The schedule makers snuck in an early Yankees/Red Sox series, searching for a narrative among teams expected to be sitting at the top of the American League East standings. Instead, the clash is being described as one to determine which club will utilize the series to turn its season around.
The Yankees (6-9) have battled a slew of injuries that leaves almost a complete -- and quality -- ball club on the injured list. Despite the injuries, the Yanks have held the lead in 14 of its 15 games, meaning there is clear underperformance buried in the squad's record.
The Red Sox (6-11), coming off a World Series title, are caught in the often traditional throes of the impact of a long postseason at the outset of a new year. The Sox are mostly healthy, but the club has had a difficult time getting fully on track.
As both teams look to reverse course, which areas can the clubs expect improvement in and which aspects might not get better?
What areas should improve?
The Yankees bullpen, the supposed strength of the club coming into the season, has endured some early problems. The middle relievers have not been as strong as expected. Zack Britton has not looked like a $39 million pitcher and Adam Ottavino is being overworked with Dellin Betances on the injured list.
Despite the early struggles, Chad Green and Jonathan Holder should be able to make adjustments to their games, while Britton, Ottavino and closer Aroldis Chapman are talented enough to carry the back-end of the bullpen until Betances returns. Once this group gets it together, the leads will stop vanishing and wins will follow.
Boston's rotation -- the area that many felt placed the Red Sox ahead of the Yankees when prognosticating in the preseason -- has been in shambles from the outset of the season. The rotation's collective ERA currently stands at 7.18. Chris Sale enters Tuesday's contest with a 9.00 ERA and his fastball velocity has many concerned. Only David Price (3.87 ERA) is remotely keeping the team in games at this stage.
Looking forward, if Sale is not hurt, he'll undoubtedly bounce back. Meanwhile, Nathan Eovaldi (8.40 ERA), Rick Porcello (11.12) and Eduardo Rodriguez (7.98 ERA) are all much better pitchers than what they've produced in just a few starts.
What aspects might not improve?
Let's face it -- the Yankees entered the season with a club that was going to have to deal with its fare share of injuries. All teams deal with injuries, but the Yanks had enough of a track record among its roster to be able to predict multiple occurrences on the injured list would transpire.
The problem is, there are players that were not expected to be hurt (Betances and Giancarlo Stanton for example) and those that have yet to succumb to injury (think Brett Gardner, Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia…again). Further, some of New York's current injuries (Miguel Andujar's shoulder, Aaron Hicks' back and Gary Sanchez's calf) have the chance to be recurring or to prevent the player from performing at 100 percent.
Boston's rotation has received a lot of attention because of the collection of quality pitchers unable to find a rhythm, but the Red Sox bullpen has not pitched all that well, either. The bullpen has a 4.46 ERA and has thrown almost as many innings as the rotation -- meaning a correction might not be in immediate order.
Boston decided to let Craig Kimbrel walk during free agency and touts a less than stellar collection of relievers. The group was seen as their Achilles heel and so far that has played out accordingly. Unfortunately for Boston, there is little to believe the crew will become a strength without making some additions later in the season.
We're not suggesting games in March/April do not count, but there is still plenty of time for a turnaround for both clubs.
The Yankees have yet to truly turn on the offensive firepower and similarly the Red Sox (averaging just 4.35 runs per game, after leading MLB in runs scored in 2018) have failed to find a groove at the plate. When the respective offenses begin to run on all cylinders, hurlers will be provided ample time to work through their issues.
Expecting improvement in the areas above is quite reasonable based on player history and even the aspects we've labeled as more difficult to change could surprisingly become positive facets as the season wears on.
As of now, Boston appears better equipped to turn the season around simply because the roster is more intact than New York's. That said, the Red Sox will eventually take their lumps on the injury front and as the Yankees begin to return players and New York puts its best roster on the field, it has a chance to demonstrate why many selected them to come out on top of the division.
So, while this two-game series might not provide any specific answers, each squad hopes that it can look back on the series as the moment the season reversed course.