Good pitching usually ends up deciding a playoff series but that may not be the case when the Yankees and Red Sox meet in the ALDS beginning tonight at Fenway Park.
The Yankees will have to play better than they did against Oakland. Even though they won the Wild Card game, some of the defensive concerns came to light (Andujar throwing error for one) but the A’s could not capitalize on their chances. Don’t expect the Red Sox to pass up those opportunities, that’s been part of their DNA this season.
That makes Gary Sanchez (aka “the Kraken”) a key player in this series in more ways than one. The Yankees have tried to “release the Kraken” to get him going but so far, it hasn’t materialized.
The beleaguered back stop had a very good defensive game but did not have a good night with the bat. Fortunately for the Yankees, they had enough offensive support to get by but they seriously need Sanchez to get going in a place where he has had consistent success. His defensive woes have not gone away but his bat could nullify some of those concerns.
Sanchez has hit 13 home runs vs. Boston in his 2 and a ¼ year career. 8 of those have come at Fenway, including three this season. The Yankee catcher logs a .303 career average at Fenway into tonight’s game and will likely remain at the lower third of the batting order. If Sanchez can get going, that would really lengthen the Yankee lineup and put enormous pressure on Boston’s bullpen, which will be under the gun to start.
The Red Sox will start three left handers in the first four games against a Yankee lineup that is predominantly right handed, but the key will be their ace, Chris Sale. The Boston left hander was on the DL twice in the final two months of the season because of shoulder inflammation and his last regular season outing was not encouraging. Sale tossed 4.2 innings but his fastball was averaging 90.2 MPH when he’s usually up around 95. That’s a big, big difference.
At the pre-Series presser on Thursday, a confident Sale said, “You have to find a way with whatever you have on a given day and roll with it. So I take the ball tomorrow and I expect to win.” Sale was 2-0 this season and 6-4 with a 1.61 ERA in his career vs. the Yankees. Sale is 2-2 in his career at Yankee Stadium but he’s slated for games one and five at Fenway. If Sale pitches like he’s capable of, the Yankees will have a very difficult time winning this series.
The Yankees acquired J.A. Happ with this series in mind. Happ has pitched well against Boston and the Yankees hope that continues tonight. The left hander was ill and missed the Series at Fenway in August but he tossed six innings last Friday in Boston. Earlier in the season, while pitching for Toronto, Happ gave up five unearned runs against the Red Sox on the road but he beat them in Toronto. Happ is 5-2 with a 3.27 ERA in his career in Boston.
Giancarlo Stanton seems to be heading into one of his hot streaks with four home runs in his last four games, including that bomb that he hit in the Wild Card game. Stanton has murdered Red Sox pitching this season, particularly at Fenway where he hit. 486 with two HRS and 9 RBI’s in 9 games. Look for Boston to pitch around him as much as possible.
The home ballparks will play a huge role in this series. The Yankees were 3-7 at Fenway and 6-3 against the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees would best be served if they’re able to win one of the first two games. I don’t think they can expect to duplicate what happened last season in the ALDS vs. Cleveland when the home team won the first four games and the Yankees were able to capture game five on the road. The Yankees pitching gave up 76 runs to the Red Sox in Boston and only 40 at home. The Yankees scored 54 runs at home and 44 at Fenway.
The Red Sox essentially won the AL East with their four game sweep at Fenway in early August. Sanchez and Aaron Judge were out of the lineup at that time, but that’s no excuse for the way the Yankees blew the final game of that series.
Now that the Yankees are whole for the first time in awhile, we could see some exciting slugfests in this series.
The Yankees are feeling confident that they can knock off the Red Sox, Releasing “the Kraken” could go a long way towards pulling off the upset.