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New York Yankees vs. Boston Red Sox: Series Preview

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The most important series of the season to date starts tonight in Fenway.

Tampa Bay Rays v Boston Red Sox Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

The Yankees’ postseason begins today. Okay, maybe not in the literal sense, but they have to approach every game with a playoff mentality. At the very least, New York has to win each remaining series — however many that might end up being — to keep their season alive. That begins tonight with the first of three games against the Red Sox in Fenway.

Although the Rays continue to easily pace the AL East, the Red Sox hold a two-game lead over the Yankees in the Wild Card race with Toronto right on their heels. The pressure is on, as the Blue Jays face a much lighter opponent this weekend in the Twins (even with their series-opening loss last night). It can be tough to win in Boston even when the home team hasn’t won seven games in a row, but the Yankees have to find a way to get it done.

Friday: Gerrit Cole vs. Nathan Eovaldi, 7:10 PM ET

The Yankees turn to their ace to set the tone in this pivotal series. Cole will have to pitch better than his last time out — a seven-run stinker against Cleveland. That may prove to be a tall task, as he hasn’t exactly seen much success against Boston in 2021. In three games against the franchise rivals, Cole owns a 5.06 ERA and has given up four home runs in 16 innings. Still, there’s no one I’d rather hand the ball in what is a must-win scenario. As he makes his 29th start of the year, Cole is 15-8 with a 3.03 ERA, 2.76 FIP, and 231 strikeouts in 169.1 innings.

On the flip side, Cole’s opponent has experienced the opposite fortune pitching in the 2021 edition of the rivalry. The Yankees have faced Eovaldi more than any other starting pitcher this year, and cannot seem to figure him out. In five starts against his former club, he owns a 2.01 ERA along with a ridiculous 34:2 strikeout to walk ratio. In 30 starts overall, Eovaldi is 10-8 with a 3.58 ERA, 2.72 FIP, and 188 strikeouts in 173.2 innings.

Saturday: Néstor Cortes Jr. vs. Nick Pivetta, 4:10 PM ET

Néstor Cortes Jr. gets the ball for the middle game of the series. Nasty Néstor has been a revelation in the Yankees rotation, giving up three runs or fewer in 11 of the 12 games he has started this season. He neutralizes opposing lineups despite lacking elite pitch velocity, spin, or movement. That said, he has seen the velocity on the fastball tick up in recent starts, which can make his off-speed and breaking offerings that much more effective. On the year, Cortes is 2-2 in 20 appearances, with a 2.79 ERA, 3.75 FIP, and 94 strikeouts in 84 innings.

Opposite Cortes, Nick Pivetta will make his 29th start of the season. The 28-year-old righty is having his best season since 2018 after two lost seasons at the end of his Phillies tenure. With that in mind, the Yankees do have the blueprint to success against him. He gave up four runs on four hits and three walks in 1.2 innings in his lone outing vs. New York this season. The Bombers’ batters made him work, seeing a lot of pitches in each at bat. They punished the mistake pitches that resulted from high pitch count innings, and otherwise drew walks and passed the baton. For the season, Pivetta is 9-7 in 28 starts, with a 4.63 ERA, 4.45 FIP, and 159 strikeouts in 144 innings.

Sunday: Jordan Montgomery vs. Eduardo Rodríguez, 7:08 PM ET

The series finale will see Jordan Montgomery make his 29th start of the year. Perhaps one of the most underrated starters in baseball, Montgomery sits in the top-25 in ERA, FIP, and fWAR as well as the top quartile in exit velocity, hard hit rate, whiff rate, and chase rate. He does it with a pair of elite pitches — his changeup is third-best in baseball and curveball 11th-best per Statcast’s run value metric. He has given up one run or less in eight of his last ten starts and will hope to do the same Sunday night. Overall, Montgomery is 6-6 with a 3.55 ERA, 3.48 FIP, and 155 strikeouts in 149.2 innings.

Eduardo Rodríguez gets the nod for the home team. Much like his rotation-mate Eovaldi, Rodríguez has rather enjoyed pitching against the Yankees this season. In four starts, he sports a 3.00 ERA, 24:4 strikeout to walk ratio, and 50 percent groundball rate across 18 innings. He has positioned himself as one of the top options in a deep free agent starting pitching class this winter, but for now. he is pitching in the midst of a heated wild card race. Rodríguez will make his 30th start Sunday night, entering the contest at 11-8 with a 4.97 ERA, 3.45 FIP, and 170 strikeouts in 146.2 innings.