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Wild Card Preview: New York Yankees vs. Boston Red Sox

Another year, another Wild Card game. OK, so last year was a little bit different, but tonight’s Yankees-Red Sox matchup marks the fourth time the Yankees have appeared in this round in the last five years. All of these win-or-go-home games have been a bit much on our collective hearts, wouldn’t you say? Hopefully, all of you were able to rest up and relax on yesterday’s day off. There won’t be much R&R going forward, especially if the Yankees move on, as you know.

As exhausted as the rest of MLB-fandom seems with the Yankees and Red Sox rivalary, it seems only fitting that these two clubs play once more in 2021. The Yankees chased down Boston for much of the summer, finally surpassed them late in the year, only to finish even at 92-70 each. Of course, Boston held the tiebreaker thanks to a 10-9 season series advantage, which results in tonight’s game at Fenway Park.

The Yankees-Red Sox race.

There was no thought of a Wild Card matchup between these two clubs back in June or July. It seemed like Boston was going to run away with the division, or at least, only have to fend off Tampa Bay. Meanwhile, the Yankees sputtered. And to make matters worse, the Red Sox went 7-0 against the Yanks to start the season.

Then, the Yankees turned the narrative upside down in the second half. There were some big swings, namely extended winning and losing streaks, but it summed to just enough to clinch on the last day of the season. A huge, huge help was going 9-3 against the Red Sox to finish the season, including an epic sweep in Boston a week-and-a-half ago.

Tonight’s game gets underway in a little less than eleven hours from now. We’ll have updates between now and then either here or on Twitter. For now, our preview of the Wild Card game comes after the jump:

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Game 95: one step forward, three steps back

How many “it’s not what you wants” can we get in a single season?  Feels like a lot this year.  Of the last three Yankees losses, two of them have featured absolutely soul-crushing WPA charts, tonight included.  The Yankees were one out away from taking an important series opener against the first-place Red Sox, but wound up falling 5-4 in 10 innings.

In 2021, it has seemed like every time the Yankees have gotten some serious momentum going or have run into a bit of a winning streak, they drop a completely winnable game like this and take the air out of everyone’s sails.  Given that the team is still throwing out what amounts to the AAA lineup, a few hard losses might be expected, but this one still hurts.

To the takeaways –

Montgomery solid again. Jordan Montgomery has quietly been really solid this year, even if he doesn’t have much of a record to show for it.  Today, he went 5.2 innings, gave up no runs and only three hits, striking out 6 and lowering his season ERA to 3.96 in a no-decision.  He relied heavily on his curveball, getting 5 of his 6 strikeouts on that pitch, and induced mostly soft contact – the average exit velocity on the Red Sox’ balls in play against Montgomery was only 90.4 mph.

Montgomery mostly cruised through this start; he got himself into a little bit of trouble in the third inning as he loaded the bases on a couple of singles and a walk but got out of it unscathed.  He sat through a 50-minute rain delay in the top of the 5th, and then came out for the bottom of the inning and retired the side in order with two strikeouts.  He showed a lot of poise and resiliency today and is turning into the important piece that the Yankees expected he would be after his stellar rookie year in 2017.  

Once again, he did not get much run support from his team, although the one run the Yankees scored with him on the mound was the first run of support he’s gotten since June 15.

Return of small-ball. The second-half Yankees seem to be trying to rectify some of the frustrations of the first half by being more aggressive in moving on the bases and manufacturing runs.  Better late than never, I suppose.  The Yankees stole two bases today – coming into tonight, the team was second to last in the majors in stolen bases with 26, but 6 have been recorded in the 5 games since the All-Star break (mostly courtesy of Greg Allen, but it seems to be contagious).  The Yankees’ 8th inning was an example of this brand of small ball. After DJ LeMahieu walked to lead off the inning, he stole second; Brett Gardner then worked a 9-pitch walk to put runners on first and second.  Giancarlo Stanton blooped a single to left to score LeMahieu and give the Yankees a 2-1 lead.  Rougned Odor then laid down a textbook sacrifice bunt, setting the stage for Gleyber Torres’ deep sac fly to cap the Yankees’ mini-rally. 

It didn’t wind up being enough, but the concepts of “taking the extra base” and “moving runners” are good things to take away from even the worst ballgames.  Hopefully once the Yankees’ A-lineup returns, they can retain some of the ethic of “making things happen” that seemed to be lacking in the first half.

Otherwise, a quiet offense. The Yankees offense scattered only 4 hits over 10 innings today, and despite improbably turning those 4 hits into runs were only 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position.  Even as the team seems to be improving on base-to-base fundamentals, they still need to get hits when the opportunities arise if they want to make a late-season run.

The bullpen was enough, until it wasn’t.  It’s easy to dunk on Aaron Boone for his bullpen management this year, and his decisions the past few days have garnered their share of eyebrow-raises from me.  However, even as confused as I was when he brought in Sal Romano to make his Yankees’ debut in a 1-0 game in the 6th inning when Montgomery had only thrown 83 pitches, Romano got the job done, throwing two-thirds of a scoreless inning.

Lucas Luetge relieved him in the seventh and gave up the lead, but didn’t do a bad job either – the run was unearned, courtesy of a Tyler Wade error on what should have been an inning-ending double play, and the contact against him was mostly soft and on the ground.  Luis Cessa inherited a 3-1 lead and threw a brilliant eighth, needing only five pitches to retire the side in order.

Chad Green came on in the ninth to try to nail down what looked to be an easy win, but as great as Green has frequently been this year, he was not on his A-game tonight.  After a quick strikeout of Christian Vazquez, he allowed back-to-back singles to Alex Verdugo and Bobby Dalbec.  He got pinch-hitter Kevin Plawecki to line out to left for the second out, but grooved a fastball to Enrique Hernández, who doubled in two runs to tie the game.  He got the third out without allowing another run, but it was definitely a deflating inning.

Brooks was here. It wasn’t good.  Kriske deserves his own mini-recap of shame today, as he came in in the 10th hoping to nail down a belated victory.  The Yankees had a one-run lead courtesy of Manfredball and a Brett Gardner sac fly; however, Kriske opened the inning by throwing two wild pitches to allow Devers, the Red Sox’ ghost runner, to score before you could even get your hopes up.  He then walked Xander Bogaerts and threw two more wild pitches, sending Bogaerts to third.  He briefly rallied to strike out J.D. Martinez, but then gave up a game-ending sacrifice fly to Hunter Renfroe.

The four wild pitches (all thrown before recording an out) were the most ever in a single extra inning (via @StatsbySTATS).

Leftovers:

  • Tonight was Greg Allen’s first hitless game since he was recalled by the Yankees following the All Star break.
  • DJ LeMahieu is 4-for-4 in stolen bases this year and has not been caught stealing since 2019.

Boston Red Sox Season Preview: July 22 to July 25

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The Yankees are riding high as they head into Fenway Park this weekend. With 9 wins in the team’s last 12 games, things are looking up for the Bombers. Winning the division is still a longshot, though a great weekend in Boston could significantly close the gap. A four game sweep, as difficult as that would be to achieve, would bring the Yankees within 3 games of the Red Sox. Hey, we can dream.

As Bobby noted this morning, this series begins an extremely difficult seven game stretch. The Yankees have already handled some tough opponents in the last week or two, but going on the road again will present a big challenge. Hopefully, the Yankees can get some guys back from the COVID-IL before this road trip ends. That would be a huge boost. But for now, the sole focus is on this weekend’s series against their rivals, regardless of who’s available or not.

Boston Red Sox Season Preview: July 15 to July 18

It’s time for the Yankees to sink or swim. The All-Star break is over and the Yankees will be thrown right back into the fire, facing Boston four times in the Bronx through Sunday. It’s as pivotal as a July series gets. If the Yankees still have aspirations to win the division (they’re 8.0 games behind Boston), they need to win this series.

Their Story So Far

We’re pretty familiar with Boston’s story already. They’re 6-0 against the Yankees this year, with the two sides last squaring off at the end of June. The Sox have rode their offense, which has scored the third-most runs in MLB, to a 55-36 record. That’s good for first place in the AL East, of course. That said, they did drop four of six to the Angels and Phillies entering the All-Star break, and Tampa Bay is right on their tail (1.5 games back).

At the very least, the Red Sox will need better pitching to hold off the Rays. Boston’s allowed 4.47 runs per game, which is league-average. That said, their rotation has been the real issue: it’s allowed 4.81 runs per nine innings as a group. Help is on the way, though. Chris Sale could be the staff’s knight in shining armor. He’s about to embark on a rehab assignment as he nears a return from Tommy John surgery.

All told, Boston has exceeded expectations this season. As we noted in our season preview, pitching was supposed to be their downfall. It hasn’t been good, but it certainly hasn’t derailed them to the extent anyone anticipated. In the preseason, PECOTA and FanGraphs had them projected to win 80 and 85 games, respectively. Instead, they’re on a 98-win pace with Sale’s return looming.

Boston Red Sox Series Preview: June 25 to 27

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The Yankees take off to Boston for a quite important three game series against their rivals. The Bombers are riding high after a 7-2 stretch against the Jays, A’s, and Royals that has them at 40-34 and four games back from the division-leading Rays.

Another consecutive series win would start a real push to take this division home. Let’s hope they keep the good times going and finish the series close to the top of the AL East.

Enter the Rivalry!

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