- This is the series that two monster-sized fanbases wanted, not to mention a handful of television executives. But how will it stack up to all the hype surrounding it?
That sound you hear is TBS executives and newspaper editors applauding. Yankees–Red Sox: the series that half the country desperately wants to see and the other half is already tired of hearing about. These games are all in prime time and will all take somewhere between four and five hours—in part because of the pace of play and in part because of the time the broadcast will need to devote to highlights of 1978, 2003 and 2004.
Amazingly, this is these teams’ first playoff meeting since that wild 2004 ALCS, and their first ever in the ALDS. (Before the move to the current playoff format, with two wild cards, the wild-card team was barred from playing the winner of its division in the first round.) Here's what you need to know about this series.
How They Got Here
The Yankees had their best season in nearly a decade, winning 100 games even with a depleted lineup that lost six weeks of Aaron Judge and nearly a month of Didi Gregorius—and had to play a win-or-go-home game against the A’s, because the Red Sox won 108. The Yankees won.
Boston rebounded from last year's ALDS elimination with its highest win total in franchise history. This season’s team is very similar to last year’s, with the notable additions of DH J.D. Martinez—who came within 16 batting average points and five home runs of the Triple Crown—and manager Alex Cora. The result was a squad that led the division almost wire-to-wire and never lost more than three games in a row.
The Yankees’ rotation is held together with Big League Chew and athletic tape, but they can trot out a frightening series of relievers: Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, David Robertson, Zach Britton and Chad Green could all close for other teams; manager Aaron Boone can start deploying them as early as the third or fourth inning if his starters run into trouble. One potential problem for the Yankees, though: They finished third in the league in percent of pitches thrown harder than 95 mph, with 20.3%; the Red Sox hit .287 against such offerings, best in baseball.
The Boston bullpen is its most glaring weak spot. Craig Kimbrel is one of the best closers in the game, but the team has so little relief depth that it gave a roster spot to Joe Kelly, who had an 8.31 ERA in September. The rotation is more of a puzzle. The Red Sox’ top three—Chris Sale, David Price and Rick Porcello—are regular-season studs with two Cy Young Awards between them and a chance to pick up a third this year, but those pitchers have combined to go 0–11 with a 6.18 ERA in their 19 postseason starts.
The Yankees' lineup takes a fairly feast-or-famine approach: It hit 267 home runs this year, the most in baseball history, but sold out for that power with a middle-of-the-road .249 batting average. There are fearsome pockets—opposing pitchers must have nightmares about the Aaron Judge–Giancarlo Stanton combination—but just as many question marks. Twenty-one-year-old second baseman Gleyber Torres and 23-year-old third baseman Miguel Andújar are stars in the making, especially if Andújar can make progress defensively, but they are also young players experiencing their first taste of the postseason.
The Red Sox seem to have no holes in their lineup. When Cora arrived from Houston, he told his players that the book on them had been that they were too patient. A year after they finished last in baseball with a 62.3% swing rate on pitches in the strike zone, they were second to the A’s among AL playoff teams with 67.8. The result has been a best-in-baseball .268 batting average and .339 OBP, which should allow them to string together big innings, and a best-in-baseball .453 slugging percentage, which could be useful against such an elite bullpen. Stars abound: Martinez can change the game with one swing, and likely MVP rightfielder Mookie Betts became the first player in history to win a batting title in a 30–home run, 30–stolen base season.
Edge: Red Sox
X-Factor: Red Sox Game 2 starter David Price
“If you don’t like it, pitch better,” he likes to say of his reputation for choking in the playoffs. He seems to be the hinge on which the whole series swings: If Boston is down 1–0 and he struggles, the Yankees could close the door. If he can stop the bleeding—or add to a series lead—New York is in trouble.
Red Sox in five. Each team steals one road game, then Boston closes it out in Boston.