After cruising past the Athletics in the Wild Card Game, the Yankees are set to face the Red Sox. While the Yankees dispatched them rather easily, the A’s made for a formidable first-round opponent. Oakland won 97 games this year, featured a deep and balanced lineup, and gave the Yankees all they had in constructing a bullpen strategy for the one-game playoff.
It wasn’t enough, as the Yankees won 7-2. That being said, while the A’s were a good, underrated team that put together a wonderful season, they are not the Red Sox. The Red Sox, the Yankees’ archrivals, just submitted the finest season in franchise history, winning 108 games and running away with the AL East despite the Yankees’ desperate protestations to the contrary.
In Yankees-Red Sox, we are finally getting the heavyweight death match that we deserve. While some will crow about the rivalry being tired, this truly is a spectacular series between great, exciting teams, one that should be enjoyed at every moment.
This epic battle was one, in truth, that we should have been privy to down the stretch. On July 1st, almost precisely halfway through the season, the Yankees sat a 54-27, in a tie with the Red Sox for first place in the division. The stage seemed set for these two classic foes to duke it out in an AL East bloodbath all summer.
Even as the Yankees struggled through an uneven July and lost Aaron Judge to injury, they still entered that fateful four-game series in Fenway Park five games behind Boston and, according to FanGraphs, with roughly 30 percent odds to win the division. Of course, the Red Sox swept the Yankees away, all but extinguishing any hope of a division race, and denying us what looked sure to be a thrilling sprint to the finish.
Yet the Yankees marched on to win 100 games and the Wild Card Game. The epic pennant chase we were denied has now come to fruition in the form of the ALDS, the first playoff series between the Yankees and Red Sox since the infamous 2004 ALCS. These two teams did not comply in giving us a pennant race to watch in the dog days, but they have complied in giving us this titanic matchup.
While the defending champions in Houston would have something to say about this, the ALDS might feature the two very best teams in baseball. The Red Sox easily won the most games in baseball. The Yankees eclipsed the 100-win threshold in spite of a boatload of key injuries, and now enter October much closer to full health.
These are quite possibly the two best offenses in the game. The Yankees tied for first with the Dodgers in terms of wRC+ at 111, running a .249/.329/.451 line. The Red Sox were just behind with a 110 wRC+, running a .268/.339/.453 line. The offensive talent on these two teams is marvelous.
In terms of pitching, the Red Sox have a lot riding on Chris Sale’s health. Yet if Sale is healthy, the pedigree on both sides here is staggering. The Red Sox have ample Cy Young track records in David Price, Rick Porcello, and Sale, not to mention fire-breathing Craig Kimbrel. The Yankees appear to have a rejuvenated Luis Severino, able veterans in Mashairo Tanaka and J.A. Happ, and the most talented bullpen the sport has ever seen.
Moreover, as much as it might pain a fan outside of New York or New England to admit, these teams are fun. The Yankees have Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, who do things to baseballs that mere mortals couldn’t even dream of. They have Didi Gregorius and his infectious smile, the youthful exuberance and talent of Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar, and the out-of-nowhere story that is Luke Voit.
On the other side, Mookie Betts probably has a higher combined level of talent and charisma than anyone else in the game. J.D Martinez hits Just Dingers. Jackie Bradley Jr. makes breathtaking defensive plays look routine, and Andrew Benintendi, Xander Bogaerts, and Rafael Devers round out a young, exciting core. I take no pleasure in saying it, but Boston has an engaging team as well.
On paper, this is simply an outstanding matchup, one that redeems the pennant race we all lost out on when the Yankees fell out of the AL East picture in August. The talent level is high, and the stakes are even higher.
The atmosphere in both stadiums should be raucous, borderline calamitous. The pressure will be stifling, and the history of both teams ever-present. It will be a matchup we’ve seen a million times before, yet also one that we haven’t seen in over a decade. It will feature two of the best teams in baseball, dotted with some of the most exciting players in baseball. It will be Yankees versus Red Sox for all the marbles. It doesn’t get much better than that.