MLB: ALDS – Red Sox vs Yankees Preview

Oh boy, are the baseball media excited. It’s like Christmas in early October for them. Yankees/Red Sox, ya’ll! One of the oldest and most bitter rivalries in all of American sports will kick off Friday night and it promises to be a a heavy weight fight to the finish. Balls will be hit a long way and strike outs will pile up, but who comes out on top? Let’s take a look at the particulars and see if we can make some sense of this upcoming madness.

Boston Red Sox vs New York Yankees

Game One – Friday, October 5th @ 7:32pm – Fenway Park – Boston, MA

Game Two – Saturday, October 6th @ 8:15pm – Fenway Park – Boston, MA

Game Three – Monday, October 8th @ 7:40pm – Yankee Stadium – Bronx, NY

Game Four – Tuesday, October 9th @ 8:07pm – Yankee Stadium – Bronx, NY (IF NECESSARY)

Game Five – Thursday, October 11th @ 7:40pm – Fenway Park – Boston, MA (IF NECESSARY)

Note: All games will be broadcast by TBS

 

The Pitchers

We’ll kick off the festivities with the Red Sox, who have their starting rotation perfectly set for this series. How will the group perform? Well, that remains to be seen, but first year manager Alex Cora has already announced who will take the ball in the first four games. Ace Chris Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello and Nathan Eovaldi, in that order. From Sale, you know more or less what to expect. He struggled a bit in the playoffs last season in what seemed like a bout of fatigue, but Cora and the Red Sox have done what they could during the regular season to possibly mitigate that issue with some DL manipulation. Sale pitched just 158 innings this season, down from the 214.1 last year.

Moving past Sale, the remaining three members of the Boston rotation have a bit of a feast or famine vibe. Price had a solid but unexciting season that saw him post a 2.7 WAR in 30 starts. Still, his 3.58 ERA / 4.02 FIP suggests that he got a little help from his friends. The Boston outfield is one of the best defensive groupings in all of baseball after all. As with Price, Rick Porcello is similarly of the toss up variety. Since his stellar 2016 campaign, the former Tiger has returned to Earth with two consecutive seasons with a WAR in the 2’s. If the Red Sox are to make good on the immense promise of their 108 win season, they badly need these two guys to pitch well. Eovaldi, acquired midseason from the Rays, actually had the second best season on this staff from a statistical standpoint and should be relied on to keep Boston in the game,

Turning out to the bullpen, things got a bit dicey at times over the course of 162. The unit finished roughly middle of the pack in the AL and closer Craig Kimbrel only posted a 1.5 WAR, which was less than half the value he contributed last season. His 4.48 BB/9 is untenably high, even with his ability to get strike outs, and he must limit the free passes in this series. The Yankees are very good at drawing them and then hitting the long ball as an encore.

Turning to the Bronx Bombers now, where (also) first year manager Aaron Boone is playing things a little more coy as to who is gonna pitch and when. He’s announced his first two starts though, and veteran lefty JA Happ will get the ball on Friday night in the series opener. This will be Happ’s 11th postseason appearance and he pitched to a 3.72 ERA thus far in those opportunities. This season, Happ went 1-1 with a 1.99 ERA in four starts against Boston.

Taking the ball in game two at Fenway will be right hander Masahiro Tanaka. While not exactly the top of the rotation arm that the Yankees envisioned when they signed him in 2014, Tanaka has still been a steady contributor who pitched to a 3.75 ERA this year. He is nothing if not consistent, and his ERA being a full half run lower away from Yankee Stadium could help at Fenway. While he has not yet been announced, it stands to reason that Luis Severino will return to the rotation to pitch game three. Severino took his lumps in the playoffs last season, but returned this year to post a solid start in the Yankees Wild Card game win over the A’s.

If the Yankees want to win this series, a huge part of the equation is likely to be their deep and talented bullpen. They accumulated a 9.7 WAR as a group, good for first place in all of MLB and they have multiple arms who are more than capable of coming in and closing down even this lethal Boston offense. Trade deadline acquisition Zach Britton came over from Baltimore and added even further depth to an already deep group, posting a 2.88 ERA in 25 appearances. Everyone knows about the big lefty at the end of the pen, but Aroldis Chapman will always be lurking with his 16.3 K/9 rate. His 5.26 BB/9 rate this season was the highest of his career though and could be something Boston could potentially exploit if they can practice patience.

 

The Bats

I kinda feel like we shouldn’t even really get into this and just post statistics, but we’ll do it anyway. Both of these teams score a lot. The Yankees set a new record with 267 home runs this year, which was good for first place in the AL by a country mile. If you must know, Oakland finished second with 40 (!) fewer. The usual suspects lead the way, with Giancarlo Stanton pacing the pack with 38. That was down from his monster 59 he hit last season, but the move to NYY saw him get off to a slow start. Needless to say, he picked it up.

After big Stanton is just a never ending train of guys who can and will hit the ball deep into the night. Miguel Andujar, Aaron Judge, Didi Gregorious, and Aaron Hicks all hit exactly 27 long balls, and the Yankees had eight more players who hit at least 10 including Andrew McCutchen’s 20. He only hit five for the Yankees after being acquired mid-season, but does it even matter?

The Yankees aren’t ALL about the long ball though, even if it seems that way. They do strike out a lot, that’s for certain. They finished 3rd in the AL in times their hitters were punched out, but they also managed to accumulate 625 walks which lead the AL by a significant margin over second place Boston. Draw a walk, hit a big fly. That’s the formula and they used it to win 100 games.

Mookie Betts is your AL MVP, and he leads the charge. Hitting out of the leadoff spot in Alex Cora’s lineup, Betts threw down a season even Mike Trout would be proud of as he posted a 10.4 WAR with a .346/.438/.640 slash which will be good for the AL Batting Title. He also dusted off the ole’ 30/30 club by hitting 32 home runs and swiping 30 bases. His beyond good work is a big part of the reason why Boston lead the American League with a .268 team batting average and scored 876 runs, also good for first in the AL.

Betts is far from doing this alone though, as teammate DH JD Martinez too had an AL MVP caliber season. Coming over in the offseason via free agency, Boston gave Martinez five years and $110 million to plug the hole that was so famously vacated by the retirement of David Ortiz after the 2016 season. Last season the Red Sox brass knew they had made a mistake by not making a more pointed effort to replace Ortiz, and doing so this year paid off in a huge way. Martinez posted a very Papi-like season with 43 home runs and 130 RBI in addition to a .330 average.

But you don’t win 108 games by being a two-man offense, and Boston has plenty more big time contributors. Shortstop Xander Bogaerts enjoyed the best season of his still young career by accumulating 4.9 WAR with career high numbers in HR and RBI with 23 and 103 respectively. Joining him to form the second tier of the Red Sox attack was left fielder Andrew Bentintendi who also posted a career high 4.3 WAR. Seeing the pattern here? The Red Sox can swing the bat too.

 

Prediction

The season series between these two went 10-9 in favor of Boston. That doesn’t mean a ton, but this feels like an extremely evenly matched series that could go either way. When I feel like the overall picture is a toss up, I tend to look at the pitching and more specifically the bullpen. While the Red Sox bullpen isn’t horrible by any stretch, the Yankees are unquestionably deeper and better. With that in mind, along with a heavy heart…

New York wins series 3-2, advances to ALCS 

 

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