You may or may not have heard that the rivalry between the Yankees and Red Sox is back. If you have, congratulations, you have not been living under a rock since Opening Day.
Both the Yankees and Red Sox sat at 28-12 through 40 games, before Boston dropped a half-game back in the East with a 6-5 loss to the A’s on Monday night. It’s the first time since 2002 that two teams had a .700 winning percentage through 40 games. They also have near-identical run differentials, with Yankees at plus-65 and the Red Sox at plus-66.
They are also both projected to win 100 games by FanGraphs with the Yankees having a plus-171 run differential and the Red Sox plus-170. It’s the first time since 2003-05 that both teams are this evenly matched.
The issue for both teams is that one of these juggernauts will have to settle for the dreaded one-game playoff in the wild card round. It would be a hard pill to swallow for either of these teams to win around 100 games and have their season end in one game thanks to someone like Shohei Ohtani or James Paxton.
The Yankees settled for the wild card last season and went to within one game of the World Series. The wild card isn’t a death sentence, but there isn’t a soul who would willingly accept the wild card with how well the Yankees have been playing.
There are several deciding factors on how this summer-long division battle will play out. Both teams are great teams that will make the playoffs. However, these factors suggest significant differences that favor one over the other over the course of a long season. Let’s break them all down.
The Yankees have an easier schedule ahead. Their strength of schedule the rest of the way is .496, third-lowest in the American League, behind Cleveland and Minnesota. It really is nice to play in the AL Central after all. The Red Sox have a tougher road ahead of them as their opponents combine for a .504 winning percentage.
It’s not a significant difference, but with how even both teams are any small advantage can be considered important. The Yankees also already navigated through the hardest part of their schedule, and went 11-2 during the 13-game gauntlet against the Angles, Astros, Cleveland, and the Red Sox.
The Red Sox have yet to go on an extended stretch of games against excellent teams. Looking at Boston’s schedule reveals a tough 16-game stretch in the second half of June and early July. They face the Mariners seven times and travel to face the Yankees, Twins and Nationals.
They still have seven games against both the Astros and Cleveland. They also play playoff contenders all throughout the month of September. They have only five games the entire month against teams that currently have a losing record.
September’s a long way off, so Atlanta, the Mets, and Blue Jays may not be able to claim winning records, but they have a combined 12 games against the Astros, Yankees and Cleveland that month. The Yankees still have some tough stretches on their slate, but the Red Sox appear to have the harder schedule.
Why root for the Red Sox to lose against other teams when the Yankees can solve that problem themselves? If the Yankees want to win the AL East, take care of business against the Red Sox. It’s as simple as that. Right? Not necessarily. The Yankees won the season series last season 11-8. That is a very solid record.
In fact, if a team goes 11-8 every 19 games, they finish with 94 wins. Despite winning the season series, the Yankees finished second. The Yankees are 14-11 against the Red Sox since the start of last season, going 3-3 against them so far in 2018.
One thing that favors the Red Sox in the series matchup is that 10 of the 19 games are at Fenway Park. They host the Yankees for a four-game set the first week of August. Will the Yankees channel their inner-2006, where they swept a five-game set at Fenway in what was dubbed a redux of 1978’s famous Boston Massacre?
Or will it resemble 2016, when the Yankees were swept in a four-game set with all four games being close late? The sweep pretty much eliminated any real hope for the Yankees making the postseason that year.
Yankee starters have struggled mightily against the Red Sox in six games this season, posting a 9.00 ERA in 30.0 innings, if the Yankees starters continue to pitch poorly against Boston, the Red Sox will likely win the season series.
It’s not going to keep the Yankees from winning the division, as evidenced by last year, but the best way the Yankees can help themselves is by beating the Red Sox head to head.
The Red Sox started the season 17-2 and were averaging 6.47 runs per game. Over their last 22 games, they are 11-11 and averaging 4.55 runs per game. It might just be the ebb and flows of a season, but it’s possible the Red Sox offense has already peaked. Mookie Betts has an unsustainable 1.205 OPS. Mitch Moreland is at .992 after being a below league-average hitter his entire career. J.D. Martinez has a .427 BABIP and a career-high strikeout rate. Xander Bogaerts has a 2.8 percent walk rate and a .365 BABIP. Hanley Ramirez has been below replacement level in two of his three seasons since returning to Boston.
In the offseason, the Red Sox hired Tim Hyers as their new hitting coach. He pressured the Red Sox hitters to be more aggressive in the strike zone after taking the most strikes in baseball last season. They were last in Z-Swing percentage in the majors last season, they are second this year.
The change in offensive philosophy has undoubtedly helped the Red Sox hitters and they will remain one of the top offenses, but it’s probably only a matter of time until they start to slump as the rest of the league makes their adjustments.
The Yankees are seeing it with Didi Gregorius, who got off to a similar start as Betts but has been ice cold the last few weeks.
Meanwhile, the Yankees are waiting for Giancarlo Stanton and Gary Sanchez to terrorize opposing pitchers on a nightly basis. They are also patiently waiting for the return of Greg Bird, who, if healthy, can tip the scales in the Yankees’ favor in a huge way. Both offenses have been similar to this point, but the Yankees still have more upside.
The Trade Deadline
This is probably the Yankees’ biggest advantage this season and the way they can most directly control the division race other than their head-to-head matchups with the Red Sox. The Yankees stayed well under their self-imposed salary cap of $197 million to avoid a 50 percent luxury tax.
They entered the season at $167 million, allowing them plenty of money to make a trade deadline splash in need be. They also entered the season with Baseball America’s No. 2 farm system.
They have the available funds and the prospects to get anyone they want at the trade deadline and outbid any competitors.
The Red Sox don’t have that. They have baseball’s highest payroll at $234 million. They also have only $3.5 million available for in-season transactions, or they will have a 62.5 percent tax in 2019.
They are the only team in the American League that will pay a tax after crossing the $197 million threshold. They also only have the No. 24 farm system in baseball, after trades for the likes of Chris Sale and Craig Kimbrel have left their minor league system empty.
In a lot of ways Boston general manager Dave Dombrowski has pushed all of his chips in for 2018 and they were certainly not wrong to sign Martinez to a five-year contract considering their big need, but it has cost them present and future payroll flexibility.
Expect Yankees general manager Brian Cashman to once again be extremely aggressive at the trade deadline to add a difference-maker to the starting rotation. In fact I think Cashman will do whatever it takes to set the Yankees up to win the division.
The Yankees have depth to withstand injuries to key players and to make in-season call ups. New York has already taken advantage of this with the call up of top prospect Gleyber Torres. They have already replaced the injured Bird, Brandon Drury and Jordan Montgomery with Tyler Austin, Miguel Andujar and Domingo German.
The Red Sox were able to do this last year with their then-top prospect Rafael Devers replacing the awful Pablo Sandoval. They currently don’t have the depth at the top of the minor leagues to replace anyone in the majors like the Yankees can. Boston has first baseman Sam Travis, who has major league experience, and pitcher Jalen Beeks, who is excelling at Triple-A, and not much else.
New York has outfielder Clint Frazier and top pitching prospect Justus Sheffield as candidates to make a contribution at some point this year. Frazier was a top 40 prospect last season, Sheffield is one this season. The Red Sox do have second baseman Dustin Pedroia coming back, but he is recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery and had a down year last year.
The Yankees and Red Sox have the two best records in baseball. They are both complete teams with great offenses, starting pitchers and relievers. But over the course of a long season, the Yankees have what it takes to outlast them and win the AL East.
They have more payroll flexibility and a deeper farm system to make a big splash as the trade deadline. They also have more organizational depth at Triple-A and an easier schedule. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Red Sox win the division, they are a great team, but so are the Yankees.
The difference is that the Yankees can add impact players, adequately replace them and have a roster that has more upside.
Series preview | The Rays pay another visit to Yankee Stadium
The Yankees continue an 11 game homestand Tuesday night with three games against the Tampa Bay Rays in the Bronx. It is the last time Tampa Bay will visit Yankees stadium.
The Yankees have struggled against the Rays this season, as they have split 12 games so far, going 6-6. The Rays most recently took two of three back in July at Tropicana field. The Yankees received some bad news Monday, with CC Sabathia going to the disabled list with a knee injury.
The Rays starters have not been set yet, as they tend to use openers, and they only have two starters in their “rotation.” One of those starters is Blake Snell, who is a probable starter for the rubber game on Thursday. Snell has taken the leap this year, making the American League All-Star team and a stellar 2.18 ERA and 143 strikeouts in 128 innings.
However, Snell has struggled against the Yankees to the tune of nine earned runs in 8 1/3 innings of work, he walked seven batters in those starts and given up four home runs, the most he has given up against any team. The other possibilities for those two other starts could be Ryne Stanek, Jake Faria, Sergio Romo or Yonny Chirinos.
The Yankees are on track to run out J.A. Happ, Masahiro Tanaka, and Lance Lynn. Happ has been solid thus far for the Yankees, sporting a 3.00 ERA with 0.75 WHIP since coming over from Toronto. He bounced against the Texas Rangers after a bout of Hand-Foot-and-Mouth Disease, going six innings and only giving up three earned runs.
That was exactly what the Yankees signed up for when they acquired him from Toronto on July 26th. Happ has been successful against the Rays, with a 2.53 ERA in two starts, though he walked seven batters in those two starts.
Masahiro Tanaka looks to bounce back on Wednesday from a rough start against the Rangers where he was tattooed for six runs in 5 innings of work, with three home runs surrendered. Tanaka looked like a different pitcher coming out of the All-Star break, giving up one earned run through 19 2/3 innings with 26 strikeouts and only one home run against him. The Rays could be a welcome sight, last time against the rays he pitched a complete game shutout with nine strikeouts and only four runners allowed.
The rubber game on Thursday should feature Lance Lynn. Lynn was another deadline acquisition for the Yankees in a trade with the Minnesota Twins for Tyler Austin. Through 16 2/3 innings, Lynn has given up one run and struck out 22 batters against four walks. Lynn has already surpassed his WAR total with the Twins in 3 games with the Yankees, as he has been worth .8 WAR since coming to New York.
He has taken Sonny Gray’s spot in the rotation and has not looked back. If Lynn can continue to provide steady 5-6 inning starts with limited damage, much less the performances he has provided thus far, then the Yankees will be in good shape.
The top performers for the Yankees offensively out of the All-Star break have been Giancarlo Stanton and Didi Gregorius.
Stanton has hit five home runs in the last seven days and is slashing .313/.382/.750 in August, picking up the slack with Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge on the disabled list. Gregorius has hit well against the Rays, with a slash line of .318/.362/.614 and three home runs with 13 runs batted in.
The goal for the Yankees? Come out of the series healthy and hopefully with a series win as they try to right the ship against the Rays.
Mets 8 Yankees 5 | Severino falters again
Luis Severino struggled yet again and failed to reach the fifth inning for the first time this season as the Yankees lost to the Mets on Monday night. The Yankees were able to scrape three runs out against Jacob DeGrom but Severino gave back four runs on two home runs. DeGrom struck out 12 Yankees in 6 2/3 innings of work. The Yankees look to bounce back tomorrow night against the Tampa Bay Rays in the Bronx.
The sixth inning, when A.J. Cole gave up three home runs and allowed the Mets to stretch their lead to four runs. The Yankees had kept it close against DeGrom and would have had a shot if Cole had kept the deficit to just one run.
1. Severino struggled to get batters out with his four-seam fastball. Five of the seven hits came on four-seam fastballs with only three swinging strikes. He got 10 swinging strikes on his off-speed offerings. Whether he is tipping pitches or not, it seems like hitters are looking for his four-seamer and leaving his off-speed pitches alone, as he only got four called strikes between his change-up and slider.
2. A.J. Cole is having a rough August, he gave up three home runs in two innings and has given up six earned runs in only 7 innings this month. Two of the home runs came against lefties in the Mets lineup, which is the norm for Cole, as lefties are slashing .338/.421/.708 this season. He came into the game down one run and left the Yankees trailing by four runs in the seventh inning.
3. Gleyber Torres’ bat has gone dead in August, to the tune of .146 batting average with six hits and thirteen strikeouts in 41 at-bats. Torres has struggled since the All-Star break, with a .164 batting average and a .278 on-base percentage. Obviously, he is still working back from his injury before the all-star break, but he was a big part of the early year success and will need to get back to improve for the stretch run.
Player of the Game
Aaron Hicks scratched out two singles against Jacob DeGrom and drove in the first run for the Yankees. He reached base three times overall as he drew a walk in the eighth inning. The singles were not particularly hard-hit balls, but against DeGrom you take what you can get. He has a .402 OBP since the all-star break and is on pace to set a career high in WAR.
The Yankees are still dropping the ball regarding social issues
Last Tuesday, SNY.tv reported that the Yankees are planning to commemorate the Stonewall Riots with events in 2019. There have been no confirmations for the 2019 promotional calendar but SNY.tv states that several sources confirmed internal discussions to finalize the details of the events.
The Yankees later announced that they were reinstating their relationship with Papa John’s late Friday night, according to NJ.com. The move comes less than a month after suspending the relationship after finding out the face of the brand and CEO, John Schattner, used the n-word during a conference call in May.
A source with knowledge of the situation told NJ.com that there will be a rebranding of some Papa John’s logos in Yankee stadium, specifically to emphasize that the locations at the stadium are “locally owned and operated.”
Here’s the statement the Yankees released:
“As a result of the significant steps recently taken by Papa John’s, including the removal of their founder from all facets of their business, the Yankees have agreed to resume their relationship with the company,” the Yankees said in a statement late Friday night.
As we stated last month, we found the remarks made by the Papa John’s founder to be reprehensible, and our feelings on the matter have not changed.
The Yankees have had a longstanding relationship with 120 Papa John’s local franchise locations within the tri-state area, and we feel strongly that this incident does not represent their principles, values or their responsibilities to the communities they serve.
Papa John’s is implementing important and sincere measures to restore customers’ faith in their brand, including the launch of a diversity and inclusion committee, and a third-party audit of their company’s practices. We are confident the company will continue to take the appropriate measures to show their commitment to preventing such an egregious incident from happening again in the future.”
The move is disappointing and unfortunately, not surprising. The Yankees continue to prioritize their business opportunities and money streams over showing their fans that they do not support a business founded by a man who felt comfortable saying the n-word in a meeting. The move is indefensible and at this point, fans can only hope that there is enough negative feedback that the team will eventually consider severing all ties to the company.
Even with this small step forward to connect with the LGBTQ+ community, it came after backlash that the Yankees were one of two teams to not hold an event in 2018. It is a positive step and hopefully, it is not the last that the Yankees take to honor and work with the LGBTQ+ community. Still, with social issues even when the Yankees take one step forward, they find another way to take two steps back.