The Yankees enter game three of the ALDS with a huge opportunity. They could close out the series and send the rival Red Sox packing with two wins at Yankee Stadium. They have the lineup to batter a wavering Boston pitching staff, and the deep bullpen to close out any lead.
They also have their ace, Luis Severino, on the mound tonight. Severino has rounded into form just in time, resembling his dominant self from the first half of the season. With their best starting pitcher on the hill, at home, and with a rested bullpen at the ready, the Yankees have every opportunity to take the lead in the series and force Boston to stare elimination right in the face.
The Severino of the past few weeks should be up to the task. He maintained a 2.04 ERA with 18 strikeouts in 17.2 innings across his final three starts of the regular season, and added four more shutout innings and seven strikeouts in the Wild Card Game against the Athletics. An in-form Severino would obviously be a boon to the Yankees and a terror to the Red Sox.
How exactly does Severino match up with the Red Sox, though? Boston boasted an outstanding offense all season, and it stands to reason that they could give Severino a hard time in his game three start. Let’s take a look at how Boston could attack Severino.
Severino thrives on challenging opposing offenses, pounding the zone, daring the hitter to just try and hit his high heat and filthy slider. This is usually an excellent strategy; Severino’s stuff is so good that if he is simply throwing strikes and getting ahead in the count, batters are pretty helpless. He generates weak contact and whiffs by the boatload.
Boston is a unique offense, however. The ideal matchup for Severino would probably be a team that is aggressive against his stuff, but ultimately comes up empty. The Red Sox are the rare team that hits for copious power but doesn’t miss. They posted the highest slugging percentage in baseball while maintaining the third-highest contact rate. Compare that to the Yankees’ power-laden lineup, which was second in slugging but 24th in contact rate.
The Red Sox are a relatively disciplined offensive team that consistently puts the bat on the ball and hits it hard. Severino will likely try to overpower them with his admittedly overpowering stuff, but Boston’s lineup is as well-equipped as any to handle Severino.
Boston’s hitters are notably excellent against hard-throwing pitchers. According to Baseball Savant, the league as a whole posted a .296 wOBA against fastballs from right-handed pitchers 96 mph and harder. The Red Sox as a team posted a .359 wOBA against those hard fastballs, the second-best mark in the league. Severino, notably, was a right-handed pitcher that averaged 97.6 mph on his heater this year.
Severino also deploys one of the game’s best sliders, yet the Red Sox also hit sliders well. The league posted a .262 wOBA on hard sliders (defined here as sliders between 86 and 90 mph) this season. The Red Sox posted a .285 wOBA, fourth-highest in baseball. Boston also rated above the median with a .317 wOBA against changeups.
The Red Sox have a great offense, so it is not at all surprising that they would rate well in certain specific categories. Boston has a cadre of elite hitters, and those elite hitters are going to hit most pitches well. Their offense isn’t perfect, though, and whatever weaknesses they do possess, they do not appear to match up with Severino’s strengths.
This isn’t to say Severino is destined for a bad start. Boston’s .285 wOBA against hard sliders may be better than the league average, but it’s still a bad rate of production, and Severino showed a reliance on his slider in the Wild Card Game. His iffy command on the pitch drove up his pitch count that night, but it also kept Oakland off the board. Perhaps another start heavily reliant on Severino’s breaking pitch would lead to another effective, brief outing, one that gets the ball to the bullpen with a lead.
Severino is great, and pitching well, so the Yankees shouldn’t necessarily be worried that he doesn’t match up perfectly with Boston’s offense. The Red Sox have the weapons to neutralize Severino’s strengths, but they have the ability to neutralize most anyone’s strengths. Severino may not be the best fit to shut down Boston, but he still will have every chance to get the Yankees a win tonight.