One of the greatest rivalries in all of sports is set to restart this Friday at Fenway Park, as the Boston Red Sox play host to the New York Yankees in the American League Division series.
The Yankees punched their ticket to Boston on Wednesday night by eliminating the Oakland Athletics in the Wild Card play-in game, cruising to a 7-2 victory. Meanwhile, the Boston Red Sox, who led the league with a 108-54 record, have had almost an entire week to rest up, recharge, and get ready for their ALDS opponent.
The first and most obvious place to look when thinking about this series is each team’s record against the other throughout the 2018 regular season. In that case, the Red Sox hold a slight advantage, sporting a 10-9 record against their hated rivals this season.
However, that was the regular season, and October baseball is an entirely different monster, especially within the walls of fear-inducing venues such as Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium.
The big question is this: who has the edge heading into this series? The record-setting Red Sox? Or, the red-hot, surging Yankees? There are many factors to consider, and these two teams are so closely contested in several different areas that it is challenging to find a clear-cut favorite.
Here are some of the key factors for both teams heading into this series:
Red Sox Rotation Looks Formidable
While the starting rotation has not been Boston’s biggest strength in 2018, it also has not been anything close to a weakness. Boston will send Cy Young candidate Chris Sale to the mound on Friday night to battle J.A. Happ and the Yankees.
Sale has been quiet through the final month of the season, as he spent some time on the disabled list and spent the majority of September attempting to regain his form. While many Red Sox fans are, understandably, nervous about Sale’s overall health, the dominant lefty insists that he will be ready to go on Friday night, as reported by David Schoenfield of ESPN:
“I don’t care what I have on a given day, I should be able to find a way with whatever I have,” Sale said Thursday. “Sometimes you go out there and have your best, sometimes you don’t. This is sport. This is baseball. You have to find a way with whatever you have on any given day and roll with it. So I take the ball tomorrow and I expect to win.”
Should Sale be able to find his true form, he will present a huge problem for the Yankees lineup. Even Sale at 75 or 80 percent is still a force to be reckoned with, and Boston’s tough pitching does not end there. David Price, a 16-game winner this season, will take the mound in Game 2 at Fenway Park, a venue in which he has excelled this season. Price is 9-2 with a 2.98 ERA at Fenway Park this season, which should help to ease the minds of those worried about his sketchy postseason stat line. Rick Porcello, a 17-game winner in his own right, will take the mound in Game 3 at Yankee Stadium. Porcello is 2-0 with a 2.31 ERA against the Bronx Bombers in 2018, so he will have no issues going up against them one more time.
The Yankees will be countering with Happ in Game 1, Masahiro Tanaka in Game 2, and Luis Severino. Should the series extend beyond that, they will turn to CC Sabathia in a potential Game 4 before circling back to Happ for a potential game five.
The Yankees rotation has been inconsistent all season long, making it virtually impossible for manager Aaron Boone to know who he can truly rely on. Severino delivered for them on Wednesday night in the Wild Card game, but that was a just a flash in the pan considering how rough his second half of the season has been. Happ is the best match-up against the Red Sox given his career success against them, but the other starters in the Yankees rotation have been hit hard by Boston in the past. The Red Sox should enjoy a solid advantage pertaining to their starting pitching in this series.
Yankees Bullpen is Superior
Despite their advantage in the starting rotation, the same cannot be said for Boston’s bullpen, which has been an adventure all season long. The Yankees bullpen is incredibly strong, particularly the back end of it which features the likes of Dellin Betances, David Robertson, and Aroldis Chapman. New York’s bullpen sports the fourth-best collective ERA in all of baseball at 3.38 for the season, while Boston ranks ninth with a 3.72 ERA this season.
The Yankees specialize in claiming an early lead and then clamping down on their opponent with this bullpen. If they have a lead by the sixth or seventh inning, it could spell the end, even for an offense as potent as that of the Red Sox.
Boston, by contrast, has struggled mightily to find a proper bridge to its closer, Craig Kimbrel. Alex Cora has experimented with the likes of Matt Barnes, Joe Kelly, and Heath Hembree, all of whom produced mixed results throughout the season. With the Yankees’ powerful lineup and tendency to put runs on the board in a flash, the bullpen for the Red Sox could be a big weakness for them in this series.
Bronx Bombers vs. Manufactured Offense
When comparing and contrasting these two lineups, it is easy to give the edge to the more powerful team, which would be the Yankees. However, what makes Boston’s offense so special this year is that it can score runs in a variety of different ways.
The Red Sox can hit for power with the best of them, thanks mostly to sluggers J.D. Martinez and Mookie Betts, but there’s more to their lineup than just those two players. The Red Sox will move runners over, steal bases, and implement hit-and-run to help drive their offense. With skilled hitters like Xander Bogaerts, Andrew Benintendi, and Eduardo Nunez, the Red Sox can frustrate the Yankees’ pitchers tremendously.
There are two important statistics that highlight exactly what kind of offense Boston has this year. First, the Red Sox rank second in all of baseball in stolen base percentage (80.13 percent) behind only the Los Angeles Angels. Meaning that not only will the Red Sox run but they are smart about when to run, and their baserunners do not often get thrown out. Secondly, the Red Sox rank 26th in total strikeouts as a team, meaning that they are the fifth hardest team in all of baseball to strike out. Their batters will fight and grind through at-bats, which can greatly wear down an opposing pitching staff. Home runs are great, but it is all the other ways in which the Red Sox can score that has made them into the most potent offense in all of baseball this year.
Home-Field Advantage Matters
The Red Sox will have home-field advantage for this series, and that could be the factor that tilts the series in their favor. The Red Sox hold a whopping .704 winning percentage at home this year, which is the best in all of baseball.
Their guests for the weekend, the Yankees, hold a solid .580 winning percentage on the road, though that is not nearly as impressive as New York’s home winning percentage. The Yankees are a different team away from the confines of Yankee Stadium. The team hits for a collective .260 average at home, while hitting just .238 on the road. In fact, several of New York’s statistics go out of whack once they hit the road. For example, they have hit 21 fewer home runs on the road and have also struck out nearly 100 more times on the road. However, they have also collected more extra-base hits on the road compared to their home ballpark.
The Red Sox having home field advantage will serve them greatly in this series, and will likely give them the final edge that they need to claim victory and advance to the next round of the playoffs.
Prediction: Red Sox in 5 Games.
Neither of these teams seems likely to lose in their home ballpark, hence why home-field advantage is so important. The Red Sox will have their best two starters going in the first two games at Fenway Park, while Porcello and his 8.44 ERA at Yankee Stadium will likely benefit the Yankees in game three.
The x-factor in this series will be Game 4 and, more specifically, the performance of Red Sox starter Nathan Eovaldi against his former team. Eovaldi has owned the Yankees this season in the four games he has started against them, posting a 1.93 ERA in those games. He may be able to negate the ballpark factor if he continues his success against New York and could end up clinching the series for the Red Sox.
However, it seems more likely that the series heads back to Boston tied 2-2, with all signs pointing to Sale taking the mound for a deciding game five, a scenario that spells doom for the Yankees.