A capsule look at the Boston Red Sox-New York Yankees American League Division Series.
At first glance
The Red Sox, who finished the season with the most wins in baseball, were on an inside track for their third consecutive American League East title from the start. They began the 2018 season with a 15-2 record, scoring 108 runs in those 17 games, and never slowed down.
Led by AL most-valuable-player candidates Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez, the offense batted a majors-best .268 and also led baseball in on-base percentage (.339) and slugging percentage (.453). Red Sox hitters made a lot of contact, with their 1,253 strikeouts ranking 26th-fewest of the 30 teams.
As the team’s leadoff hitter, Betts had a 1.078 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, 32 home runs, 80 RBIs and 30 stolen bases. He led the major leagues with 10.9 wins above replacement, according to Baseball-Reference.com’s version of the stat.
The Red Sox’s rookie manager, Alex Cora, might have been the favorite to win AL manager of the year if not for the savvy of Oakland Athletics’ Bob Melvin. He maneuvered around a rash of injuries to the starting rotation and the major league’s lowest payroll to reach the AL wild-card game.
The Yankees dominated Melvin’s A’s on Wednesday night, winning 7-2. The victory forced the rivals’ first postseason matchup since the 2004 American League Championship Series. It also gave baseball its first playoffs battle between 100-win teams.
New York reestablished itself as baseball’s most powerful team. Although the Yankees were out-slugged by the Red Sox (their .451 slugging percentage ranked second), they crushed a major league-best 267 home runs and broke the previous single-season team record of 264 during the last weekend of the season in Fenway Park.
Why the Red Sox should win
The Yankees may launch homers at a pace not previously seen, but their offense is not as well-rounded as the Red Sox’s. Boston hit 208 home runs, 31 triples and 355 doubles (leading the majors) this season. They also ranked sixth in walks with 569. The Red Sox also stole the third-most bases in the major leagues. They were 125 of 156 attempts on the basepaths.
Plus, there was no one better at home than the Red Sox, who had a 57-24 record at Fenway Park and own home-field advantage through the postseason.
As a unit, the Red Sox pitching staff did not out-do the reigning World Series Champion Houston Astros or even the Cleveland Indians, Houston’s opponent in the other ALDS. But starters Chris Sale, David Price and Rick Porcello rarely crumpled this season, combining for a 3.39 ERA.
Sale will start Game 1. Hampered by inflammation in his shoulder, the left-hander threw only 17 innings after July 31. He was unable to turn to his slider as often during his final appearances as a result. Even his fastball velocity had dropped to 90.2 mph, below his season average of 94.7, by his last appearance on Sept. 26.
But Sale and the Red Sox said the issues were mechanical. He expected them ironed out by Friday’s division series opener. His 2.11 ERA is second among American League starters with more than 150 innings. In 27 starts, he limited batters to a .181 average and 11 home runs.
How the Yankees can win
Power pitching from the Yankees could provide them the edge they need to advance to the AL Championship Series for the second year in a row.
But they will need to neutralize right-handed hitter Steve Pearce, who batted .297 with a .395 OBP and .757 slugging percentage against the Yankees this season. On the final weekend of the regular season, Pearce tagged Yankees starter J.A. Happ with a grand slam at Fenway Park.
Happ will start for the Yankees in Game 1. In four starts against Boston this season, he had a 1.99 ERA. He issued only six walks and struck out 29 Red Sox in 22 2/3 innings.
Masahiro Tanaka is likely to follow Happ for Saturday’s start. He had a 2.79 ERA in five September starts, improving on a second half in which he bettered his strikeout-to-walk ratio and gave up fewer home runs per fly ball.
The Yankees’ bats, too, have enough juice to challenge the Red Sox. The trick might be getting to the Red Sox bullpen early, as Cora has had trouble constructing a bridge to closer Craig Kimbrel.
Giancarlo Stanton hit .371/.423/.700 with five home runs and 17 RBIs against Boston in his first season in New York. Rookie-of-the-year candidate Miguel Andujar hit at a lower clip (.239 with a .250 OBP) but still managed five doubles and three homers among his 17 hits against the Red Sox.
Who’s coming in hot
Among Red Sox players who appeared in at least 20 games, utility man Brock Holt was second only to Betts in average in September. He batted .354 in 20 games. His .667 slugging percentage led the group, as he clubbed four home runs and three doubles. Although he struck out 16 times in 48 at-bats, his on-base percentage still clocked in at .456.
The Yankees acquired Luke Voit from the St. Louis Cardinals and quickly reaped the benefits. He took over first base from Greg Bird, a decision that made rookie manager Aaron Boone look good when Voit turned in a 1.095 OPS with 14 home runs, five doubles and 33 RBIs in 39 games.
Voit became a star in the wild-card game Wednesday when he drilled his first big league triple in the sixth inning. The ball seemed headed out of Yankee Stadium’s confines, but it instead banged into the right-field wall and allowed Voit the chance to lumber around the bases as two runs scored.
Who’s coming in cold
The Red Sox have not seen much production from Ian Kinsler, the second baseman they acquired from the Angels at the trade deadline. Kinsler in September was worth -0.2 WAR as he batted .190 with 10 RBIs and eight runs scored.
Stanton slumped through September. He was second on the Yankees with 16 RBIs, but he reached base at only a .306 clip. Stanton was productive in the wild-card game, hitting a solo home run and drawing a walk in the first playoff game of his career.
The Red Sox won the season series 10-9. They outscored the Yankees by a narrow 116-102 margin.
Last weekend’s season-ending series provided few surprises. The Red Sox had long before sealed the division title. They practically put the division out of reach for the Yankees by sweeping them in a four-game series at the beginning of August in Fenway Park.