0 with a 3.09 ERA in his last 15

starts.

Though the Yankees expect Nova to be a key contributor in

October, he’s trying not to look too far ahead.

“I just know about the season right now,” said Nova, who leads

all rookies in wins. “There’s a lot of things that are coming next.

It’s going to be exciting.”

Nova, however, struggled in his only 2011 start versus Boston,

giving up four runs in 4 1-3 innings of a 9-4 win at Fenway on

April 9.

Highly regarded rookie Jesus Montero has gone 6 for 7 with a

homer and six RBIs in his last two games. He’s batting .346 with

four home runs and 12 RBIs in 15 games since making his major

league debut Sept. 1.

Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia each had two hits for the Red

Sox on Saturday. The two players are a combined 20 for 43 over the

last six games.