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2018 ALDS: Red Sox and Yankees Square Off

This feels right. The Red Sox and Yankees face each other in the postseason for the first time since 2004.

Yankees vs. Red Sox at Fenway Park by Vegasjon is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

2018 ALDS: Red Sox and Yankees Square Off


Estimated Reading Time: 13 Minutes

This feels right. The Red Sox and Yankees face each other in the postseason for the first time since 2004. If you aren’t excited for this series, you’re either dead or you hate fun. The struggle for me, internally, is whether or not I, as a Red Sox fan, should be excited and troll the Yankees or listen to my heart and fear that we may have a reprisal of previous postseasons.

In this matchup we have the best team in baseball for the 2018 season facing against the third 100+ win team in the American League, and they happen to be archrivals!

In this series, the Red Sox hope to exorcize the demons of playoffs past, while the Yankees hope to improve on their impressive run from last season. Both teams added good talent to their rosters since last season, with the Sox adding JD Martinez and the Yankees adding Giancarlo Stanton (among others). How will these new players affect this series? The following will break down four of the most important aspects of the game: Offense, Manager, Starting Pitching, and Bullpen.

Offense

This is probably the toughest of the four categories to call, as both teams have elite offenses. The Red Sox were an offensive juggernaut all season long and have two potential MVPs on their roster in Mookie Betts and JD Martinez, who hit for power and average, a dangerous skill indeed. On the other hand, the Yankees are a powerful team, having broken the record for most home runs in a season this past year. This year’s ALDS is shaping up to be filled with offensive prowess.

Despite a slow start, players such as Stanton have become what they were expected to be for the Yankees. Stanton finished the season with 38 HRs and 100 RBI and a .266 average, a great final stat line considering how he started. Sure, he still strikes out a lot, but I’m not going to take lightly the man who just hit a ball 443 feet at 117.4 mph (per StatCast) for the hardest hit HR in postseason history.

The Yankees are getting healthy now too, making them extra dangerous. Aaron Judge hit a monster home run against the A’s, showing that he may be back to the dangerous bat he was before his injury. Luke Voit is a good hitter as well, and I remember him playing well against the Red Sox recently. Didi Gregorius has been so-so the second half of the season, but he’s still a dangerous threat, and he’s been injured as well.

I could go through every player on this team and talk about them or I can simply state that the Yankees roster is stacked with 20+ HR hitters and are always a threat to knock the ball out of the park. That is not something to take lightly, particularly when at Yankee Stadium, which can be very friendly to the home run, as I think many of us have seen.

The Red Sox are nothing to sniff at offensively either, though. Between JD Martinez and Mookie Betts alone, you have two of the best offensive players in the league at the moment. That’s a dangerous one-two punch if there ever was one. Along with players like Andrew Benintendi, Xander Bogaerts, and even Rafael Devers, who can be a dangerous bat, this lineup is loaded with players who can make you pay.

Of course, then you have black holes of offense such as Jackie Bradley Jr. who I will never have faith in offensively, ever, so I would say the Red Sox are a little more top heavy than the Yankees, but that top is very heavy. The main question going forward for the Red Sox is can they keep it up? The Sox offense has gone quiet in the postseason before, and I don’t know if JD is enough to solve that problem on his own without others stepping up.

I feel like I want to give the Red Sox a little bit of the edge here because of the consistency their offense has had this year, but I feel there are enough questions going forward that I can’t help but be concerned about quiet bats. Due to that, I’m declaring the offenses evenly matched.

Edge: Neither

Managing

I don’t think this one is all that difficult to determine, nor is it all that close. Both are rookie managers and both led their teams to 100+ wins. The difference is that one manager seemed to be part of why the team succeeded and the other seems to have been dragged to their record by the team. Well, here they are in the ALDS, and they get to test their managing skills against each other.

Perhaps I’m being unfair, but Aaron Boone hasn’t really been all that impressive in his debut season. He was essentially hired due to his history with the Yankees, having hit a walk-off home run off the Red Sox’s Tim Wakefield in the 2003 ALCS, giving the Yankees a World Series berth. He eventually served as an analyst for ESPN for several years and now here he is.

The Yankees are loaded with talent all over their roster, and some of the lulls the team faced this year felt like they were due to a team without direction, and I place that on the manager. Now, injuries were an issue all year, but Boone has to keep up the morale and kick the team into gear. That all walk-off, Boone managed a great game against the A’s in the wild-card game, so he’s not a total bum.

Alex Cora, similarly, is a former Red Sox player, which certainly helped his candidacy, but he’s also bilingual, which has helped him connect to players on the roster, something John Farrell failed at. Alex Cora also served as an ESPN analyst but came back to the MLB in November of 2016 to serve as the bench coach for the Houston Astros, which ended up paying off when they won the 2017 World Series. It’s not a lot of experience, but I don’t discount how it helps Alex Cora this year.

Whether or not it will make a difference is unknown, but it’s something that Boone doesn’t have. Not only all of that, but this is the first time in years that it’s felt like the Sox are playing for their manager. There is a unity in this clubhouse that is refreshing and could help them in the postseason.

Edge: Red Sox

Starting Pitching

Here’s where things start to get tricky. On paper, it seems like the Red Sox clearly have the better starting pitching. David Price and Rick Porcello, say what you will, have both won Cy Young awards, and Chris Sale, despite having never won the award, has come close, and if not for his shoulder injury, would be the clear-cut favorite this year, and I’m not even ruling out the possibility he could still win it. The Yankees have some good pitching too, however, with Luis Severino, J.A. Happ, and Masahiro Tanaka all being threats to any lineup.

For the sake of the ALDS, however, I have to look closely at the current state of these rotations, and how they shape up, not only now but in the playoffs in general. I’ll start with the Red Sox, whose best pitcher, Chris Sale, is coming off a shoulder injury, and has had several underwhelming starts since returning. It seems that he is behind schedule in his healing process, but I’ll take the word of the team that his issues right now are mechanical, not health. If I trust that, then I believe that Chris Sale is a talented enough pitcher that he can fix that, and even if he doesn’t have his usual speed, I’m sure he can work some offspeed pitches in there and work the corners to his advantage.

The rest of the rotation is a different story, as we are all familiar with David Price’s and Rick Porcello’s struggles in playoffs past. David Price, however, was dynamite coming out of the bullpen last year, and has had a pretty good season for himself, with a few hiccups, that I hope he can capitalize on. If he were playing at Yankee Stadium, I would predict an absolute blowout for his start in the ALDS, but considering Game 2 is at Fenway, I actually have a little faith that he can surprise and perform well.

Porcello, on the other hand, is a tricky guy to predict. He has the ability to be a shutdown pitcher, but he also has a tendency to give up big home runs, and since he’ll be playing in Yankee Stadium, I predict quite a few of those in Game 3. Rounding out the Red Sox rotation for this series is Nathan Eovaldi, who has pitched well against the Yankees this season, but is still a bit of a wild card. He is expected to pitch in the bullpen of Game 1 and start Game 4, so we will get an early glimpse of how he may fare against the Yankees’ lineup.

On the Yankees side of things, their three major pitchers all can be rather hit or miss. Luis Severino hasn’t had the best season since the All-Star Break, but he’s been better lately and played well in four innings of work during the wild card game, with 2 hits, 4 walks, and 7 strikeouts. This is a thing for Yankees fans to be optimistic about. After his disaster of an outing last postseason, he’s positioned himself for a much more positive experience thus far. As of writing, I haven’t heard what the Yankees’ plans are for starting pitching, but I would imagine we won’t see him until Game 3.

After Severino’s Wild Card announcement, speculation swirled about who would start  Game 1. Would it be Masahiro Tanaka or J.A. Happ, both of whom are talented pitchers. My guess was that Tanaka would get the start That’s when the Yankees announced the Game 1 starter as J.A. Happ who has a significantly better ERA than Tanaka (2.69 to 3.75, respectively). That being said, he did give up four runs in the sixth inning in his last start against the Red Sox on September 28, so perhaps the Sox can exploit him again. Either way, I’m going with the guy who gives you a better chance to win against Chris Sale, and that guy is J.A. Happ.

Tanaka is a longtime Yankee and a trusted pitcher. He hasn’t always been the best, but usually when the team needs him, he’s there to pitch his best. Last postseason should serve as a reminder of that, as he served as the Yankees’ ace after the disaster that was Severino’s Wild Card start. Tanaka has had a better 2018 season than 2017 season by a wide margin, and I believe he has the potential to be lights out in the postseason again.

CC Sabathia could also make an appearance at some point this postseason, despite a relatively underwhelming season. He was left off the wild card game roster, though, so we will see how this plays out in the ALDS.

I struggle a bit picking out who has the edge here. My pessimism worries for the Sox ability to perform, but I also recognize that their pitchers have a higher ceiling than the Yankees pitchers, and I think that means a lot.

Edge: Red Sox

Bullpen

I saved the bullpen for last because, in my opinion, it’s the most part of the playoffs. The past several years have shown us that the better a bullpen you have, the further you can make it into playoffs. I can break this aspect of the game down simply enough: The Red Sox do not have the bullpen for that.

Let’s be real, there really isn’t one bright spot in this bullpen for the Red Sox. Even Craig Kimbrel, one of the best closers in the game, has been somewhat shaky this season, which is concerning. The rest of this Russian Roulette of a bullpen is filled with players who can blow a 5 run lead in the blink of an eye. I don’t care if they were ranked number one according to WAR, they are not good. The Red Sox have won this season due to starting pitching and a monstrous offense that has bailed the bullpen out on more than one occasion.

Sure, the Red Sox have some relievers that have had good stretches throughout the season. Joe Kelly had a great stretch after his fight against the Yankees in the early parts of the season, but since then, he’s gone back to his usual disappointing self. Matt Barnes has had a handful of good appearances. Ryan Brasier, the reliever I trust the most, has had a pretty good season, but even he has found opportunities to disappoint. Steven Wright has been great coming out of the bullpen, but knuckleballers are tough to predict and always make me nervous.

The Yankees, on the other hand, have a great bullpen. I would say it may not be as good as it was advertised at the beginning of the season, but it is still filled with talent. Zach Britton has been underwhelming since the Yankees traded for him, but he still has a great arm and can shut down an offense for a couple of innings. Aroldis Chapman is a great closer for the Yankees and has snuffed out many a comeback attempt. Dellin Betances has had a good year for the Yankees as well. There are some weak spots in the bullpen, with middle relievers struggling at certain points in the season, but overall they’ve been consistently strong this season.

The one knock I’ll give to the Yankees bullpen, and particularly Chapman, is that the Red Sox have exploited them this past season. While not always successful, the Red Sox have done some damage against the Yankees bullpen, and in the postseason, when the pressure is on and the mistakes are magnified, that could be an issue.

I still value the Yankees’ depth in the bullpen more than the flaming pile of garbage that the Red Sox have, and I can comfortably say I have more faith in the Yankees being able to hold onto a lead than the Red Sox.

Edge: Yankees

Now, I listed the offenses as evenly matched, gave the Red Sox in starting pitching and managing, and gave the Yankees an advantage in the bullpen.

As I said though, I value the bullpen more than other aspects of the game in the postseason. Because of that, I am predicting that the Yankees will win this series. The Sox will be able to win at least one game, but because the chances of their starting pitching going deep into games is slim, the bullpen against the Yankees concerns me.

The Yankees, on the other hand, can ride good pitching and a powerful offense to victory over their rivals from Boston. It pains me to say it, but it’s what I feel in my gut.

Prediction: Yankees in 4

A 90s baby from New England, Chris currently resides in Indiana attending Indiana University for grad school. An unabashed New England sports fan, you will find Chris in equal measures criticizing and praising his team. When not developing hot takes Chris can be seen on the stage in various theatrical productions.

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