Yankees @ Sox Wildcard

The baseball gods gave us LA/SF all year on the west coast and NY/Boston on the east. The gods are good.

Sure, the Astros, Braves, Rays and White Sox are in the postseason and their fanbases are hopefully part of the growth of the game, but the buzz in this postseason comes from the northeast. It’s a rivalry dating back to the beginning of the modern game. But this year is a little different. Two 92-70 seasons certainly aren’t dominant, but considering four The Yankees stumbled at the end, finishing 15-14 in the final month. The Mariners charged but couldn’t quite tie them. The Blue Jays were there but couldn’t finish the deal. Boston was two games behind the Yankees and went on a tear before losing two of three to the Orioles. The Sox took all three from Washington to claw their way back into it.

It’s playoff time, so pitching will start playing a bigger part. Gerrit Cole will start for the Yankees. He’s third in ERA in the American League with a 3.23 and first in wins with 16 (16? 16 wins leads the AL? How much money are teams paying starters?) Rant aside, the numbers are solid…really solid and he has the experience to dominate.

The guy going against him, Nathan Eovaldi is the best Boston has to offer. It’s somewhat shocking that he would be more evenly matched with Yankee number-two starter Jordan Montgomery, but that’s the way it is. Eovaldi famously saved Boston’s chance to win the series in 2018 when he saved the bullpen by going six innings in relief -that’s six innings in the epic, 18-inning loss to the Dodgers in Game 3. That lone piece of brilliance was sandwiched by multiple elbow surgeries and he seems an unlikely starting-pitcher-hero type for this year’s Wildcard matchup. But that’s the amazing thing about the playoffs, right? The Aaron Boones and the Trot Nixons of the game have an opportunity to stamp their name on the game.

Things favoring the Red Sox: Yankees first baseman DJ LeMahieu is hurt. Eovaldi loves setting up pitches down and in, which is exactly where Yankee outfielders Aaron Judge and fellow masher, Giancarlo Stanton struggle. Besides those two, the Yankees also have only catcher Gary Sanchez with as many as 16 home runs (23). Speaking of which, Gary Sanchez behind the plate has often been the gift the opposition needs: three straight years leading the AL in passed balls and errors. The Sox have super utility guy Kiké Hernandez. He’s one of six players with more than 20 homers (Rafael Devers has 38 and Hunter Renfroe has 31). Hernandez brings energy and the ability to crush left-handed pitching to the park every night. The Sox scored 118 more runs than the Yankees during the season.

Things going for New York: Cole is obviously better than Eovaldi on a season-long basis and the pitching staff’s ERA over the last 15 days is 3.45, significantly better than Boston’s 4.15. Boston masher JD Martinez is hurt and may only be available on a limited basis. New York has nine guys with at least 10 home runs on the season and has two guys with at least 14 stolen bases. Sanchez is not nearly the liability he has been and Boston catcher Christian Vasquez is ahead of him in several negative categories (it should be noted Vasquez played 22 more games behind the plate). Also, Sanchez might not have to try to throw out many Red Sox runners since Vasquez leads them in that category with eight.

So, how does this play out? If the Red Sox score runs, they’ll have to pray their bullpen can hold on. If the Yankees score runs early, they should win. This time of year, pitching wins but so does momentum and that seems like the Sox. My head tells me New York should win this 3-2. But in Boston? Against Aaron Boone in the dugout? Maybe an eighth inning JD Martinez homer?

Or… Kiké? My gut says Sox 8-7.

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