The Yankees survived the winner-take-all Wild Card Game, beating the upstart Athletics and setting up the first playoff series against the Red Sox since 2004. You can bet the Yankees would like to send some payback Boston's way for how that one ended. Let's break down the upcoming series...
Yankees regulars vs. Red Sox regulars
The second-best run producers in the majors behind Boston, the Yankees produced overall offensive success against the Red Sox this season, hitting 34 homers (among their MLB- record 267 dingers) in 19 games, while averaging 5.4 runs per game. Six of the Yankees regulars generated OPS marks over .879, with Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Giancarlo Stanton, and Luke Voit all eclipsing 1.000 OPS marks against them.
New York maintains an average overall defense with a strong presence up the middle (Didi Gregorius at shortstop, Gleyber Torres at second base and Aaron Hicks in center field), with Judge in right field. That said, the Yankees have a couple of defensive issues in third baseman Miguel Andujar and catcher Gary Sanchez, both of whom can be average to very good at times, but then perform unevenly.
One year after being criticized for not filling the void left behind by David Ortiz's retirement, the Red Sox signed J.D. Martinez and he was every bit the force they expected. Martinez's .330/.402/.629 slash line with 43 home runs and 130 RBI paced MLB's highest-scoring club. The Red Sox, who scored 6.1 runs per game against the Yankees this season, have another MVP favorite in Mookie Betts (.346/.438/.640 with 32 homers). Andrew Benintendi (.971 OPS in 74 plate appearances this season against New York) will also present an issue for Yankees pitching.
Betts is clearly Boston's best defender, posting a +20 measure in defensive runs saved, with catcher Sandy Leon another stout defender. After that, while the Red Sox do not make a lot of errors, defensive metrics don't rate the team as very strong with the glove.
Yankees pitching staff vs. Red Sox pitching staff
The Yankees wisely used Luis Severino in the Wild Card Game not only because he matched up well against Oakland, but also since it allows J.A. Happ to start Game 1 of the ALDS in Boston. Happ has excellent career numbers against the Red Sox (2.98 ERA in 117.2 innings) and posted a 1.99 ERA in 22.2 innings against them this season with 29 strikeouts. Happ pitching in Game 1 allows him to be ready in relief for Game 4 or to start Game 5.
Masahiro Tanaka, who has not fared as well against the Red Sox this season regardless of the ballpark (7.58 ERA in 19 innings), would seem likely for Game 2 as he's pitched well on the road this season (7-1, 3.47 ERA). We can expect CC Sabathia on the mound in Game 3 and Severino for a potential Game 4 matchup in the Bronx.
The Yankees bullpen is quite deep, reeling off four pitchers with plenty of high-leverage pitching experience. The "super bullpen" has its flaws, but if the foursome of Dellin Betances, Zach Britton, Aroldis Chapman and David Robertson are on their game, New York will be tough to beat.
Boston pitchers held the Yankees in check at Fenway Park this season -- .224/..291/.417 team slash line -- which could be a key to the series as that helped the Red Sox to a 7-3 record against the Yankees in Fenway Park.
The Red Sox rotation has a question mark in Chris Sale, who has been recuperating from a long bout with shoulder inflammation. When Sale has pitched against the Yankees this season, it has been doom for the Bombers. Sale had a 0.69 ERA in 13 innings (two starts) while striking out 19 this season against New York. Boston will shift to David Price (10.34 ERA versus the Yanks this season in 15 2/3 innings) in Game 2 with Rick Porcello (2.31 ERA in 23 1/3 IP against Yanks) taking the hill in Game 3 and Nathan Eovaldi expected to start Game 4.
Where the Red Sox have a strong rotation (if Sale is 100 percent and Price shows up), the bullpen has recently experienced issues getting leads to their closer, Craig Kimbrel. Despite the concerns for a solid bridge to Kimbrel, the Red Sox bullpen had the fourth-best ERA in the American League.
Yankees bench vs. Red Sox bench
The Wild Card Game told us a bit about how the Yankees might navigate the division series with its bench and that's by strengthening its defense late in the game. The Yankees made late-inning defensive replacements for left fielder Andrew McCutchen (Brett Gardner), third baseman Miguel Andujar (Adeny Hechavarria, who made a marvelous play in the Wild Card Game) and first baseman Luke Voit (Neil Walker). The Yankees bench will be rounded out by backup catcher Austin Romine.
The Red Sox might not be as potent at the end of their lineup as the Yankees, but they have the ability to fluctuate its starting nine because of quality roster depth. It is expected that the Red Sox will utilize a shifting of the interchangeable parts in the postseason. The most notable bench option is Steve Pearce, who simply hammers Yankees pitching (5 HR, 14 RBI, 1.152 OPS in 42 plate appearances this season) and owns left-handers, including Happ (6 HR, 16 RBI 1.419 in 40 career PA).
Aaron Boone vs. Alex Cora
The battle of 100-win rookie managers will begin Friday. When the Red Sox chose Alex Cora to lead their club, it sure made it easier for the Yankees to consider tabbing Aaron Boone as their skipper.
Boone's difficulties with bullpen management were already on display in the Wild Card Game when he sent Severino back out for the fifth inning after a laboring fourth frame. Boone was bailed out by Betances, but in the postseason, managers have to be nearly flawless. This is not an attribute seen with Boone this season, especially when navigating the bullpen. That said, his calm demeanor has been a positive in the dugout and clubhouse.
Cora, like Boone, has the confidence of his players. Red Sox players continually compliment their skipper. Outside of Martinez's arrival, Cora could be considered the difference maker for the team that won 108 games this season.
This rivalry once again has juice and plenty of it. With a trip to the ALCS on the line, expect both clubs to grind inning to inning.
Despite losing the AL East by eight games to the Red Sox, the Yankees are finally healthy and a complete unit. There are issues here and there as described above, but this is a 100-win team that is showing a belief in themselves again.
The Yankees' path would be easier with a win in one of the first two games in Boston to put pressure on the Red Sox. This is possible in either Game 1 or Game 2 since Sale is seemingly compromised and Price has been largely ineffective against the Yankees this season.
The team with the timely hits and the best bullpen will eke out a series victory in five games and this time the Yankees will be celebrating on Boston's turf.