BOSTON (CBS) — In the topsy-turvy world of the 2017 Red Sox, this is how it goes: win six in a row, then lose 4-of-6. Win six in a row, then lose 6-of-8. Now the Sox have won eight in a row entering this weekend’s series in New York, against the Yankees, over whom the Red Sox possess a 4 1/2-game lead in the American League East, four in the loss column.
The math suggests this series is far more important to the Yankees.
But there is so much more to it than that.
Oh, make no mistake: if the Red Sox win at least 2-of-3 this weekend in New York, the Red Sox will do serious damage to New York’s hopes of winning the division this year. Boston will be a minimum of five up in the division with essentially 45 games to play, including zero games with the Yankees after Labor Day. If the Yankees are going to catch the Red Sox, they had better do it now, in the next three weeks, or Yankees manager Joe Girardi can start setting up his rotation for the wildcard play-in game. (More on this in a moment.)
From the Red Sox’ perspective, here is the problem: the Yankees have essentially owned them this year. New York is 6-3 against the Red Sox, with two of the series have been played in Boston. The Yankees are 32-20 at home this year and, in the only series between the teams this season at Yankee Stadium, New York took 2-of-3 by the combined score of 21-6.
So fine. That’s one series. Here’s the bigger problem: the Red Sox really haven’t hit at all against the Yankees this year. Here the averages of the other 14 AL teams against the Yankees this year, courtesy of ESPN.com:
Here’s the simple math: in nine games, the Red Sox have scored a total of 16 runs (including five in one game) and batted a measly .172. The Red Sox have 74 strikeouts and just 52 hits.
The individual breakdown of Sox batters is worse. First, while Mookie Betts has 10 hits and .263 average, eight of the hits have been singles. Second, look at how New York has handled the left-handed hitters in Boston’s lineup, specifically Andrew Benintendi (.161), Mitch Moreland (.136) and Jackie Bradley (.121 with 13 strikeouts). Left-handed batters are typically critical when it comes to winning games in New York, which is why the Red Sox hgave the Yankees fits during the David Ortiz years.
The variable this time: Rafael Devers, whom the Sox have added to their roster since the last time the teams played. Certainly, Benintendi is swinging a better bat now, too.
Obviously a great deal has changed since the Red Sox and Yankees last met. New York has made significant changes, fortifying an already-deep bullpen and adding starters Jaime Garcia and Sonny Gray, the latter of whom pitched last night and will miss this weekend’s series. (Garcia will go Friday night.) Offensively, the Yankees have gone stone-cold since the All-Star break, and Aaron Judge has struck out at least once in every game for about a month. Further, the Red Sox have done an excellent job on Judge, who is batting .194 with 14 strikeouts against Boston this year.
In terms of momentum, everything in this series points to Boston. Everything. The Red Sox are playing better. The Yankees aren’t hitting. Boston has its pitching lined up. As of Thursday, the Yankees had yet to name a starter for Sunday. (Jordan Montgomery has since been named to face Chris Sale.)
Now back to that AL wildcard race, which is really the only thing the Yankees have going for them at the moment. Given the sludge that lives in the AL, the Yankees look like a lock for one of the two wildcard spots. New York’s bullpen depth makes it a scary opponent in the playoffs. As recently as 2014, both World Series participants came from the play-in game.
Obviously, the Yankees need to get their act together. General manager Brian Cashman didn’t invest in the team before the July 31 deadline for the Yankees to go belly-up. New York feels like it is fading from the division race at the moment, and the rolling Red Sox have a chance to step on the Yankees’ collective throats this weekend.
Which is why, if you’re Boston, Monday morning will provide a striking image. The Yankees will either be on their backs as the Red Sox march methodically forward. Or Boston will making even the slightest glance over its shoulder, peeking to see how much the Yankees have gained on them.