There are no must games when you're a near-lock to make the playoffs. But the first game of tonight's Yankee-Red Sox series at Fenway Park has a little extra significance. Yanks ace C.C. Sabathia is 0-4 with a 7.20 ERA against Boston this season. Sabathia is 17-3, 2.40 against everyone else. Take away the hated Red Sox and the burly lefty would be in the discussion with Justin Verlander and Jered Weaver for the AL Cy Young Award.
Sabathia needs to establish that he can beat the Red Sox if the Yanks meet their bitter rival in the postseason. The Yanks need their ace to be on his game in October. The rest of the rotation is shaky at this point. Yes, Ivan Nova and Freddie Garcia are pitching well. But Joe Girardi still doesn't have a surefire No. 2 starter for the playoffs. Phil Hughes and Bartolo Colon have been erratic. A.J. Burnett is a mess.
The Yanks will have a tough time beating anyone in October if the rotation isn't solid. They have almost no chance of beating Boston if Sabathia continues getting shelled by the Sox. The Pinstripes are 2-10 against Boston this year. It's not just the pitching. They're hitting .225 as a team against the Sox and striking out at an alarming rate. Mark Teixeira has been especially weak.
So this Fenway series could be a good chance for the Yankees to assert themselves against their AL East rivals. The Sox and Yanks haven't met in the postseason since their historic meeting in the 2004 AL Championship Series. If they meet again, the Yanks need their ace to pitch like one.
For more on the Yanks-Red Sox series, see this entry on the Inside Pitch blog.