It was so close to being the perfect series for the Red Sox down in Tampa. After taking the first two games of the series they just failed to pick up the third against Charlie Morton. Officially as of writing that game is under protest, but if I understand the rules correctly the result will stand. Whatever happens with that game, the Red Sox mentally need to move on and be ready for this massive series with the Yankees. Take three of these games and they have a shot in the division. Lose three and it is as good as over as far as the division is concerned.
The last time we saw Rick Porcello and Masahiro Tanaka face off it were in London and it did not go well in for either. Since that outing, both pitchers have struggled, with Tanaka having a 5.40 ERA and Porcello an 8.64 ERA in their starts since. There is every chance this first game could be high scoring.
Here are this season road ERAs for the Yankees pitchers. Tanaka: 5.40; Paxton: 4.78; German: 5.66; Sabathia: 6.59. The Red Sox should have plenty of opportunities to score runs in this series, and with some of the struggles their pitching staff has had they will need to.
So Cashner is not off to a great start with the Red Sox, having a 7.36 ERA through two starts. It is a small sample size so no need to panic yet, but this will be a tough test. In his career, Cashner has faced off with the Yankees 10 times. Over the course of 10 starts, he has a 2-5 record with a 3.96 ERA. However, in three starts in 2019 he has a 6.19 ERA and an 0-2 record. The Red Sox desperately need him to change that.
After a sluggish start, the Yankees offense has killed it in the last two months. In those first two months, they hit below .260 with a .450 slugging percentage. However, since the start of June, they have hit over .280 with a slugging percentage over .500. Since the All-Star break, they have hit .303 with 24 home runs and a .541 slugging percentage.
The Red Sox have had more success at home than on the road this season. Their batting average at Fenway Park is .277, compared to .267 on the road, with a .475 slugging percentage, compared to .451. They will need to be every bit at their home best if they are to go toe-to-toe with this Yankees offense.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Pitching: This is the ultimate test of this pitching staff. Series like these are where heroes stand up and make themselves known. That is especially the case with arguably the Red Sox three weakest starters on the mound. There is a chance this bullpen will be tested to the max across this series, and how they cope will be very telling.
Hitting: I mentioned the Red Sox starters road ERA above and that will be key for the Red Sox. This season they have been better against relievers than starters, by a fairly significant margin. If they can get on top of the first couple of starters in this series they could do some real damage to this bullpen by the end of the series.
The Red Sox briefly got themselves tied for second place in the division. However, their loss to the Rays in the final game has left them trailing the Yankees by 11 games. Even if they win this series 3-1 they will only close up two games and just creep back under double-digits.
The Red Sox need to lay down a marker in this series. They will face the Yankees on the road next week and if they can carry a 3-1 or 4-0 victory out of this series then they could spring a real surprise next week. The only way back into this is likely to be small victories but closing up four or six games in these two series would really give them a shot heading into the final third of the season.