It was just over six weeks ago that the Red Sox held a 10.5-game lead over the Yankees in the standings. But, after losing both games of Tuesday’s double-header, Boston found itself out of a wild card position and trailing its rival by mere percentage points.
The Red Sox tormented New York earlier this season, sweeping the first two series and going 10-3 in the first 13 matchups. The Yankees didn’t just struggle against Boston, however. The team often looked mediocre and was 41-41 on July 4.
Since then, however, the Yankees have mostly been red-hot despite a series of COVID-19 losses and injuries. A four-game series against Boston from July 22-25 served as one of New York’s few blemishes over the last month and a half; the Yankees won just one game. New York traded for Joey Gallo and Anthony Rizzo days later.
While Rizzo remained out due to the virus, Tuesday was the first time the Red Sox saw the Yankees since July 25. And while Boston’s own stretch of poor play has contributed to each team’s shift in the standings, Alex Cora couldn’t help but notice that he was facing a squad dissimilar to the one his team had previously toyed with.
“That’s a different team than early in the season,” the Red Sox manager told reporters after the day’s second loss before noting the Yankees’ strong pitching throughout the season. “They’re more agile, more versatile, more athletic.”
Cora’s assessment of his opponent was spot-on. For all the blame games that took place earlier this year, the Yankees’ biggest problem was roster construction. They lacked flexibility in the lineup and in the field, and a largely lumbering roster struggled to keep up with more nimble adversaries—especially the Red Sox.
Rizzo—before his departure and when he soon returns—and Gallo bring desperately-needed, capable lefty bats to New York, as well as defensive upgrades. Other players going down have forced the Yankees to lean on speedier, more versatile fill-ins, which has worked out thus far.
Consider that, to best protect a 2-0 lead, the Yankees were able to advantageously make a defensive change at every single position except catcher in the final inning of Tuesday’s action. They couldn’t have done that a few weeks ago. Or that the team’s 27 stolen bases since the All-Star break are the most in baseball after adding two against the Sox on Tuesday. The Yankees were dead last before that, swiping just 20 bags between Opening Day and the Midsummer Classic.
By the end of the day Tuesday, the Yankees found themselves atop the wild card standings thanks to a tiebreaker with the Athletics. The Red Sox, meanwhile, now lead the line of those on the outside looking in. Boston will get another crack at New York on Wednesday night, and then once again in late September.
The Yankees have the edge at the moment, but both teams have been inconsistent at times. For all the changes and swings each has undergone, there is still a lot of baseball left to play.
“We got a long way to go,” Cora’s counterpart, Aaron Boone, said. “We gotta keep the foot down on the gas and continue to grind away because it’s gonna be a tough road ahead.”
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