There’s not much left to preface this four-game series in Fenway Park. The stakes are clear, and they are massive. The Yankees come into Boston needing to make a statement and put themselves right pack in the division race. There’s still two months of the season left, but these head-to-head matchups are where the Bombers have to make up their ground.
The Yankees have thrived against top contenders this season, and are 5-4 so far against Boston. Without Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez in the lineup, however, the Yankees will need offensive production elsewhere to take this series on the road. It won’t be easy, but a series win this weekend is vital to the Yankees’ chances of avoiding the Wild Card Game.
Here are your pitching matchups for this huge four game set:
Game one: CC Sabathia vs. Brian Johnson
The Yankees catch a huge break in the series opener, as Chris Sale was slated to start before hitting the disabled list with shoulder inflammation. Instead, they get Brian Johnson, who has started just six games so far this season. Johnson, a 27-year-old lefty and former first round pick, has tossed 4.2 scoreless innings against the Yankees in 2018, all in relief appearances. He has been used as a starter consistently since the end of June, and the southpaw hasn’t allowed a run over his past two outings, dropping his season ERA to 3.45.
The Bombers counter with CC Sabathia, who hopes to have a repeat performance of his last outing against Boston. Back in June, he shut the Red Sox down for just one run over seven innings at Yankee Stadium. Sabathia hasn’t been able to give the Yankees that kind of length since, but he did hold the Royals to just two runs over 4.2 innings in his last start. Regardless of how long he lasts, he will have to be careful with Mookie Betts (like every other pitcher in the league), who is 12-for-28 with a 1.021 OPS against Sabathia.
Game two: Luis Severino vs. Rick Porcello
Every game of this series is huge for the Yankees’ division hopes, but Friday night’s contest feels like it carries even more weight. Will Luis Severino find his way back to his usual form, or will his descent continue? The Yankees desperately need Severino to pitch at an elite level, and Friday night in Fenway would be a great time to bounce back. He’s been tagged for 19 earned runs over his past 19.1 innings, but he has had past success against Boston, who holds a minuscule .663 OPS against him as a team. The only Boston bat that has given Severino fits is Andrew Bennentendi, who has 10 hits in 22 at-bats against the righty.
Rick Porcello has started twice against the Yankees so far this season, with incredibly different results both times. His first outing at home featured seven innings of shutout ball. That was followed by a beatdown on the road, where he allowed five runs in 5.1 innings.
That up and down trend has held up over Porcello’s last three outings as well. He was smashed for eight runs over two innings against Toronto before twirling six shutout innings against the Orioles. That was only to be hit hard by the Twins in his most recent start. The Yankees have a .769 team OPS against Porcello, but that is heavily aided by Jacoby Ellsbury and his 1.170 OPS against the right-hander over 34 at-bats. Considering Ellsbury hasn’t participated in baseball activities in what feels like decades, we doubt he will have much of an impact.
Game three: J.A. Happ (health permitting) vs. Nathan Eovaldi
Saturday’s slate carries an incredible amount of intrigue, as two deadline acquisitions square off. Former Yankee Nathan Eovaldi was lights out in his first start in a Red Sox uniform, throwing seven shutout innings against the Twins. Two starts prior, he was crushed for eight runs before being yanked in the third inning against those same Twins. That’s Eovaldi in a nutshell, so expect the Yanks to tee off on their former mate, or go down without a whimper. Keep an eye on Didi Gregorius in this one, as he has five hits in nine at-bats against Eovaldi, including a home run.
Like Eovaldi, J.A. Happ impressed in his first start with his new team, allowing just one run over six innings against the Royals on Sunday. Of course, Happ will only take the mound if he overcomes the hand, foot and mouth disease that got him sent home on Tuesday. Should the southpaw be unable to take the mound, expect Lynn or Luis Cessa (yikes) to take the ball. The Yanks would obviously prefer Happ, who has had past success against Boston, holding their current roster to a .414 slugging percentage. The only one Happ has had real trouble with is Steve Pearce, who has a 1.405 OPS in 28 at-bats against him.
Game four: Masahiro Tanaka vs. David Price
Masahiro Tanaka has looked fantastic in his last two starts, tossing a combined 15 shutout innings against the Rays and Orioles. Boston is obviously a much different animal than those inferior division opponents, but Tanaka will look to keep his hot streak going nonetheless.
He has been solid against Boston in his career, holding them to a .451 slugging percentage, despite his susceptibility to the long ball. He will have to figure out how to deal with J.D. Martinez, who is 7-for-14 with three dingers against Tanaka. Martinez’s success has given Tanaka problems this year as well, as the righty has allowed 10 runs over 10.1 innings against Boston so far this season. That will have to change.
Of course, if all goes as planned, Tanaka should have plenty of run support with David Price on the mound for Boston. Sure, he has been better of late, but the Yankees salivate at the thought of facing Price, who gave us this show last time he took the mound against the Yankees.