By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Red Sox are off to an impressive (and historic) start to the 2018 season. It’s are about to get a little bit tougher.
Boston is 8-1 and sitting on top of the baseball world thanks to some outstanding starting pitching, stellar defense and some occasionally timely hitting. It doesn’t get much more timely than erasing a 7-2 deficit with six runs in the bottom of the eighth inning — with two outs, mind you — as the Red Sox did Sunday afternoon against the Rays. It was their second comeback win in three games, giving the team loads of confidence in a season that isn’t even two weeks old yet.
But those eight wins, as impressive as some were, came against the Tampa Bay Rays and Miami Marlins. The Red Sox deserve credit, but it’s fair to reserve judgement until they play someone other than glorified minor league teams.
Enter the New York Yankees, who invade Fenway Park for a three-game series on Tuesday night. The rivalry got a little jolt last year as both teams made the playoffs, and it has potential to reach those good ole times thanks to New York’s offseason trade for Giancarlo Stanton. Even if they are only 5-5 on the season, Boston’s biggest rival poses their biggest challenge of the season. How New York’s gluttonous lineup matches up against Boston’s All-Star rotation (with the Red Sox’ top three starters all getting a nod in the series) gives this early-season clash much more meaning, and three days in April could have more of an October feel to them. They’re the first of 19 head-to-head matchups between the division rivals and there is a long, long, long (long, long, long, long) ways to go until we can even start thinking about the playoffs, but these three matchups could determine who sits atop the American League East (and possibly the AL) when the fall does roll around.
Here’s what we’ll be watching for when the Red Sox and Yankees play each other for the first time in 2018:
These are dandies, even if we don’t know for sure who will toe the rubber for New York in the series finale on Thursday after CC Sabathia was placed on the DL with a hip injury over the weekend (Sonny Gray is the likeliest of candidates).
Tuesday: Chris Sale (0-0, 0.82 ERA) vs. Luis Serevino (2-0, 1.38 ERA)
Wednesday: David Price (1-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. Mashiro Tanaka (1-1. 2.92 ERA)
Thursday: Rick Porcello (2-0, 2.84 ERA) vs. TBA
Sale is still looking for his first win over the Yankees in a Red Sox uniform after going 0-3 with a 2.65 ERA in five starts last season. He’s also looking for his first win of the season. Sale has pitched just 11 innings (with pitch counts of 92 and 93), but after getting an extra day off the line him up with this series, expect Alex Cora to let Sale go a little deeper if necessary. He’s has never faced Stanton, but Sale has a great track record against Aaron Judge (0-for-12, 10 K’s) and Gary Sanchez (3-for-17, 7 K’s).
Price looks to continue his stellar to start to the season and keep twirling zeros, but the Yankees have been a thorn in his side since he joined the Red Sox. In seven games (all starts), Price is 2-4 with a 6.52 ERA, allowing seven homers. Sanchez has crushed Price during his career, going 5-for-11 at the plate with four of those hits finding the stands.
Porcello started his Boston career by going 3-2 against the Yankees in his first two years with the Sox. But he went just 1-3 against them last season, allowing five homers in his four starts. He hasn’t given up a home run yet this season, and it would be best if he keeps that going against the New York lineup.
Whose Pen Is Mightier?
Sticking with pitching, both teams have flamethrowers coming in for the ninth inning. But getting to them has been a bit of an issue.
The Boston bullpen has blown both games for Sale, first Joe Kelly and Carson Smith on Opening Day followed by Matt Barnes last week in Miami. Smith has been a nightmare in his bid to claim that eighth inning role, sporting a robust 2.45 WHIP in five appearances (3.2 innings). He earned the win after the Boston offense erupted in Sunday’s eighth inning, but after starting his inning with two quick outs, he promptly gave up a walk, single and another walk before striking out Daniel Robertson. It’s not in his best interest to put the Yankees in such situations.
The Yankees bullpen has been worse and currently touts a 4.89 ERA — good for 13th in the American League (the Red Sox own a 4.24 ERA for 11th in the AL). New York relievers have also had to work a lot more over the last few days, with the Yankees going to extra innings twice against the Orioles over the weekend. To make matters worse for New York’s pen, their starters failed to make it out of the fifth inning in both of those games.
At least for New York, their late-inning aces David Robertson and Dellin Betances have been solid as of late. Betances struggled in his two March appearances, allowing three earned in three innings, but hasn’t allowed a runner to reach second in his last three appearances. Robertson’s numbers are tarnished after allowing four runs in 1.1 innings in a loss in Toronto, but he’s been perfect in his 5.1 innings otherwise.
With these lineups, it’s doubtful either team’s starters go eight and require no bridge to either Craig Kimbrel or Aroldis Chapman. So get ready for some dramatic (and long) late innings, much like the old days when the Red Sox and Yankees meet up.
The Red Sox-Yankees rivalry was put into hyper-drive this offseason when New York landed Giancarlo Stanton. But after clubbing a pair of dingers in his Yankees debut, Stanton has been a major disappointment in pinstripes.
He’s hitting just .167 in his first 10 games, leading the majors with 20 strikeouts. He struck out five times on Sunday, the second time he’s done that this season. The Orioles even pitched around Judge to get to Stanton over the weekend. Wild times.
But nothing will get Yankee fans to stop booing like a series win over the Red Sox, even if it is only April. And if Stanton can get going this week, imagine what he could do to the Boston bullpen.
Red Sox fans are loving Stanton’s struggles, though J.D. Martinez is hitting just .226 with a homer and four RBIs in his eight games. Maybe one of the big offseason acquisitions will break out over the next three games.
Who Steps Up For Xander?
The Red Sox lost their most productive offensive player on Monday, with Xander Bogaerts landing on the disabled list with a small fracture in his ankle.
It’s a huge blow to Bogaerts, who was off to a spectacular start, and leaves a giant void in the Boston lineup. The shortstop is leading the team in just about every offensive category, and now someone else is going to have to pick up that slack. It puts more pressure on Mookie Betts and Hanley Ramirez to keep producing, and Martinez and Andrew Benintendi (hitting just .161 with one extra-base hit) to bust out of their slumps.