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:

When/Where to Watch/Listen

  • Time: 8:08pm ET
  • TV: ESPN (regular broadcast) and ESPN2 (Statcast broadcast)
  • Radio: WFAN, WADO, ESPN

Storylines

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After a rough September, how will Gerrit Cole pitch? Cole tossed a gem on September 1st against the Angels, but fell off a cliff thereafter. In his final five starts of the year, the staff ace recorded a 6.15 ERA in 26.1 innings pitched. That’s far from ace-like, of course, though he did pitch well in a Friday night victory at Fenway during the September sweep.

There is some lingering concern about the hamstring problem that curtailed his September 7th start against Toronto. It very well could explain his poor finish to the regular season. And no, it’s not the sticky stuff. His July and August made it clear that he didn’t need it to dominate.

Aaron Boone needs to be aggressive with the bullpen. Even if Cole pitches well, the skipper shouldn’t be shy about yanking his starter before the first sign of trouble. Key word: before. Don’t mess around trying to steal outs or go batter-to-batter. I know Cole is the ace and has earned some leeway, but it’s important to keep in mind that he may be compromised because of the aforementioned hammy.

The Yankees bullpen is elite. Jonathan Loáisiga, Chad Green, Clay Holmes, Wandy Peralta, et. al. can bridge the gap between Cole and Aroldis Chapman, who finished the season strong.

Nasty Nate no more? If it weren’t for his most recent performance against the Yankees, I think a good chunk of us would be very concerned about the idea of going up against Nathan Eovaldi this evening. Since leaving New York, Eovaldi has had the Bombers’ number. At least, until his most recent affair. The Yankees tagged him for seven runs in 2.2 innings in Boston.

Eovaldi had a 2.25 ERA (3.04 FIP) against the Yankees in five games and 31.1 innings this season before that outing. I know the Yankees’ offense wasn’t very good this season, but that’s a pretty incredible performance considering how many looks the Yanks had against Eovaldi. I guess the sixth time was a charm. More of what we saw last time tonight, please.

The Yankees need big performances from Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. The offense sputtered over the weekend against the Rays, but if there are any two guys who can get things back on track, it’s Judge and Stanton. They effectively were a two-man wrecking crew over the last two weeks of the regular season.

Believe it or not, Judge (149 OPS+) and Stanton (136 OPS+) were the only qualified regulars with a better than average OPS+ on this year’s Yankees. Granted, there were guys who didn’t meet PA qualifications with the Yankees (i.e. Anthony Rizzo, 110), but the point is: the offense goes as these two sluggers go.

Yes, Gleyber Torres is hitting much better since August, Joey Gallo should be better than what he’s done, and Rizzo’s there too. I suppose anything can happen in one game, but if neither Judge nor Stanton contribute tomorrow, the Red Sox should be sitting pretty.

Will Gio Urshela play? If not, the Yankees will be in a precarious position without Urshela at shortstop. They’re already one infielder down (DJ LeMahieu), and losing Urshela would force two of Tyler Wade, Rougned Odor, and Andrew Velazquez into the starting line. That’s far from ideal.

Fortunately, all indications are that Urshela will play tonight. Aaron Boone noted his confidence in Gio pulling through in his press conference yesterday.

Postseason matchup rubber game, and a chance for revenge. The Yanks and Sox have met four times in the playoffs (1999, 2003, 2004, and 2018), and the two sides have split them down the middle. It sure would be nice for the Yankees to get back in the win column after dropping the last two postseason meetings. In any case, brace yourselves for video montages of the ’04 collapse on tomorrow night’s broadcast. I can deal with that as long as the Yankees pull this one out.

Injury Report

Here are the players unavailable for tonight’s action on both sides:

New York Yankees

  • DJ LeMahieu, INF
  • Luke Voit, 1B
  • Clint Frazier, OF
  • Aaron Hicks, OF
  • Tim Locastro, OF
  • Zack Britton, LHP
  • Darren O’Day, RHP

Boston Red Sox

  • Yairo Muñoz, UTIL
  • Danny Santana, OF
  • Josh Taylor, LHP
  • Phillips Valdez, RHP
  • JD Martinez, DH

The big news here: Boston left JDM off its roster for tonight’s game after tweaking his ankle over the weekend. There were rumblings about his availability since yesterday, and now, he’s officially out. That’s a big blow for their lineup, though the Yankees are quite shorthanded too.

Projected Lineups

New York Yankees

  1. Gleyber Torres, 2B
  2. Anthony Rizzo, 1B
  3. Aaron Judge, RF
  4. Giancarlo Stanton, DH
  5. Joey Gallo, LF
  6. Gio Urshela, SS
  7. Brett Gardner, CF
  8. Kyle Higashioka, C
  9. Rougned Odor, 3B

This order looks much, much different than it did on Opening Day. Injuries, trades, and position changes re-invented the Yanks’ one-through-nine throughout the year. And although it finished as a perfectly average lineup (100 OPS+), the talent at the top is undeniable. It’s the bottom third where things can get really ugly, especially if Urshela turns out to be a no go.

As noted earlier, Judge and Stanton will have to carry the load over an extended postseason run, although any one player could be the hero tonight. Still, it would be awfully fun to see Stanton mash another backbreaking homer onto Lansdowne Street.

Boston Red Sox

  1. Kiké Hernández, CF
  2. Kyle Schwarber, DH
  3. Xander Bogaerts, SS
  4. Rafael Devers, 3B
  5. Hunter Renfroe, RF
  6. Alex Verdugo, LF
  7. Bobby Dalbec, 1B
  8. Christian Vázquez, C
  9. Christian Arroyo, 2B

Boston’s 104 OPS+ doesn’t seem much better than their opponent, but they did score 5.1 runs per game, well north of the league’s 4.5 mark (the Yankees scored 4.4). Schwarber is the only real new face here since the season began. It’s a potent lineup, but also one that the Yankees stifled for nine runs in three games just over a week ago. Not having Martinez at DH hurts too.

The Sox have no shortage of regulars with OPS+ marks north of 100. Eight qualified players, including the injured JD Martinez, have met or exceeded that mark. Those eight don’t include Schwarber, who posted a 154 OPS+ post-trade.

Pitching Matchup

RHP Gerrit Cole

Even after a stumble to the finish, Cole will be the AL Cy Young runner up to Robbie Ray, if not the outright winner of the award. Cole posted a 3.23 ERA and 2.92 FIP in 181.1 innings (30 starts).

Boston has given him some trouble this year, though. Cole has a 4.91 ERA in 22 innings (4 starts) against the Sox. He threw 6 innings and allowed 3 runs at Fenway just over a week ago.

Red Sox hitters have career a .706 OPS against Cole, a bit above Cole’s .639 mark this season. They’ve also taken him deep 10 times in 213 plate appearances; three of those hit by Rafael Devers. Kiké Hernández has also gotten the best of Cole (1.481 OPS in 14 PA).

RHP Nathan Eovaldi

Chris Sale would have gotten the ball had he not needed to start on Sunday with the team’s season on the line, but Eovaldi is no slouch. He should receive some down-ballot Cy Young votes.

The righty’s underlying numbers are terrific, although severely underperformed his FIP (2.79) with a 3.75 ERA in 182.1 innings (33 starts) this season.

As discussed, Eovaldi has had the Yankees number up until his most recent matchup against New York. So perhaps to no surprise, the Yankees have a lifetime .664 OPS against him. Anthony Rizzo (1.444 OPS in 9 PA) and Aaron Judge (1.079 OPS in 21 PA) have hit him well, though.

Eovaldi.

Bullpen Status

New York Yankees

  • LHP Aroldis Chapman
  • RHP Jonathan Loáisiga
  • RHP Chad Green
  • LHP Wandy Peralta
  • RHP Clay Holmes
  • RHP Michael King
  • RHP Luis Severino
  • LHP Joely Rodríguez
  • RHP Domingo Germán
  • LHP Nestor Cortes
  • LHP Lucas Luetge

Here’s where the Yankees have a massive advantage over the Red Sox. This group is comfortably a top-five bullpen in the majors by the numbers, though the late additions of Severino and King have added another dimension that the group lacked until September, perhaps vaulting them to the very top.

Boston Red Sox

  • RHP Matt Barnes
  • RHP Ryan Brasier
  • LHP Austin Davis
  • RHP Tanner Houck
  • RHP Adam Ottavino
  • RHP Nick Pivetta
  • RHP Garrett Richards
  • RHP Hansel Robles
  • LHP Eduardo Rodríguez
  • LHP Josh Taylor
  • RHP Garrett Whitlock

Boston just got Whitlock off the IL, which is a boon to their ‘pen. However, this is a group that’s really struggled over the second half. Its 0.29 WPA and 4.49 ERA are both 21st in the majors during that span. The full season numbers are better, but this isn’t a bullpen that should inspire confidence in Boston.

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14 Comments

  1. Anthony Rizzeddardo

    Lineup is out. Rizzo leading off and Squid playing SS. Gleyber 5th.

  2. dasit

    if cole gets pulled in the 3rd or 4th boone better not go to german as a “bridge” to the late innings. loaisiga or severino immediately

    also, back in march i picked greg allen as the player most likely to make an unexpected contribution (in case he does something tonight)

  3. Anthony Rizzeddardo

    Greg Allen is on the roster! That changes everything. Let’s just hope Boone can get him into the game somehow. Rob Brantly on the roster along with Nestor.

  4. Jim Goodwin

    So Kike Hernandez is eligible for this game but not the “post season”?

    • Anthony Rizzeddardo

      I think it’s Jose Iglesias that is ineligible for the postseason

  5. JG (Brendan Ryan)

    We Got This. Cole will step up and the big boys and pen will carry us home.

    I would prefer Cortes or Monty over German fwiw. Can’t really trust German right now and those guys could at least be matched against lefties for a short spurt.

  6. Anthony Rizzeddardo

    I’m very worried about this ballgame, Derek. This is a streaky club that was hot last week but is now going through another cold streak. When Judge and Stanton don’t hit nobody does. A broken Sale woulda been a better matchup for the RH heavy lineup. They got to Eovaldi last time which means the law of averages says they won’t this time. 6 ERA Cole doesn’t scare anybody. He has to find a way to hide the spider tack even if he has to put it down his pants or on the inside of his cheeks like a squirrel.

    Gio Urshela must play even if it’s in a wheelchair he can still hit better than Wade and field better than Gleyber at short. I was disappointed DJ couldn’t gut through an upset stomach but I think I’d rather have the clutch Odor in the lineup. He won the ballgame vs Tampa that sent us to the WC game. I’d lead off with Brett Gardner and not Gleyber. Gardy works counts and sees a lot of pitches and can give pitchers fits in these big games. Gleyber would be better in the 5 hole protecting Stanton. I worry they’re going to pitch around Stanton after what he did to them last week. They’ll pitch to Gallo and strike him out.

    The pen is a strength if it’s deployed correctly and Boone never uses it until it’s too late. That’s another problem with Cole starting this game is Boone defers to his “ace.” He needs to get 3-4 innings from Cole, have a quick hook and then you go to Sevy, Holmes, Loisaga, Green, Chappy to close it out. I wouldn’t use with any other reliever unless you have to. And if one reliever is dealing leave him in and don’t play the matchup game with lesser relievers. You want your best.

    We have a good chance to win but ultimately I think Cole gives up 4-5 runs before Boone takes him out and the lineup does nothing vs Eovaldi. And when Boone finally does take Cole out of the game he brings in German to face the heart of the Boston lineup. Boone gets outmanaged again by Cora, the Sox win 7-2 and then go on to win their 5th world series of the century to the Yankees 1.

  7. David

    Cora said Plawecki is starting at C. Also, their bullpen is trash on paper, but I could see them using Sale in relief. It’s important for the Yankees to get the lead early (obvious point is obvious).

  8. Am I crazy for preferring Velazquez in the lineup at short with Gio at third as opposed to Gio at short and Odor at third? I like Velazquez’s speed and energy and defense.. Give us the best defense possible. Do we like Odor for his possible ability to run into one and put it out? Maybe its a wash? Idk, I could be convinced either way. I just remember that winning streak was highlighted with the team running circles around the basepath with Velazquez at the center of it.

    • Anthony Rizzeddardo

      Not crazy at all, billy. I’ve been saying Velazquez should be starting for months and I’m the sanest person I know. I don’t mind Odor being in the lineup just because he does have that clutch bat. I’d maybe just put in the squid for defense if we get a lead. You could even DH Gio if he can’t move and put Stanton in LF but then you lose Gardy’s clutch bat. With Higgy in the lineup I think we need all the firepower we can get so Odor is the best guy to start tonight.

    • JG (Brendan Ryan)

      I think you might be right. Odor has a better shot to launch one out or have a big offensive game than Velazquez but he’s not an appreciable offensive upgrade, whereas Velazquez-Gio alignment would be a big defensive upgrade from Odor-Gio one.

    • DZB

      I think this could make sense mostly because Odor is not good, not because Velazquez is really that much of a positive. This comes down to preferring to see Gio at 3B and Velazquez at SS over Odor at 3B. He does not have the arm strength to reliably beat runners to first and his offence has been a blackhole.

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