The Yankees did what they planned to do to start this week. After a bad series loss to the Cleveland Indians, they needed to handle the lowly Texas Rangers and they swept them out of the Bronx. Mission accomplished with the second Wild Card spot in hand after the Toronto Blue Jays lost twice in three games to the Tampa Bay Rays.
Now, as they pack their things and head to Boston, the real challenge begins.
See, while the Yanks were handling business with the Rangers, the Sox were beating up on some bad teams as well. They’ve gone on a seven-game winning streak, most recently taking down the Mets in two games to keep it going.
So the team New York swept last time around at Yankee Stadium is entirely different – reminiscent of the team they struggled against earlier in the season.
With just nine games left to play and three series against the top teams in the AL East on tap, the Yankees need to make it out of Boston alive. By that, we mean handling business to keep their Wild Card spot and head for Toronto with a chance to put things out of reach.
How do they do so in a hostile Fenway Park environment starting Friday? Here are the keys to a series victory over the Sox this weekend:
1) Vintage Cole
Gerrit Cole compared facing these AL East opponents to ancient warriors practicing against the best neighboring villages to be prepared for the most elite attacks.
So, yeah, it sounds like he’s locked in for his Friday start against former Yankee Nathan Eovaldi.
Cole had one of his worst starts of the 2021 campaign last time out against the Indians. While weak contact that found holes can be attributed to it, he still allowed two homers and seven earned runs on 10 hits over 5.2 innings.
And while Cole and Kyle Higashioka tweaked a few things after that start, the Yanks’ ace has had some trouble with Boston this season. His ERA against them is over 5.00 in three starts. That’s slightly skewed by his June 27 start, which saw six runs (five earned) on eight hits and three dingers over five innings on the road. But last time out on July 23 at Fenway, he allowed three earned on six hits in five innings.
Cole said he treats every game the same, but he knows the stakes of this one. The Yankees need Cole to set the tone for this series, and that would require some vintage dominance from No. 45.
2) Capitalize on big-hit situations
This is actually a key for the rest of the season. It’s honestly a key for any winning team, but before Gleyber Torres finally came up with one on Wednesday night, the Yankees have been very bad with runners in scoring position.
For the season, they’re hitting .231 in these situations, and Wednesday was a perfect example of them not being able to capitalize with the big hit. Before Torres’ double in the eighth, he struck out terribly with the bases loaded in a 3-2 game with one out. Then, Gio Urshela struck out on a slider right down the middle that buckled him to end the inning following a gift of a wild pitch to tie the game.
The same situation presented itself in the seventh. Tyler Wade stole second and third, but DJ LeMahieu struck out and Anthony Rizzo popped out. Another runner on third with less than two outs, and the run couldn’t come in.
The Red Sox are a better team than the Rangers, and gifts like that wild pitch with the bases loaded are less likely to occur. Boston has been good with runners in scoring position of late, so the Yanks need to match that.
3) Take advantage of Sox starting pitchers
There’s no Chris Sale lined up for this weekend. Its Nathan Eovaldi, Nick Pivetta, and Eduardo Rodriguez.
Eovaldi is a tough flamethrower and is much better at home (2.99 ERA) than on the road (4.62 ERA), but the Yanks are good fastball hitters and got to him last time out at Yankee Stadium.
Pivetta is the biggest one here, though, as he’s been brutal in his last five starts, owning a 7.32 ERA with a .325 opponent batting average and five homers allowed. One of those starts was against the Yanks on Aug. 18, where he allowed four runs on four hits and three walks over 1.2 innings.
Rodriguez has had success against the Yankees, but he still tends to have bad starts like his six-run dud against the Rays three starts ago. With a 4.97 ERA, this is someone the Yanks should handle.
The Sox have the 11th-best bullpen ERA in the league but knocking out starters early means the Yanks are likely in the lead and that’s exactly what you want. Just like Cole, this is another way to set the tone for the game and the series as a whole.