AL Wild Card Preview and Prediction

The world wanted madness.  The AL Wild Card race was looking to try and give us that Michael Bay explosive scene that could captivate the sports world.  On Sunday we didn’t get the madness we hoped.  The Red Sox and Yankees retained order, winning their games and forcing the clock to strike midnight for playoff cinderellas, Seattle and Tornonto.  While we didn’t get the excitement we hoped for heading into a potential game 163 for multiple teams, we did however get a matchup between two historic rivals that will no doubt be a huge part in rebuilding a modern day rivalry that has taken a backseat to many over the last few years.  This game will be an epic encounter that will likely help decide the future aspirations of both teams.  The Red Sox will have decisions to make as they continue to rebuild their farm system, they overachieved in 2021, while the Yankees, many would say underachieved.  New York has a bloated roster full of expensive pieces that if they do not work will have to be shuffled in order to find the right formula, something that will be a challenge for years to come.  Both of these historic organizations need to make their run now before the upstart Blue Jays and their young core make them an afterthought in the years to come.  This game will not only be before the Wild Card, but potentially the future of these franchises for the next five – ten years. 

Pitching Matchup: Gerrit Cole vs Nathan Eovaldi 

The Yankees had the luxury of saving their ace Gerrit Cole for just this suation, a do or die situation on the road.  Cole has not been good against Boston this year, in four starts this season he is 2-2 with a 4.51 ERA and an opponent OPS of .852.  Cole has a career record of 8-4 with a 2.68 ERA in the playoffs including a loss in his only Wild Card start for the Pirates in 2015. Much like the Yankees, Cole has been pretty even statistically on the road when compared to home.  The Yankees will have a short leash if necessary, due to the depth of the Yankee bullpen.  Chad Green, Jonathan Loaisiga and Clay Holmes will bridge the gap to Aroldis Chapman.  The Yankees would prefer to lean on Cole but they have the assets in the pen to keep them in the game if Cole is not on his game. 

Nathan Eovaldi has become an All-Star in 2021.  He stepped into the role left by Chris Sale at the beginning of the season, he was the ace of this Red Sox team all season. Eovaldi finished the season with 11 wins and 3.75 ERA, most notably though was his 1.19 WHIP and a FIP of 2.79.    Eovaldi has a challenge ahead of him, facing one of the best teams in baseball at taking pitches.  In his career the Red Sox starter has been very good against the Yankees, through 71 innings pitched he had just a 3.64 ERA.  If you take out his most recent start on Sept 24th against the Yankees his career numbers are very good.  He is a veteran that will not be intimidated by the moment.  Eovaldi will not be asked to do more than he is capable of, his job will be to keep the Red Sox in the game and let the offense win it in the end.

Offense

Both teams went out and addressed needs during the season.  The Yankees were dealing with injuries to Luke Voit and Aaron Hicks, they went out and got Anthony Rizzo and Joey Gallo. The Red Sox needed some more thump in the lineup so they went out and added slugging outfielder Kyle Schwarber.   

The Sox have one of the deepest lineups in baseball, averaging 5.12 runs per game on the season.  They are second in baseball in slugging percentage and 3rd in batting average.  The depth of the lineup has been huge all season, Bobby Dalbec has become a force in the lineup, popping 25 homers  on the season from the 7th spot in the lineup.  The key will be the top of the lineup, Enrique Hernandez has owned Gerrit Cole in his career going 5-for-11, while Rafael Devers has three homers in 19 at-bats against the Yankees ace.   The Red Sox will need to jump on Cole early on in order to get the crowd into the game and put pressure on the Yankee offense that will be down a lot of key contributors.  

The Yankees will be without DJ LeMahieu at the top of the order. In his absence they have turned to Gleyber Torres, who has performed admirably in his absence but overall has not put together a stellar season.  Torres will have to get on base in order to force Eovaldi to pitch to the crowded middle of the Yankees order.  Aaron Judge and Gianocarlo Stanton will provide the pop needed to jump on Eovaldi similarly to the way the Yankees jumped on him in his last start against the Bronx Bombers.  That start saw him leave in just the third inning after giving up seven runs.  New York was patient that night, forcing Eovaldi to throw a lot of pitches, a number of the hits he gave up came on 4+ pitch at bats.  If the Yankees are patient they will get pitches to hit and have the bats that can make it a tough day for the Fenway faithful. 

Final Verdict

In a winner take all situation I tend to lean with the team that has the better pitching.  The Yankees will have their ace on the mound and a bullpen that had a 3.66 ERA in the regular season (compared to Bostons 3.99).  The difference though may be the depth of the lineup favoring the Red Sox.  With Cole on the mound Gary Sanchez will likely be on the bench in favor of Cole’s personal catcher Kyle Hishioka.  That takes a power bat out of the lineup along with the table setter in LaMhieu.  New York will need all the runs it can muster against a Boston lineup that can be dangerous 1-9 and will have a huge home field advantage.  

Red Sox win 4-2

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