Sox, Yanks Set for Showdown at Fenway
By Jason Mastrodonato
BOSTON -- The two most important players of the four-game rivalry series that begins Thursday night at Fenway Park might be the two who weren’t even on the Boston Red Sox to start the season.
With the New York Yankees throwing two left-handers in the series, CC Sabathia Thursday and J.A. Happ on Saturday (though he’s questionable with hand, foot and mouth disease), Steve Pearce and Ian Kinsler have a lot of hitting to do.
Coming off a loss to the Orioles Wednesday, the Yankees hit town 5 1/2 games back of the Red Sox. With two months to go and 10 games still remaining between these two teams, the pressure is on the Yankees to win the series and start their climb back up the American League East.
For the Red Sox, the pressure is on Pearce and Kinsler.
The 38-year-old Sabathia has been a force against the Sox, particularly over the last two years. He has a 1.95 ERA in 37 innings against them since the start of 2017, and he’s allowed just one home run.
Happ, a trade-deadline acquisition from the Blue Jays, has been similarly successful, with a 1.57 ERA over 34 1/3 innings against the Sox in that time.
But Pearce, acquired in late June from the Jays, and Kinsler, acquired Monday night from the Angels, have rocked lefties all year. And during the duration of their career.
They’ve crushed Sabathia and Happ, combining to hit .320 against them with 11 homers in just 129 at-bats.
As for the remaining active Red Sox players? They’ve hit just .229 with two homers in 320 at-bats.
President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said the Red Sox’s struggles against left-handers led him to make the two acquisitions. And with Xander Bogaerts questionable for the series opener after taking a fastball off the wrist on Tuesday night (X-rays were negative but he was concerned about the way it felt), the Sox may have to turn to yet another left-handed hitter in Brock Holt to handle shortstop.
In this series, each team is throwing two lefties and two righties.
The Red Sox (.808 OPS) rank first and the Yankees fourth (.773 OPS) vs. right-handers. The Yankees rank first (.840 OPS) and the Red Sox 15th (.735) against lefties.
The first game can set the tone, and the Yankees have the advantage with Sabathia going against Brian Johnson, who has been pitching well but is arguably the fourth-best healthy starter the Red Sox have with Chris Sale now on the disabled list.
While the Sox could be without Bogaerts and are missing Rafael Devers (Aroldis Chapman should be relieved), the Yankees are in worse shape. Aaron Judge is still on the disabled list with a broken wrist and Gary Sanchez recently joined him with an injured groin.
They’ve hit .294 since the All-Star break, but they’re relying heavily on rookies Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres, who have just two games of experience at Fenway Park between the two of them.
The Red Sox are hitting just .234 with a .691 OPS since the break. They’ve still won seven of those 11 games, and 19 of their last 24, largely due to their starting pitching, which had a historic run in which they’ve posted a 1.55 ERA in their last 13 games.
Overall this year, Red Sox starters are averaging about an out more than Yankees starters, going 5 2/3 innings on average to the Yankees’ 5 1/3-inning average.
The Yankees have relied on their star-studded bullpen, which is first in the majors with a 2.91 ERA. The Red Sox are sixth with a 3.34 ERA.
This series can change the outlook for the rest of the year. A sweep on either side could be earth-shattering. A split would be just fine for the Red Sox.
Seven of the final 10 games between the two of them will be played at Fenway.