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Yankees vs. Red Sox Is the Perfect Start to the Playoffs

Plus, our staff's World Series predictions.

Welcome to the first edition of the Five-Tool Newsletter! We’re launching this just in time for the 2021 MLB postseason, so among other things, this issue will focus on tonight’s epic AL wild-card game between the Yankees and Red Sox at Fenway Park.

For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Matt Martell, and I’m the baseball editor here at Sports Illustrated. I’ll be hosting this newsletter throughout the playoffs, with contributions from the rest of our championship-caliber baseball staff. We’ll get to them later. Now, let’s get to the good stuff.

1. THE OPENER

In today’s SI Daily Cover story, Tom Verducci previews everything you need to know heading into the postseason.

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Tom’s nuggets are always fun and informative. I especially love his section about the five-decade relationship between Tony La Russa and Dusty Baker. These two baseball-lifers will be managing against each other in the ALDS, beginning Thursday, when TLR’s White Sox travel to Houston to begin a best-of-five set vs. Dusty’s Astros. Verducci will be at that series, so stick with us here and also check out SI.com/MLB for all of his coverage there.

2. ICYMI

Let’s take a look at some stories you should read to get up to speed before the playoffs get underway.

World Series Predictions by SI Staff

If you want to know which teams our experts think will win it all, or you want to tell us why we’re wrong, you should check out our preplayoffs World Series picks.

Power Rankings: Assessing the Postseason Field by Will Laws and Nick Selbe

SI Recommends

How do the 10 playoff teams stack up entering the postseason? Will Laws and Nick Selbe evaluate them based on their chances of winning the World Series, and explain how and why each club can do so.

The Blue Jays Build Up Some Scar Tissue by Stephanie Apstein

In her column Monday, Stephanie details why this young, dangerous core team fell just short of the playoffs this time, and why you shouldn't expect that to happen again.

3. WORTH NOTING

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As I wrote in our World Series predictions roundtable, the Yankees are the stupidest baseball team I’ve ever seen. Not because they don’t have smart players, but because their season has progressed in the most illogical of ways. Their hot-and-cold streaks have been well documented throughout the year by nearly everyone who’s written about them, as well as by angry New Yorkers on Twitter and WFAN, so I won’t get into all of the maddening moments. Instead let’s use how the Yankees have played against the Red Sox as a microcosm of their overall performance.

New York started out 0–7 vs. Boston this year. By the trade deadline, the Yankees had lost all but three of their 13 games against the Red Sox. Since then, New York has won six straight matchups between the rivals.

4. WHAT TO WATCH FOR

The key to this game will be whether Boston’s starter Nathan Eovaldi can get ahead in the count against the Yankees’ lineup. As Alex Fast of Pitcher List and ESPN noted on Twitter, Eovaldi loves to pound the zone with his first pitch to hitters—65.3% of his first pitches this season were strikes. Meanwhile the Yankees are among the most patient teams; they swing at just 26.1% of first pitches. If Eovaldi has his command early, and the Yankees do not jump on those pitches in the zone, they could have a tough time scoring. Conversely, if Eovaldi struggles with his command, as he did the last time he faced New York—he allowed seven runs and didn’t make it through the third inning—the Red Sox could be in for a rough night. We could also see Yankees hitters alter their approach and attack the pitches Eovaldi grooves early in counts. As Verducci mentioned in his Daily Cover, postseason games are usually won by the team that hits the most home runs. Look for Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton to do the damage for the Yankees, and Rafael Devers, who has three homers off Gerrit Cole this season, to be Boston’s bopper.

5. THE CLOSER from Emma Baccellieri

What version of Gerrit Cole will the Yankees see tonight? The ace was a no-doubt choice to start this game—but his recent struggles have sown a few reasonable seeds of anxiety. (He allowed 15 runs in 17 2/3 combined innings over his final three starts.) One key factor has been the performance of his slider. In August, Cole’s hard-hit rate on the pitch was 9%, but in September, that ballooned to 37%. How the slider looks tonight will be crucial to how much offense the Red Sox can muster against one of the best pitchers in baseball.

That’s all from us today. We’ll be back in your inbox tomorrow. In the meantime, share this newsletter with your friends and family, and tell them to sign up at SI.com/newsletters. If you have any questions for our team, send a note to mlb@si.com.