Let us begin.
When the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees amped up their arms race last winter with the dueling acquisitions of Giancarlo Stanton and J.D. Martinez, many expected the bitter rivals would battle throughout the summer for the American League East title and perhaps meet with more on the line in October.
While the Red Sox cruised to a division crown, winning a franchise-record 108 games, New York battled through injuries to Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez to win 100 games and claim a wild-card spot.
The Yankees hammered the Oakland Athletics 7-2 in Wednesday night’s AL Wild Card Game to set up a clash of the titans (sorry, Houston Astros) in the AL Division Series, much to the delight of the Yankee Stadium crowd.
The series begins Friday at Fenway Park with Chris Sale getting the ball for the Red Sox in Game 1 and J.A. Happ likely to toe the rubber for New York.
Before the next chapter of this storied rivalry is written, let’s break down how the two teams match up.
The Sox will turn to Sale in Game 1, hoping their ace can do what he was unable to in Game 1 of the 2017 ALDS against the Houston Astros and pitch them to a 1-0 series lead. The left-hander was well on his way to winning the Cy Young before landing on the disabled list twice in the second half due to left shoulder inflammation. Sale still finished with a record of 12-4 and a 2.11 ERA while striking out 237 batters in 158 innings pitched. The ace struggled with a mechanical issue and diminished velocity in his final start of the season, but manager Alex Cora said he’s not worried about Sale, even if the velocity isn’t there in Game 1. Sale went 2-0 with a 0.69 ERA in two starts against New York this season.
Boston’s Game 2 starter, David Price, has had his fair share of issues against the Yankees this season. Price surrendered nine home runs to New York in just four starts, but luckily for Boston, eight of those came at the glorified Little League Park in the Bronx. The left-hander made some midseason adjustments after getting knocked around by the Yankees, and it paid dividends, as Price went 6-1 with a 2.25 ERA in 11 starts after his July 1 stinker at Yankee Stadium. In his last start against New York at Fenway, Price gave up two runs on four hits over six innings.
Rick Porcello is slated to start for Boston in Game 3 at Yankee Stadium. The right-hander was knocked around in his lone start in the Bronx this season, giving up five runs on eight hits in 5 1/3 innings.
New York acquired Happ at the trade deadline for the sole purpose of matching up against the Red Sox in October. The veteran left-hander went 1-1 with a 1.99 ERA in four starts against the Sox this season, baffling Boston’s bats at almost every turn.
Right-hander Masahiro Tanaka is likely to toe the rubber for New York in Game 2. Tanaka has proven to be a big-game pitcher in his career, sporting a 1.44 ERA in four career postseason starts. The righty combines a mid-90s fastball with a devastating splitter to flummox hitters, although it didn’t prove effective against Boston in 2018, as Tanaka went 1-0 with a 7.58 ERA in four starts versus the Sox.
Luis Severino, who started the AL wild-card game on Wednesday, should slot into the Game 3 start back in the Bronx. The young fireballer was brilliant against the A’s and has all the necessary tools to be a successful postseason pitcher. The 19-game winner went 2-2 with a 3.56 ERA in five starts against Boston in 2018, and has a 4.50 postseason ERA in four starts.
The Red Sox’s bullpen has been their major question mark all season, and their postseason success more likely than not will hinge on whether or not Craig Kimbrel, Matt Barnes, Ryan Brasier and Co. can get the job done under the bright lights. If you look at the numbers, Boston’s bullpen isn’t that big of a red flag. The Sox’s pen was tied for eighth in the majors in ERA (3.72) and ninth in batting average against (.235). And yet, questions remain about who Cora can trust when the game is on the line. Joe Kelly? Heath Hembree? Eduardo Rodriguez? All have the ability to win the Red Sox a game and the volatility to make a 108-win season end prematurely. Boston’s relievers struggled mightily against the Yankees in 2018, sporting a 6.75 ERA in 19 games.
The Yankees’ pen amassed a 9.7 WAR this season, per FanGraphs, and averaged 11.4 strikeouts per nine innings, which is the highest ever. New York’s relievers have a tendency to lose it on a whim. Left-hander Zach Britton, while erratic at times, has rounded into form, allowing just two unearned runs over 9 2/3 innings in September. Britton, along with closer Aroldis Chapman and fireballer Dellin Betances, combine to form a formidable three-headed monster that can shorten playoff games and allow manager Aaron Boone to go to the ‘pen as early as he needs to stop the bleeding.
Advantage: New York
The Red Sox’s chances of advancing to the AL Championship Series may very well lie in whether or not their stars — namely Mookie Betts, Martinez and Andrew Benintendi — deliver in the big moments. Luckily for Boston, Betts (.415, three homers and 15 RBIs), Martinez (.333, four home runs and 20 RBIs) and Benintendi (.358 and 12 RBIs) have hammered New York’s staff this season. The Red Sox also will need Xander Bogaerts (.208, one home run and four RBIs against the Yankees) to provide an offensive spark — especially if one of the “Big Three” struggles — if the Sox want to survive the Yankees.
For New York, it’s all about the long ball. Stanton, Didi Gregorius, Miguel Andujar, Aaron Hicks, Judge and Gleyber Torres all hit more than 20 homers this season. In 19 games against the Red Sox, the Yankees averaged 5.4 runs per game and launched 34 home runs. If the Yankees’ hitters find a groove early in the series, it could spell trouble for Boston.
Boston in 5
The Red Sox had one of the best seasons in baseball history and will have home-field advantage on their side. A potential Game 5 matchup between Sale and Happ leans Boston’s way, but it is imperative the Red Sox get off to a quick start in the series. If New York can steal Game 1, that would heap mountains of pressure on Price and the Sox in Game 2, which could snowball quickly. We’ll put our money on Betts, Martinez and Sale coming up big against the Bronx Bombers to push Boston to the ALCS.