NEW YORK — The ability to beat winning teams — important or meaningless?
After all, the only time it really matters is in the playoffs, right?
Well . . . maybe.
Let’s trot out these records of the American League’s Big Three. Following their 11-0 victory over the Yankees on Saturday night, the Red Sox are 20-14 against teams with winning records. The Yankees are 26-11 and the Astros 25-16.
The Yankees are 4-4 against the Red Sox. They’re 3-0 vs. the Indians, 5-2 against the Astros, 5-1 against the Angels, 2-1 against the A’s, 2-1 against the Phillies, 2-2 against the Nationals, and 3-0 against the Mariners. The Red Sox are 2-1 vs. the Braves, 2-2 vs. the Astros, 6-0 vs. the Angels, 2-4 against the A’s, and 4-3 against the Mariners. The Astros are 4-3 vs. the Indians, 3-3 vs. the Angels, 8-1 against the A’s, 4-2 vs. the Mariners, and 2-0 against the Giants.
The Red Sox and Yankees both have winning records against the Mariners, a team they would likely face if they are unfortunate enough to have to play in the wild-card game, though the Yankees have not lost to them. The Yankees are in good position against the Astros, while the Red Sox have split their games against the Astros with a three-game September series to play at Fenway.
Obviously, these trends can change. The Yankees, for instance host the Braves on Monday. The Yankees still have tough series ahead with the A’s, Indians, and Mariners. It’s all about facing each team at the right or wrong time depending on who’s hot and who’s not.
The Yankees have played good teams tough, while the Red Sox have a winning record against good teams, but not nearly as good as the Yankees and not as good as the Astros.
Does this mean the Red Sox will have a tougher time beating playoff teams when the time comes?
“I think we’re a good team and our team is confident we can beat anyone,” said Yankees manager Aaron Boone. “We go into every series feeling we can take the series. I’m sure the Red Sox feel that way. I’m sure the Astros feel that way. These are great teams with great talent.”
Teams with winning records obviously have the best pitchers and positional players. The fact the Yankees are 5-2 against the elite Astros’ rotation speaks volumes. The Yankees split with Justin Verlander and Charlie Morton and beat Dallas Keuchel twice and Lance McCullers Jr. once. The Yankees have done it while hitting only .232 with five homers in those five games.
If the Yankees have to face the Mariners in the wild-card game, they have already beaten Seattle ace James Paxton and Felix Hernandez. The Red Sox, in their seven games against the M’s, ripped Paxton (six runs in 2⅓ innings) and beat King Felix. The Mariners, given their leads over the A’s and Angels, could have the ability to set up their rotation and they would likely tab Paxton as their sudden-death playoff starter.
The Yankees’ 5-2 record against the Astros is impressive, and so is the Astros’ 8-1 mark against the A’s, who are as tough a team as the Red Sox have faced this season. Like the Red Sox, the Yankees also dominated the Angels. The Yankees do not have a losing record against any top team. The worst they’ve done is split with the Nationals (2-2) and Red Sox. The Red Sox have a losing record against the A’s and are .500 against the Yankees and Astros.
Does it mean that your team gets more motivated against good teams? Does it mean there’s extra adrenaline going to beat Team X and Team Y? Are the teams that don’t perform as well against good teams simply not getting that extra adrenaline rush?
The Red Sox have won 56 games. They are an elite team. They have beaten up the doormats as they should. They have very few holes. Sure, they could use another reliever. In a perfect world they would add another top starter with Steven Wright’s knee acting up and Drew Pomeranz still working his way back. But a team never solves every need.
The Astros know they need another reliever and perhaps another power bat, preferably at first base. They have been scouting Reds closer Raisel Iglesias among others and have had their eye on White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu.
The Yankees need a starter and they seem to be aiming as high as possible. They wouldn’t give up Gleyber Torres when they were trying to acquire Gerrit Cole from Pittsburgh last offseason, and they won’t deal him this time. But they have other good young players they’d give up, such as third baseman Miguel Andujar (knowing they have Brandon Drury), outfielder Clint Frazier, lefty Justus Sheffield, and righty Chance Adams, whom they could package as they seek Detroit’s Michael Fulmer, the Mets’ Jacob deGrom or Noah Syndergaard, or even Tampa Bay’s Blake Snell. They easily have enough to obtain the Rangers’ Cole Hamels or the Blue Jays’ J.A. Happ.
The Yankees will get someone and they’ll be an even deeper team than they are now.
The Red Sox have added their Hanley Ramirez replacement in Steve Pearce. They could use a veteran reliever to stabilize the seventh and eighth innings as Joe Kelly has hit a rough patch. The preference would be a lefty. Baltimore’s Zach Britton would be ideal if he were pitching well, but he’s not. One positive from the Red Sox’ perspective would be that the Orioles now can’t demand the package they would have received had Britton been more effective.
Adding significant players can affect how these teams perform, especially against good teams in August, September, and beyond. Yes, it’s important to have the confidence to know you can beat anyone, at any time. It’s important now, but it means most when September turns into October, when the stakes are highest. When it really counts.