The magic number for the Boston Red Sox to clinch the American League East is two, which means that all it will take is one win this week in New York for Boston to reach that goal.
Several months ago, this three-game series between the Red Sox and New York Yankees, as well as the final set at the end of the season, looked like they may be the ultimate determining factor when it comes to crowning the American League East champion. However, the Red Sox have kept their foot on the pedal through August and September while the Yankees have found themselves hampered with injuries and inconsistent play all around.
There is no doubt that this series means infinitely more to the Yankees than it does to the Red Sox. Barring a six-game sweep in these final two series, the Red Sox will clinch the American League East with just one win, leaving the Yankees to scratch and claw their way into the playoffs via the Wild Card game.
The Yankees are just 1.5 games up on the Oakland Athletics for the first Wild Card spot. That means that, as it stands right now, the Wild Card game would be played in New York, which would be highly beneficial to the Yankees given their 49-26 record at home this season. They dropped two out of three to Oakland earlier this month when they had to travel out to the Coliseum, which may have served as a haunting omen on what could come should the Yankees falter in these final two weeks.
Happ has proven to be an extremely valuable addition for the Yankees, going 6-0 with a 2.70 ERA in his first eight starts with New York. There is a growing narrative that Happ should be the man to start the Wild Card game given his consistent, strong performance so far with his new team. His start against Boston on Tuesday night could serve as an audition to show the Yankees that he can be trusted to win big games.
Severino, by contrast, has been in a downward spiral since the All-Star break. He is 3-6 with a whopping 6.35 ERA since the break and has become more of a liability than anything else these last two months. He will be going into Wednesday night’s start having an already rocky month of September during which he has gone 0-2 with a 6.48 ERA.
As much as Happ has made a case for pitching the Wild Card game, Tanaka has perhaps made the best case of all due to his performance in the second half of the season. Tanaka has taken the role as the team’s ace since the All-Star break, going 5-3 with a 2.09 ERA during that time. Most of that is due to what he has done in the month of September, when he has been virtually unhittable. Tanaka has gone 3-0 with a microscopic 0.43 ERA in his three starts in September. Happ has been great, but it could very well be Tanaka who pitches the Yankees into the Division Series.
The Yankees will have to rely on their pitching to carry them given their struggles on offense during the month of September. They rank ninth in the American League in scoring during the month, hitting a meager .213 collectively as a team. The team’s veteran stars, such as Giancarlo Stanton and Brett Gardner, are not producing at a time when the Yankees need them the most. Instead, the Yankees have leaned on their young stars such as Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres to carry the offense, but it may not be enough to ensure postseason success.
Then there is the matter of Aaron Judge and his comeback from a wrist injury that had him on the shelf until last Friday. Judge has yet to have an at-bat since being activated from the disabled list last week, but he may be nearing a return. He played a simulated game this morning at Yankee Stadium ahead of the team’s first game against Boston, which had been pushed back to a night game due to inclement weather. The Yankees’ front office personnel and coaching staff closely observed Judge this morning to determine how soon he can be placed into the starting lineup. Even if Judge is deemed healthy enough to play, there is, naturally, still some lingering doubt about how effective he will be following a bad wrist injury.
The Red Sox go into this series with the luxury of knowing that all it will take is one win to clinch the division and, most likely, coast into the playoffs with the best record in the American League. The Yankees do not have that same luxury. Not only must they maintain their Wild Card lead while playing the best team in baseball, but they also have to keep their eyes on the Athletics who are right on their tail for the first Wild Card spot. The Athletics round out their regular season schedule by playing the Angels, Twins, and Mariners. Oakland could put the Yankees in a bad spot if they take advantage of their favorable schedule. They could potentially take over the top Wild Card spot and force the Yankees to fly out to Oakland and play the one-game playoff at the Coliseum.
There is a mountain of pressure on a banged up, struggling Yankees team this week. The division race is all but finished and a one-game playoff against a confident, surging Oakland team is looming. The Yankees need a spark this week in the Bronx; otherwise, Aaron Boone and his club could be headed for a jumpstart on what will likely be an ugly offseason. Should they lose the Wild Card game, they will have to face the fallout of failing to reach a playoff series after being just one win away from the World Series a year prior.