At their best, these are not Red Sox years — mostly. They head into their series against the Mets having lost four of their last six games.
But the Red Sox do not want to let the Yankees back into this thing. They have been playing some good baseball, winning five of their last seven and seven of 10 games against division opponents. But their bullpen has allowed a lefty-killer like Greg Bird or Gary Sanchez to reach base in the crucial sixth inning and they haven’t had their own power home run threat since June 6. And the Red Sox can be downright aggravating on the mound.
Left-hander David Price, their ace for much of this year, has had a rough stretch of late, coughing up one lead after another in a 3-3 road trip to Toronto and Baltimore. He’s been tagged for 12 earned runs in 17 1/3 innings, which if carried through a full seven innings would be the most by a pitcher in the 2016 World Series. Price’s ERA in his last four starts has risen to 5.54, which was a bit of a misprint. It wasn’t actually 5.54, it was 5.78.
Pitching on the South Side of Chicago last Friday night, Price’s worst moment came in the sixth inning of an eventual 4-3 Red Sox win. That inning featured two first-pitch walks by Sale, who was pitching against one of the best lefties of his era. You can argue all day, however, over how damaging an Orioles hitter like J.J. Hardy (career slash line vs. Price: .314/.384/.543) is, but it was nonetheless over the top. With Sale on first and a man on second, Price fanned Adam Jones with a 96 mph fastball down the middle, but the Yankees were back in business and he was done for the night. After a walk, two wild pitches and a walk to Brett Gardner, Price got the hook.
The Yankees got to Sale again last night and this time they took control, ultimately winning 7-3. Jorge Mateo — a 21-year-old son of ex-Yankee star Manny Ramirez — took Sale deep in the eighth and Sanchez hit another home run in the ninth. (Sanchez also threw out an attempted base stealer and hit a short fly ball that turned into a three-run double in the fifth inning).
If the Yankees can repeat their feat from September 5, when they pummeled Sale and the Red Sox 17-4 at Fenway Park, they’ll be back in this thing. As this team has proved all season, they can put runs on the board any which way, including with a second-half rotation that includes Luis Severino and Jordan Montgomery but, other than Sonny Gray, lacks a bona fide starter other than Sonny Gray.
The Yankees have scored 121 runs over their last 19 games, the same number as the Red Sox. In contrast, Yankees pitchers have allowed just 127 runs in that same span. A reliance on the long ball isn’t necessarily bad, of course. Aaron Judge, Didi Gregorius and Gleyber Torres are all having MVP-caliber seasons at the plate, and although Gary Sanchez has cooled off of late, he can still be one of the few candidates for the American League Most Valuable Player in the second half.
But even they can’t match the Red Sox when it comes to establishing the pace for a bullpen and backstopping it through its workload. And when you look at the team’s rivals in the division, particularly Baltimore, the Yankees have a legitimate shot to win the division in the second half.