It’s everyone’s worst nightmare. The New York Yankees face the Boston Red Sox in the single-elimination AL Wild Card Game.
Well, it’s the game nobody wanted.
No, seriously. Any New York Yankees fan would prefer literally anything else to what’s going down on Tuesday night. Dinner and drinks with the cast of Jersey Shore. Being strapped to a chair for 24 hours and forced to watch Pauly Shore movies the whole time. Taking a dozen tombstone piledrivers from The Undertaker while Kiss’s Music From “The Elder” plays in the background.
This isn’t overly dramatic, devoted readers. The New York Yankees are playing the Boston Red Sox in the single-elimination AL Wild Card Game. Even worse, it’s happening at Fenway Park. Some of us still haven’t fully healed from the 2004 collapse yet, and we now have to survive a certain Game 7-like atmosphere on the road?
One way or another, it’s going to be a tight game. The Yankees underachieved all year, while the Red Sox arguably overachieved. Boston held the upper hand in most of the season series, but New York captured momentum late in the game. More recently, the Bronx Bombers pulled off a three-game sweep at the very stadium where their season could end on Tuesday.
Now, they’ll be asked to bring home one more win ahead of a possible ALDS matchup with the Tampa Bay Rays. Which team has the edge?
Pitching Matchup: Gerrit Cole vs. Nathan Eovaldi
The baseball gods are sparing no intrigue with the AL Wild Card Game, starting with the pitching matchup. Not surprisingly, the New York Yankees will hand the ball to bona fide ace Gerrit Cole. The big righty dealt with a minor controversy over Spider Tack but otherwise had a solid year with an AL-best 16 wins and a 3.23 ERA.
That said, Cole didn’t exactly dominate the Boston Red Sox in 2021. In four starts, he was 2-2 with a 4.91 ERA, including a forgettable June outing in which he allowed six runs in five innings. Even as the winning pitcher at Fenway on Sept. 24, he allowed three runs in six innings. He may be the ace, but the Red Sox will be in a different gear in a playoff game.
Nathan Eovaldi, on the other hand, has proven more than capable both in the playoffs and against the Yankees. He owns a 3.64 career ERA when facing New York and, dare I say, is capable of having ice water in his veins. Not to mention, Eovaldi spent two years with the Yankees earlier in his career.
Yet, Gerrit Cole is still Gerrit Cole, and it’s the postseason. He’s Thanos, his fastball is a fully loaded Infinity Gauntlet and he’s feeling, shall we say, snappy. Sorry, Eovaldi, but this isn’t as close as it seems.
On paper, this favors the New York Yankees by a long shot. Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton are practically Bash Brothers 2.0 when healthy and without a steroid-tainted legacy. Everyone’s favorite Italian boys, Joey Gallo and Anthony Rizzo, are beloved for both their bats and gloves. The entire lineup practically reads like a fantasy draft compared to the scrappy nature of the Boston Red Sox.
But surprisingly enough, this too is a pretty close call. Remember, the Yankees just lost regular leadoff hitter and 2020 AL batting champ DJ LeMahieu to a hernia. Similarly, the Red Sox will not have power slugger JD Martinez in the lineup after he sprained his ankle in Sunday’s game.
All this to say, the Red Sox ranked third in MLB with a .261 team batting average while the Yankees ranked 23rd with a mark of .237. It’s a bit closer in the on-base department, with Boston ranking seventh while New York ranked ninth. Though streaky, these New York Yankees can be patient and win games that way.
But Alex Cora has always been aggressive, and so is this Boston Red Sox lineup. If the players can jump on Gerrit Cole’s fastball early, the game could be decided soon.
Edge: Red Sox
The AL Wild Card Game will go one of two ways. Either one team will score a bunch of runs in a hurry, or it’ll be a close game that’s a slow burn to the finish. This means the bullpen will decide the outcome, as in a game of three-dimensional chess too tough for Kirk, Spock, or even Data.
Based on the numbers, the New York Yankees have the better corps of relievers. The team overcame injuries, inconsistent periods, and some of manager Aaron Boone’s decision-making to post a 3.56 ERA as a unit. The Red Sox were no slouches either, mixing and matching their way to a 3.99 ERA. To go even deeper, Yankees relievers ranked third with a collective 7.5 WAR while Boston ranked ninth with a 4.6.
Simply put, it all depends on which version of each bullpen arrives on Tuesday. Will Chad Green know which pitches to throw and at which time? Will Aroldis Chapman have both his velocity and control of the strike zone? Oppositely, which one of Adam Ottavino, Matt Barnes, or even former Yankees prospect Garrett Whitlock will step up for Boston?
The bullpen is always good for some fireworks. The 2021 AL Wild Card Game will be no exception.
It’s hard for any red-blooded New Yorker to overcome the crippling superstition and dare make any type of prediction for any New York team in any playoff game. Yet, this is Yankees-Red Sox and the regular rules don’t apply.
No disrespect to Boston, but they might be a little out of their element in this case. Gerrit Cole should be more focused than ever in a do-or-die game. Moreover, the Yankees are more than capable of making Nathan Eovaldi run a high pitch count quickly.
It will be an AL Wild Card Game with an unforgettable atmosphere. Low-scoring. Intense. Never a dull moment.
In this case, the New York Yankees will edge the Boston Red Sox as the entire Bronx breathes a sigh of relief.
PREDICTION: New York Yankees 4, Boston Red Sox 2