Meet the new rivalry, not quite the same as the old rivalry.
There have been years where it felt as if the Red Sox and Yankees operated in a separate realm from other teams in their division and many of the teams in the league. But as the longtime antagonists ready for this weekend, the gap between them and nearly every other team in the league (save for one, the Astros) has rarely felt so extreme.
With the conclusion of their sweep over the Angels on Thursday, the Red Sox possess an astounding 55-27 record, a .671 winning percentage that ranks as the third highest in franchise history through 82 games. The Yankees own a 52-26 mark, good for a .667 winning percentage that is their best through 78 games since their remarkable 1998 season.
The last time both teams had at least 50 wins through the first 82 games of the season was 2002; the last time they both had at least 52 was 1939. As Tara Sullivan writes, the two teams are as evenly matched as elite teams can be – a notion that holds true across numerous facets of the game.
Offensively, both teams possess tremendous firepower, ranking first and third in the majors in run scoring (the Red Sox are ahead) and homers (the Yankees have the edge). New York’s lineup has proven somewhat more inconsistent while seeing a heavy diet of three true outcomes (homers, walks, and strikeouts).
(MLB ranks in parentheses)
With holes to exploit, teams have been finding an increasing number of ways to limit New York’s offense, as their runs per game have declined from 5.9 in March/April to 5.4 in May to just under 4.0 in June. Still, even with New York getting black-hole production at first base, the immediate impact of rookies Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar have given the Yankees top-to-bottom power threats across the lineup that create tremendous stress for opposing staffs, particularly given that Giancarlo Stanton has moved beyond his slow start. He’s hit .306/.372/.603 with eight homers in June.
The Red Sox have managed to combine their power with high averages and one of the lowest strikeout rates in the game, while Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez have been little short of extraordinary throughout the season. That combination of traits has allowed the Red Sox to achieve greater month-to-month consistency than New York’s lineup, with the only real dip coming during and immediately after Betts’ DL stint.
With Betts returning to form and the bottom of the order (Jackie Bradley Jr. and the catchers) starting to produce in recent days, the Sox have scored at least nine runs in five of their last 10 games. The Yankees haven’t scored as many as nine runs in their last 31 contests.
|Strikeouts per 9 innings
Surprisingly, the one area in which the Red Sox might have anticipated the clearest edge – the rotation – has instead proven as closely matched as the teams’ lineups. While Chris Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello, and Eduardo Rodriguez have given the Red Sox something between steady quality and (particularly in the case of Sale) sheer dominance, the Yankees have enjoyed an overpowering performance from Luis Severino, and a singular ability to miss barrels by CC Sabathia. Sonny Gray has alternated dazzling outings with mediocre ones, with New York’s 7-8 record in his outings creating the perception of a need for the team to add a front-of-the-rotation starter. That said, the unexpectedly effective patchwork back-of-the-rotation (Domingo German and Jonathan Loaisiga) has allowed New York’s starters to perform as the statistical peer of the Red Sox.
Perhaps the most dramatic gap between the clubs comes in the form of their bullpens. With Dellin Betances re-emerging as an elite setup man to join Chad Green in front of overwhelming closer Aroldis Chapman, the Yankees once again feature a group that may shatter bullpen strikeout records.
While the Red Sox relievers are not as unhittable as New York’s, resulting in the view of a need for an upgrade (whether it comes from a return by Tyler Thornburg or, more likely, a trade deadline move), the Sox bullpen has proven effective at turning leads into wins. The Red Sox actually have one fewer blown save (7) than the Yankees (8), a testament to a group that strikes out plenty of batters and that has excelled at keeping the ball in the park – a trait that makes it exceedingly difficult to sustain late-innings rallies. Thus, while the Yankees have a clear advantage in their late-innings inventory, the gap is probably smaller than the perception of it.
In short, both teams are elite in nearly every facet of the game, a fact that has created enormous anticipation about the forthcoming three days in Yankee Stadium. No, this isn’t 1978, when the down-to-the-wire division race created a win-or-go-home scenario in Game No. 163. But with the division runner-up in line to face such a situation in the wild-card game, this series feels like a heavyweight matchup of unusual consequence, a midyear checkpoint worthy of the dissection it will receive.