The Yankees are staring down a daunting path to the AL Pennant. If they can manage to defeat the Athletics in the Wild Card Game, an absolute gauntlet awaits them in the rest of the playoffs. The Wild Card winner gets a date with the Red Sox, owners of MLB’s best record by far, with the Astros or Cleveland waiting in the ALCS.
Yet the Yankees had to navigate a brutal bracket last season, and nearly pulled it off. They downed a Cleveland team that at one point won 22 games in a row, and had the eventual champions on the ropes. So let’s look down the road and see how the Yankees match up with their potential opponents in the AL playoffs, starting with the arch-rival Red Sox.
Both New York and Boston boasted strong lineups all year. Overall, their respective offensive production graded out just about the same: a .248/.328/.447 slash line and 109 wRC+ for the Yankees, and a .267/.337/.450 line and 109 wRC+ for the Red Sox.
Boston’s lineup is probably a bit top heavy. Mookie Betts (.343/.434/.636, 182 wRC+) and J.D. Martinez (.329/.401/.624, 169 wRC+), form a positively terrifying duo in the heart of Boston’s order. The Red Sox also have some strong supporting bats, like Xander Bogaerts and Andrew Benintendi, but have seen a few of their lesser hitters struggle, such as Rafael Devers, Mitch Moreland, and Jackie Bradley Jr.
The Yankees’ top pair, Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, haven’t matched the combined production of Betts and Martinez, but the Yankees’ overall lineup is deeper. The loss of Didi Gregorius hurts, but the Yankees have no holes otherwise. In fact, even with Gregorius injury, the Yankees still project to trot out above average production at every single position on the diamond, according to FanGraphs’ depth charts.
Advantage: Push. The Yankees are deeper, but it’s hard to say any lineup with Betts and Martinez is at a disadvantage. These are two very good lineups.
Yankees: 839 IP, 9.2 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, 4.02 ERA, 3.84 FIP.
Red Sox: 849.2 IP, 9.5 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, 3.77 ERA, 3.80 FIP.
Much like the lineups, it’s tight between the starting rotations as well. As of now, the Yankees would trot out Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, J.A. Happ, and CC Sabathia over the course of a five-game series, while Boston would send out Chris Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello, and Eduardo Rodriguez.
Both teams are facing questions about their aces. Severino has obviously struggled mightily at times in the second half, but is coming off a sterling start against Boston. Sale has been the best pitcher in the AL on a rate basis this year, but has been limited to 153 innings because of shoulder problems. Sale should be fine for the playoffs, but he is still being stretched out, and pitched only 3.1 innings in his last start.
Behind the aces, both teams also have talented veterans. Price and Porcello sport legitimate Cy Young pedigree, though Price has been batted around by the Yankees this year. Tanaka and Happ, meanwhile, don’t have any hardware, but each has been excellent down the stretch. There’s little to separate this group either.
At the back, the Yankees have wily veteran Sabathia matched up against the young Rodriguez. Sabathia has been shaky lately, but has been good on the year as a whole, and has a huge advantage over Rodriguez in playoff experience. It’s hard to say how much that experience matters, but going with a vet like Sabathia certainly feels safer than a wild card like Rodriguez.
Advantage: Push again. Both these rotations have turned in similar amounts of value this year, and are similarly deep. Something to watch though: the Red Sox will have the luxury of lining up their rotation, while the Yankees would enter the ALDS two days after the Wild Card.
Yankees: 556.1 IP, 11.3 K/9, 3.3 BB/9, 3.40 ERA, 3.33 FIP.
Red Sox: 555 IP, 9.5 K/9, 3.8 BB/9, 3.55 ERA, 3.82 FIP.
The Yankees’ bullpen’s reputation precedes them. The Yankees boast one of the hardest-throwing and deepest relief corps in recent memory. They lead the majors in fWAR and strikeout rate, and are second only to Houston in adjusted ERA.
There’s some concern regarding the Yankees’ closer, Aroldis Chapman, who only just returned from injury. Chapman has been dominant on the year, though, and is backed by Dellin Betances, David Robertson, and Chad Green. Zach Britton offers another lefty option, while Jonathan Holder is capable of covering the middle innings.
The Red Sox have Craig Kimbrel and some uncertainty. Kimbrel has been fantastic, saving 42 games with a 2.21 ERA. Matt Barnes is probably the primary setup man, having posted a K/9 above 14. Ryan Brasier has been a revelation for Boston, posting a 1.74 ERA in 31 innings. The erratic Joe Kelly and the knuckleballer Steven Wright as Boston’s next options.
Boston’s relief group is definitely capable of excellence, but it has less track record than New York’s bullpen. The Yankees can trot out closer-caliber arms at a moment’s notice.
Advantage: Yankees. They have a bit riding on Chapman’s health, but there’s just too much pedigree in this Yankees bullpen compared to Boston’s.
Overall, these teams square up incredibly well. If the Yankees get this far, it should be a tremendous, hotly-contested series. The main takeaway from this exercise is that despite the disparity in the standings, the Yankees and Red Sox are extremely evenly matched. Boston won the regular season, but if these teams meet in the playoffs, that won’t matter. It will all come down to who executes in October.