After dropping a series in Pittsburgh, the Yankees return to action tonight at Fenway Park with their first series of the season against the Boston Red Sox. With both teams playing well, this could profile as one of the better chapters in their storied rivalry in recent years.
The Yankees have cooled off a bit since their eight-game winning streak, but they are still 11-7, with a league-best +30 run differential. That’s good for second place in the AL East. The Red Sox are coming off a series in Baltimore in which tempers flared, and are 11-8 on the season with a +3 run differential.
Boston enters this series with their lineup mostly intact, with the possible exception of Dustin Pedroia. He is dealing with a knee injury he suffered when Manny Machado slid into him at second base on Saturday. This set off a chain of events that culminated in reliever Matt Barnes throwing at Machado's head. Otherwise, Boston's primary hitters will be active, with young outfielders Mookie Betts (140 wRC+) and Andrew Benintendi (145 wRC+) leading the way.
The Yankees will still not be at full strength with Gary Sanchez and Didi Gregorius continuing to recover. Outside of that, the rest of the lineup appears healthy, and the hitters the Yankees have trotted out have so far managed to lead the majors with a 123 wRC+.
Game one of the series will feature a matchup between Luis Severino and reigning Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello. Severino has looked very strong over his past two outings, striking out 21 batters and walking just one over that span. He has given up three homers in his past two starts, so his issue with the long-ball hasn’t dissipated, but for the most part, Severino's play has been a positive so far.
Porcello has had a bumpy start to the season. He broke out last year on the strength of tiny walk and home run rates, as well as an apparent ability to induce weak contact. Per FanGraphs, his hard contact rate has ballooned to an unsightly 40.7% in 2017. Subsequently, he's yielded a .342 BABIP and five home runs in his four starts. It's still early, however, so his current ERA of 5.32 is sure to come down.
Game two looks like the marquee match of the series, pitting the Yankees' ace, Masahiro Tanaka, against Boston's newly acquired ace and very early Cy Young front-runner, Chris Sale. We've covered Tanaka's uneven start to his campaign extensively. Sale, on the other hand, has been otherworldly.
After preaching a pitch-to-contact strategy in order maximize efficiency last season, Sale is back to his old ways of simply dominating foes. He's throwing his (excellent) off-speed and breaking pitches more often this year, rather than pounding hitters with heaters in an effort to induce balls in play. He’s also dialed his four-seamer velocity to over 95 mph, up from 93.6 last season per Brooks Baseball. In related news, Sale has allowed three runs total in three starts, striking out 29 and walking five. Without question, he will be the best pitcher the Yankees have faced so far this year.
CC Sabathia is scheduled to start the series finale on Thursday night opposite of Drew Pomeranz. Sabathia is coming off his shakiest outing of the year, as he allowed four runs in five innings against the Pirates last Friday. Even so, his ERA is just 2.70 on the year, though how much of that is due to a minuscule .229 BABIP remains to be seen.
Pomeranz was Red Sox President Dave Dombrowski's big trade deadline acquisition last year, as the Red Sox shipped out blue-chip pitching prospect Anderson Espinoza to San Diego to bring in the left-hander. Pomeranz has struck out 91 batters in 84 innings with the Red Sox, but has walked 29 batters and has a 4.58 ERA over that time frame.
The Yankees-Red Sox rivalry generally is at its best when both teams are good. Perhaps this series will stand as a renewal of the historic struggle, as the Yankees build again towards contention. Or, perhaps the Yankees' strong start will fade and they will be left looking up at their arch-enemies as they were last year. Regardless, both teams are relevant right now, which should make for some fun (and possibly quite lengthy) games.
Update: Tonight’s game has been postponed for rain. It will be made up as part of a doubleheader on July 16th. The weather doesn’t look great for tomorrow’s game either, but stay tuned!
Feel free to use this thread as an open thread for tonight, if you feel so inclined.