It’s pretty hard to believe it’s been 14 years since we’ve had a playoff series featuring Major League Baseball’s premier rivalry. The Red Sox and Yankees will kick off their first postseason matchup since 2004 later tonight, and on paper it looks to be a doozy. Two 100-win juggernauts. Over $400 million in combined payroll. Stars all over the diamond. History everywhere. I can’t wait.
I’ll be breaking down both sides of this series, and then picking a winner at the end. But before we get into all of that, let’s take a little trip down memory lane:
Okay, glad we got that out of our systems. On to the good stuff.
The Red Sox led the majors in just about every major offensive category this season. They placed first in total runs, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging, and wOBA. Boston was led by MVP-caliber seasons from Mookie Betts (.346/.438/.640) and JD Martinez (.330/.402/.629), though the Sox received significant contributions from others as well. Andrew Benintendi improved dramatically on his rookie campaign. Jackie Bradley Jr. slashed .282/.349/.502 over his final 284 plate appearances after a dismal start. Xander Bogaerts finally shook off his second half demons to post a career year.
And yet, there are some holes, and question marks (specifically at second base, third base, and catcher). Meanwhile, the Yankees offense is just as potent, if not more so. The Bronx Bombers tied the Dodgers for the best wRC+ in baseball (the Red Sox were a close 3rd). They also broke the Major League record for home runs in a season, with 269. That last one is a big point in the Yankees favor, as teams who hit more HR tend to have more success in October.
The slugging starts with Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge, who both homered in Wednesday’s Wild Card game. Luke Voit has been a revelation at first base, where his 188 OPS+ over 148 PA has lengthened an already long lineup and provided a boon desperately needed after poor seasons from Greg Bird and Gary Sanchez. That’s not to mention the production from rookies Miguel Andujar and Gleybar Torres. Plus, Brian Cashman was able to throw former NL MVP Andrew McCutchen into the mix in August.
The Sox have a great offense, but it feels like New York’s is a bit more formidable for this time of year.
Slight Edge: Yankees
Here’s how the first three starting pitching matchups seem to be shaking out:
Game 1 – J.A. Happ vs. Chris Sale
Game 2 – Mashiro Tanaka vs. David Price
Game 3 – Rick Porcello vs. Luis Severino
That certainly feels like it favors the Red Sox. Three AL Cy Young Award winners should be enough to tip this category in Boston’s favor. That is, until you include each pitcher’s career postseason ERA…
Game 1 – J.A. Happ (3.72) vs. Chris Sale (8.38)
Game 2 – Masahiro Tanaka (1.44) vs. David Price (5.03)
Game 3 – Rick Porcello (5.47) vs. Luis Severino (4.50)
Look, I get it. Postseason baseball is a small sample size, and past performance isn’t always indicative of future performance, especially in that scenario. But it’s hard to feel too confident, given Price’s non-Rays playoff history, Porcello’s inability to keep the ball in the yard, and Sale’s dip in velocity since returning from multiple summer DL stints. The Yankees starters might not have the same upside, but they certainly feel less volatile. The Happ acquisition continues to loom large. He’s undefeated since joining the Yankees, and has a career 2.98 ERA against the Red Sox. If he can beat Sale in Game 1, it’ll be a bad omen for the Sox’s chances through the weekend. I’m choosing to trust that the Red Sox starters are ready to turn a corner this postseason, but I don’t feel great about it.
Slight Edge: Red Sox
I’ll save you the suspense. This is a huge win (obviously) for the Yankees, and will likely be the deciding factor should the Yankees come out on top. The Red Sox bullpen, while much maligned over the past month, has actually been perfectly above average this season. Craig Kimbrel still looms at the end of games as a premier closer, and rebounded from a mid-summer swoon with a 13 appearance stretch where he allowed only 3 hits and 1 earned run between 8/12 and 9/21. Still, a 4 run implosion in his second to last appearance of the year against the lowly Orioles bumped his ERA to 2.74, the second worst mark of his career.
The rest of the Sox bullpen is fine. Solid, unspectacular, and far from reliable (unless you’re really into the Matt Barnes Experience).
The Yankees ‘pen, conversely, reads like a damn All-Star team. There’s Chapman and Britton. There’s Betances and Robertson. Chad Green may not have as big of a name as his teammates, but he might be the most consistent of the bunch. New York can trot any and all of these guys out there in a high leverage situation, and be reasonably comfortable that the outcome will be in their favor. They led the league in reliever fWAR, and while the Red Sox have had their share of come-from-behind wins this year, they’ll be hard pressed to overcome any substantial deficits in this series.
Major Edge: Yankees
Bench X Factor
Steve Pearce has been a terrific mid-season addition for the Red Sox, providing a boost at a premium offensive position as Mitch Moreland struggled down the stretch. But Brock Holt is the guy here. He can play nearly every position on the diamond, and had perhaps the best all-around season of his career. Holt slashed .277/.362/.411 with a 109 OPS+ this year, and had plenty of clutch moments off the bench:
Holt had 5 hits in 15 pinch-hitting plate appearances, 4 of which went for extra bases. Alex Cora will almost definitely call his number in a tight spot again this series, and Holt will need to deliver.
For the Yankees, Austin Romine *should* be the starting catcher. But, because the baseball gods would never want to deprive us of the joy of watching Gary Sanchez trot after yet another passed ball, he’s stuck in a platoon. If Aaron Boone is smart, he’ll put his best lineup on the field. Fingers crossed nobody gives him a heads up.
Edge: Red Sox
Cora has been a breath of fresh air for the Red Sox off the field and in the clubhouse this season. After two years of underachieving relative to their talent, the Sox took off under their first year manager’s watch. Cora hasn’t been perfect with his in game decisions, and it does seem like he lingers with guys a bit longer than I would like. However, he’s been excellent as rookie managers go on the whole.
I’ll just say I don’t get the same vibe from Boone, and leave it at that. Plus, I kind of miss Joe Girardi and his binder.
Edge: Red Sox
I really want to pick the Yankees. While I think the Red Sox are a better team overall, and better suited for a full 162 game slate, New York feels built for the postseason, especially a short series. The bullpen discrepancy is a major check in the Yankees favor. In a series that figures to be as tight as this one, such an advantage is a major red flag for Boston.
But screw that. What’s the point of writing for a Red Sox blog if you don’t think the best regular season team in franchise history can make it out of the first round?
RED SOX IN 5