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Are the Red Sox a better team than the Yankees?

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It’s close, but the Yankees have a slight edge.

Boston Red Sox v New York Yankees Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

While the first half of the 2018 MLB season has come and gone, the New York Yankees can look back on their handiwork with pleasure. They sit at a whopping 29 games over .500, better than all but one other club.

That wouldn’t be a problem if that other club wasn’t the Boston Red Sox, the Yankees’ archrival and immediate competition in the American League East. As great as the Yankees have been, the Red Sox have somehow been better. They are 38 games over .500, scoring more and allowing fewer runs than the Yankees. Most importantly, they are enjoying a 4.5 game lead over New York

While Boston sure looks unstoppable, the Bombers lead the season series with 10 matchups still remaining. It’s worth taking a look at both the Yankees and the Red Sox and see who has the edge in several key components of a baseball team.

Batting

This depends on how one evaluates a “good” offense. The Yankees lead the league in home runs, but the Red Sox have the league’s best batting average. The Yankees draw significantly more walks, but also strike out far more often than Boston does. The teams’ on-base and slugging percentages are almost exactly the same. Some of their metrics (OPS+ and wRC+) are exactly the same. This looks like a dead heat!

Both lineups are equally loaded with big names. When healthy, the Yankees’ lineup depth stands out as a little more intimidating. The Red Sox, however, have two legitimate MVP candidates in Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez atop their lineup. They are having better seasons than any Yankee.

These lineups represent the two best in baseball, and they are evenly matched. Either team proves capable of exploding offensively at any time.

Edge: Draw

Starting Pitching

Starting pitching may be the single most important variable in baseball, and the Red Sox have a clear edge here over the Yankees. While Luis Severino is every bit the ace that Chris Sale is, Boston has fewer question marks than New York. Masahiro Tanaka and David Price both can be great, but they have also had issues with injuries and inconsistency at times. These guys represent the X-factors in this matchup.

The Red Sox, however, have a much better backend of the rotation than the Yankees do. Rick Porcello and Eduardo Rodriguez* prove dependable, while CC Sabathia, Sonny Gray and Domingo German are wild cards from start to start. The Red Sox have four starters with over 10 wins, and none have more than six losses. On the other hand, the Yankees have two starters with losing records and just two with more than seven wins.

*Rodriguez was recently placed on the disabled list with an ankle injury, but is expected to return this season.

Edge: Red Sox

Relief Pitching

The Yankees regain their mojo in the bullpen. The Bombers have the best bullpen ERA in baseball, and they strike out more batters, walk fewer hitters, and strand baserunners at a higher percentage than the Red Sox. They also boast much more name recognition and trustworthiness. The Yankees have five relievers they trust, including Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, David Robertson, Chad Green and Jonathan Holder. The Red Sox get by with Joe Kelly, Matt Barnes and Heath Hembree attempting to set up All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel.

While the Yankees clearly need a starter, the Red Sox desperately need some help with their bullpen.

Edge: Yankees

Fielding

Fielding can make or break a team in crucial situations in the postseason. In the infield, the Yankees have a slight edge. New York’s entire starting infield has fewer total errors than Rafael Devers and Xander Bogaerts combined. Both infields are young, but the Yankees have been more sure-handed. The Bombers also shift far more often than the Red Sox do.

Both teams have outstanding defensive outfields. Just about every outfielder on these rosters has plus range and a decent arm, and there aren’t any real lugs out there. The difference here comes in the infield, where the Yankees have made fewer mistakes.

Edge: Yankees

Baserunning

Baserunning is another fundamental that can turn a game around. By FanGraphs’ formulaic stat, “baserunning,” the Yankees are an above-average team on the bases while the Red Sox are no better than average. Boston steals bases with more frequency than the Yankees, and they lead the league in steals and stolen base success rate. The Red Sox, however, lead the league in outs made on the bases.

The Red Sox take a few more risks on the basepaths, while the Yankees are a little safer. These styles suit both of these teams, making this one an even draw.

Edge: Draw

Conclusion

While the Yankees “win” by a score of 2-1-2, most categories figure remarkably close. Boston has a huge edge in the rotation, but the Yankees counter with the game’s strongest bullpen. The offenses are both superlative, and both teams play well in the field and on the bases.

The 2018 AL East race is a throwback to the old days of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry, and it’s great for baseball. It may very well come down to the final series of the year, a three-gamer at Fenway Park. Neither of these teams deserve to be a Wild Card team, but that only amplifies the importance of the head-to-head games. It promises to be one thrilling ride all the way to the finish line.