After beating the Oakland A’s 7-2 in the AL Wild Card Game, the New York Yankees will now travel to Fenway Park to take on Boston for the teams’ first ever meeting in the divisional series. Game 1 takes place on Friday night with the Yankees sending J.A. Happ to the mound to face off against Red Sox ace Chris Sale.
Although Boston set their franchise record for wins with their historic 2018 season, none of that will matter if it doesn’t at least reach the World Series for the first time since 2013. More importantly, its whole season will be a major disappointment if it allows the Yankees to advance further into October.
Despite having 108 wins, the Red Sox by no means dominated the Yankees in any way. The two were just about even throughout the regular season series, with Boston winning 10 of 19 games.
Something unfamiliar that may help the Yankees is the fact that they are the underdogs. Typically a team that has the payroll and star players like the Yanks are almost always the favorites, especially in a playoff series. That’s not the case this time around.
Boston is the favorite and there’s no telling how that added pressure could affect the team. If the Red Sox happen to drop the opening game, they will really be feeling the heat from the home fans to come up with a victory in Game 2.
Beyond being more relaxed, the Yankees may be in a better situation regarding their starting pitching.
When Chris Sale is on his game, he’s one of the best pitchers in all of baseball. However, that’s currently not the case. Sale missed a decent stretch of games through August and the beginning of September due to inflammation in his shoulder.
Since returning, Sale’s been extremely limited. In four September starts, he’s only managed to pitch 12 total innings in order to build his pitch count and arm strength. His last two outings did not go well. He surrendered five hits and two earned against Cleveland in 3.1 innings. Sale then gave up three earned in 4.2 innings to a struggling Orioles team.
More significant than his numbers was how Sale looked. The velocity on his fastball was down and he just didn’t seem like his normal self. According to ESPN, Sox manager Alex Cora said, “It seems like there’s something mechanically going on. He’s not flying his hips the way he usually does. We don’t have too much time.”
Whether or not Sale has figured it out remains to be seen. Both teams will soon know what kind of stuff the former Cy Young winner is bringing to this series.
The Yankees have plenty of reasons to be optimistic about Boston’s Game 2 starter, as well. David Price is set to pitch against Masahiro Tanaka Saturday night.
In four games this year against the Pinstripes, Price has been shelled in three of them. In total, he went 0-3 with an ERA of 10.34. The Yankees hit .309 and slugged nine home runs against the 33-year-old.
On the other side, manager Aaron Boone feels good about his two starting options in Fenway.
J.A. Happ started four games against the Sox in 2018, posting a 1.99 ERA while holding Boston’s powerful lineup to a batting average of just .200. His success against the Red Sox was a large part of why Yankees GM Brian Cashman traded for Happ at the deadline.
Tanaka has not had the same good fortune against Boston, but he has been pitching great of late. He went 3-1 in five September starts with a 2.79 ERA. He gave up only two home runs over these 29 innings.
The Red Sox may feel like this is their special year, but there’s a reason you play the games. The Yankees are a more than formidable opponent who are playing well and with confidence at the right time. If the Yankees can force a split at Fenway, they could set themselves up to win the series and get back to the ALCS.