Though at opposite ends of the division standings, the Red Sox and Yankees have both seen the momentum shift their way in the past week and will clash at Fenway Park for a three-game set starting Monday.
The Red Sox are 60-70, good for last place in the overachieving AL East. However, since July 24 and their post-All-Star break hangover, they’ve turned in a respectable 18-16 record. And in their last 12, they’ve gone 8-4.
The Sox are fresh off a series win against the first-place Mets, who own the fourth-best team ERA in baseball (3.31). While the lineup couldn’t get it going early in games, the Sox showed resiliency late in taking two games after the sixth inning. In the first game of the series, Matt Harvey held Sox batters scoreless through six, but Boston snagged three runs in the seventh and three in the 10th off the bullpen to earn the 6-4 win. In the second game it took five innings, but the Sox finally figured out Jacob DeGrom when Pablo Sandoval doubled home Mookie Betts. They would tack on two more runs and emerge victorious by a 3-1 score.
“All around we’re playing good baseball,” Joe Kelly said after holding the Mets offense to one run over 7 1/3 innings in Saturday’s squeaker. “Defensively, offensively, guys are making good swings and staying with their approaches and, like I said, top to bottom we’re playing good baseball. It’s fun to watch coming to the ballpark winning more than losing, obviously. We’re not in it right now, but watching the way everyone is playing, it’s pretty fun.”
In 12 meetings this year, the Sox have gone 4-8 against the Yankees. Their most recent encounter left the Red Sox reeling. After getting pounded 13-3 by the Bronx Bombers in the opener of a three-game set at Yankee Stadium on Aug. 4, the Sox turned around a stole a 2-1 victory from their rivals the next day, beating rookie phenom Luis Severino in his major league debut. However, the last game of the series proved the most damaging. With one out in the seventh in a 1-1 deadlock, Jacoby Ellsbury laced a home run down the right-field line off lefty Eduardo Rodriguez. That would be all the offense the Yankees would need as their top-notch bullpen shut down the Sox lineup the rest of the way.
Rodriguez’s mistake might prove to be the difference in the Yankees’ playoff aspirations as they currently sit at 72-57, just 1 1/2 games back of the AL East-leading Blue Jays. Since losing the division lead for the first time on Aug. 12, the Yankees have been in a dogfight for the pennant. They’ve gone 11-6 in their last 17 games, but it hasn’t been enough to keep pace with the surging Blue Jays, although they are comfortably in the lead for a wild card berth.
However, if the Yankees offer more performances like those of this past weekend, it will be near impossible to keep them from making their 18th October appearance in the last 22 years. Facing an above-average Braves rotation, the Bombers’ bats exploded for 38 runs. Most of the damage was done Sunday when they put a 20 on the scoreboard behind a combined eight RBIs from Chase Headley and Stephen Drew. Just two days before, the Yankees had left the Turner Field faithful in a state of shock when they dropped 15 big ones against six Braves pitchers, none of whom lasted three innings.
The Yankees didn’t need to demolish the Braves in three games to prove they have one of the best lineups in baseball. Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira have seen career rejuvenations in 2015 as they’ve combined for 57 home runs and 148 RBIs. Fellow veterans Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran have helped protect Rodriguez and the Teixeira in the order, as they maintain OPS totals over .800 as well.
As the Yankees prepare to make a run for the postseason, they can rest a little easier knowing they have guys in the lineup who have been there before.
“It was a good series for us,” Rodriguez after the Yanks’ 20-6 win Sunday. “It was great to see the guys 1-9, 1-12 swing the bats extremely well. It’s been a while since we swung the bats like this, so hopefully it sets the tone for September.”
Here are the pitching matchups for the series:
Monday: Eduardo Rodriguez (7-5, 4.39 ERA) vs. Ivan Nova (5-6, 4.50 ERA)
Tuesday: Rick Porcello (6-11, 5.47 ERA) vs. Michael Pineda (9-8, 4.19 ERA)
Wednesday: Henry Owens (2-1, 4.03 ERA) vs. Masahiro Tanaka (10-6, 3.62 ERA)
WHO’S HOT: RED SOX
— Blake Swihart finally is showing the pop in his bat that made him one of the Red Sox’ top prospects heading into the 2015 season. The switch-hitting catcher is 16-for-31 in his last nine games with 12 runs and eight RBIs during that span in addition to a game-winning inside-the-park home run.
— Another rookie swinging a hot stick is outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. He remained locked in Sunday when he pounded a pinch-hit run-scoring double. He has slashed .386/.435/.877 since Aug. 9.
— Rookie southpaw Eduardo Rodriguez has pieced together two consecutive quality starts, notching the win against the Indians on Aug. 18 when he held them to one run over eight innings and receiving the tough-luck no-decision last Sunday against the Royals after a six-inning, two-earned-run effort. Rodriguez’s ERA in these last two starts is a stellar 1.93.
WHO’S HOT: YANKEES
— Carlos Beltran has had one of the hottest bats in the AL since the end of July, slashing .358/.438/.667 with 15 RBIs and 16 runs in 25 games. His bat only grew stronger during the Yankees’ weekend series with the Braves as he went 6-for-12 with four runs scored.
— Long known for his defense at shortstop, Didi Gregorius has begun to swing his bat with more authority of late. Against the Braves he logged seven hits, eight RBIs and three runs scored. His breakout came on Friday when he turned in a 4-for-5 with a homer and six RBIs.
— Pitching with a partially torn UCL in his elbow, Masahiro Tanaka has still managed to be one of the Yankees’ most reliable starters late into the campaign. During the month of August he’s gone 3-2 with a 3.18 ERA and a .205/.242/.385 opponents’ slash line. The highlight came Aug. 15 against the Blue Jays when he tossed a complete-game five-hitter against baseball’s best offense.
WHO’S NOT: RED SOX
— In an All-Star campaign, Brock Holt has seen mostly ups, but he’s had some downs as well, this past weekend being one of them. Holt went 2-for-12 against the Mets with four strikeouts and no walks. The second half of the season hasn’t been kind to him in general as he’s slugged just .347 since the All-Star break with 22 strikeouts in 29 starts.
— After picking up a hit in eight contests leading up to the Mets series, Pablo Sandoval reverted over the weekend. He picked up just one hit in three games and whiffed three times, lowering his slugging percentage to .384 for the season.
— Junichi Tazawa’s late-season collapse continued Friday when he walked four batters and gave up a run in just two-thirds of an inning of work. He got the hold, but this appearance marks the fifth time in his last 10 games that he’s been credited with at least one run.
WHO’S NOT: YANKEES
— With a .192 batting average, Stephen Drew has been one of the worst position players in baseball this season. And lately it’s only gotten worse for the former Red Sox infielder. He’s in the midst of a 14-for-74 slump with 17 whiffs in his last 70 plate appearances, although he did have four RBIs in Sunday’s rout of the Braves.
— Brett Gardner, a 2015 All-Star, has seen his average drop 31 points during this second half. In his last seven games he is batting .148 with one RBI and seven strikeouts.
— Michael Pineda made his return from injury last Wednesday to little success. The hulking right-hander lasted just 4 1/3 innings, allowing six hits and five runs in a 6-2 loss to the Astros.