Those three words in one sentence bring up plenty of emotion. It’s been 14 years since we’ve been able to feel that emotion, but here we are. The 108-win Red Sox against the 100-win Yankees, with a trip to the ALCS on the line. It’s time to get ready.
Thanks to Aaron Boone’s decision to start Luis Severino in the Wild Card Game, the Yankees will be able to trot out J.A. Happ (who has had success against Boston) twice in this series, should the series last that long. It’s the Yankees and Red Sox, so we’re anticipating that it will. This will likely be another tight series that takes years of life expectancy from both fanbases.
Game One will feature the lefty Happ against lefty Chris Sale. Though he has been completely dominant against the Yankees and just about everyone else, Sale presents an interesting scenario to start the series. Shoulder issues and extended rest has limited the All-Star to just 17 innings since July 27th, and his velocity was noticeably down in his final outing of the regular season, when he allowed three runs in 4.2 innings against the lowly Orioles. Could Boston’s plan to protect Sale from overwork and another September decline come back to haunt them? We’ll see. It’s also possible Sale returns to dominance and pitches to the .508 OPS he has held the Yankees to throughout his career, including holding Aaron Judge to a 3-for-18 mark with 13 strikeouts.
If Sale is on his game, then Happ will have to do the same if the Yanks want any chance of taking game one. He made one late mistake to Yankee killer Steve Pearce in his final start of the season at Fenway, but he still finished with a 2.69 ERA as a Yankee, and has held J.D. Martinez and Mookie Betts to a combined 11-for-57 in his career. That will have to continue.
Everyone’s favorite opponent in David Price will be on the hill for Game Two, though he has proven a tougher assignment of late, at least in Fenway Park. We know about his often comical struggles at Yankee Stadium, but he did hold the Yanks to two runs over six innings in his last home start against the Bombers, and has a 2.72 ERA since the Yankees destroyed him in the Bronx on July 1st. We’ll see which Price shows up.
The Yanks will go to Masahiro Tanaka for Game Two, and Boone will be praying to his lucky stars that the postseason version of Tanaka shows up, rather than the Tanaka that faced Boston this season. Aside from a solid 4.2 innings of one run ball and nine strikeouts at Fenway in early August, Tanaka has not been good against his divisional rivals. In his three other starts against Boston, he’s allowed 15 runs over 14.1 innings. Not good. Not surprisingly, neither are his numbers against Boston’s biggest bats, as Pearce, Martinez, Betts and Andrew Benintendi all have multiple home runs against Tanaka.
Rick Porcello will get the start at the Stadium for Game Three, after throwing two scoreless frames of relief against the Yanks on the regular season’s final day. He’s had success against the Yanks, holding them to a .692 OPS that drops considerably when you take Jacoby Ellsbury’s 1.170 OPS out of the equation. His last start against the Bombers? Just a complete game performance in which he allowed one run. Perhaps Giancarlo Stanton can rock Porcello’s boat, as he is 3-for-8 with a pair of doubles against the righty in a generally small sample size.
The Yankees are hoping for more of what they saw from Luis Severino to show up in Game Three. Severino by no means looked like his 2017 self, or even his pre All-Star break 2018 self, but it was another step in the right direction, as he’s continued to improve over his last four outings. He issued four walks to A’s hitters but refused to break, and dialed up the velocity to 100 mph when he needed to. We’ll see what Boone’s leash is like on Severino this time around, as the young ace seemed to sacrifice longevity in his Wild Card Game start for more velocity and better stuff. His biggest concern should be Benintendi, who owns a 1.281 OPS against Severino in 27 at-bats.
Boone will likely turn to CC Sabathia in Game Four, who pitched strongly in his final two regular season starts to finish the campaign with a respectable 3.65 ERA. Sabathia is a proven October performer who pitched one of his best games of the season at home against the Red Sox in late June, when he twirled seven innings of one run ball. This will be Sabathia’s 11th ALDS start, and he holds a 3.32 ERA in his previous 10 starts in such situations.
He will square off against Nathan Eovaldi, who has been frustratingly effective against the Bombers this season. In fact, Eovaldi has thrown 16 shutout innings against his former teammates since being traded to the Red Sox. In 92 at-bats against Eovaldi, the only Yankee to take him deep is Didi Gregorius, who will have the generous short porch in right at his disposal for Game Four, should it be necessary.