The longest-standing rivalry in sports is back on the October stage for the first time since 2004. The Yankees and Red Sox are ready to do battle for what should be a thrilling American League Division Series, which starts with Game 1 tonight at Fenway Park.
In one way, the rivalry has already been historic this season. This is the first time both clubs have won 100-plus games in the same season. Boston set the tone with an MLB-best 108-54 mark, winning the AL East for the third straight season. New York finished 100-62 before triumphing over Oakland, 7-2, in the AL Wild Card Game on Wednesday.
"We're excited," Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge said. "They won the division. It's going to be a fun series. This place [Yankee Stadium] is going to be rocking, Fenway is going to be rocking. Everyone is excited for it."
:: ALDS schedule and results ::
Both teams are offensive juggernauts and play in ballparks conducive to it. The clubs are led by rookie managers (Aaron Boone for New York and Alex Cora for Boston) who were once co-workers at ESPN. Boone created one of the all-time rivalry moments when he clocked a walk-off homer off Tim Wakefield in Game 7 of the 2003 AL Championship Series.
But the Red Sox erased that sting the next year when they became the first -- and still only -- team to come back from a 3-0 deficit in a postseason series. In the next few days, we'll see how much madness the latest chapter brings.
What do the starting lineups look like?
Yankees: Boone has had to tinker frequently this season due to injuries, but he finally has his desired pieces healthy. These Yankees mash like no team ever before -- they led the Majors with a single-season record 267 homers. They're also the first club to have a dozen players hit 10 or more homers and to get at least 20 homers from each spot in the lineup.
1. Andrew McCutchen, LF
2. Aaron Judge, RF
3. Aaron Hicks, CF
4. Giancarlo Stanton, DH
5. Luke Voit, 1B
6. Didi Gregorius, SS
7. Miguel Andujar, 3B
8. Gary Sanchez, C
9. Gleyber Torres, 2B
Red Sox: The Red Sox have a relentless unit led by AL MVP Award candidates Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez. Cora's team has a blend of power and speed, and is known for late-game comebacks. Boston led the Majors in runs, hits, doubles, average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage, while ranking third in steals.
One batting order decision that might surprise some folks is Steve Pearce in the No. 3 spot. However, Pearce thrives against lefties (.959 OPS in 2018), and he hit third 15 times this year, including Aug. 2, when he had a three-homer game against the Yankees in a game started by CC Sabathia. Pearce has six homers in 32 career at-bats against Yankees Game 1 starter J.A. Happ.
1. Mookie Betts, RF
2. Andrew Benintendi, LF
3. Steve Pearce, 1B
4. J.D. Martinez, DH
5. Xander Bogaerts, SS
6. Eduardo Nunez, 3B
7. Ian Kinsler, 2B
8. Sandy Leon, C
9. Jackie Bradley Jr., CF
Who are the starting pitchers?
Yankees: Happ (17-6, 3.65 ERA) will take the ball for Game 1. Along with Masahiro Tanaka, Happ had been a strong candidate to pitch the Wild Card Game before the Yanks' staff settled upon Luis Severino.
A solid argument can be made that Happ has been New York's best pitcher over the past nine weeks. Since being acquired from the Blue Jays in late July, Happ is 7-0 with a 2.69 ERA in 11 starts, permitting 51 hits, 16 walks and striking out 63 in 63 2/3 innings.
Happ has excelled against the Red Sox, which is part of the reason why the Yankees opted to align their rotation so he could potentially see them twice in a five-game series. Happ is 8-4 with a 2.98 ERA in 21 games (20 starts) in his career against Boston, including going 5-2 with a 3.27 ERA in 10 games (nine starts) at Fenway Park.
Happ faced the Red Sox four times this season, going 1-1 with a 1.99 ERA -- five earned runs and 17 hits in 22 2/3 innings, with six walks and 29 strikeouts. Tanaka is set to start Game 2 at Fenway Park, with Severino lined up for Game 3 in New York. Carsten Sabathia is a possible fit for a Game 4.
Red Sox: Ace Chris Sale (12-4, 2.11 ERA) was a heavy favorite to win the AL Cy Young Award until left shoulder inflammation led to him spending two stints on the disabled list. In fact, he pitched just 17 innings after July 27, leading to some concern if he can be his dominant self to start this postseason. The Red Sox have been cautious in building Sale's pitch count back up since he returned from the DL for the second time on Sept. 11. In four starts, his pitch count went from 26 to 42 to 73 to 92.
The reason there is some angst heading into Game 1 is because Sale's velocity was his lowest all season in his final start against the Orioles. In that one, he averaged 90.2-mph with his four-seamer and topped out at 94.5. The Red Sox and Sale both said multiple times that the issue was mechanics and not health. He has spent the past few days trying to get the extension back in his delivery, which he thinks will get the velo back to where it needs to be. Even with that diminished velocity last time out, Sale still generated 14 swings and misses in 92 pitches.
Sale was nearly untouchable in his two starts against the Yankees this season, going 2-0 with a 0.69 ERA, while walking one and striking out 19. The lanky lefty has given Judge fits over the years, holding him to three hits in 19 at-bats, with 13 strikeouts.
David Price is lined up for Game 2, followed by Rick Porcello and Nathan Eovaldi in Games 3 and 4. Eovaldi's role is unique since he could also be the long man in Game 1 if Sale doesn't go deep into the game.
How will the bullpens line up after the starter?
Yankees: Boone earned plaudits for his bullpen use in the Wild Card Game, turning to Dellin Betances in a high-leverage situation when Severino faltered in the fifth inning. Betances retired all six men he faced, three via strikeouts, and that decision is a huge reason why the Yankees are boarding an Amtrak train toward Boston.
Boone figures to be similarly aggressive in the ALDS, leaning heaviest upon the arms he used against the A's: Betances, Player Page for David Robertson, Zach Britton and Albertin Chapman. Chad Green is also in that mix, and the Yanks have added rookie Stephen Tarpley to the roster as a situational left-hander. Tarpley auditioned against Boston in the last week of the season, assigned to retire Benintendi and Brock Holt.
One interesting point could be how Boone elects to deploy the ninth inning; Chapman had those honors with a five-run lead against Oakland, and he got a two-out save during the final week of the season at Fenway, but he's not necessarily a lock depending on the matchup.
Red Sox: For all the concern about the bullpen, it should be noted that Boston's relief crew finished fourth in the AL in ERA, trailing three playoff teams (Astros, A's and Yankees). Craig Kimbrel is an elite closer who finished strong. It remains to be seen how much Cora will lean on the righty prior to the ninth inning. Kimbrel recorded four outs on five occasions. The rest of his outings were all three outs or fewer.
Matt Barnes, who missed much of September with inflammation in his left hip, is the setup man that Cora trusts the most. The righty led the team with 14 strikeouts per nine innings and opponents hit just .204 against him. Ryan Brasier is another righty you will see a lot with the game on the line. The free agent who pitched in Japan last year has emerged into an unlikely hero for Boston, notching a 1.60 ERA in 34 outings. The "X" factor is knuckleballer Steven Wright, who can go three to four shutdown innings when he is in a groove. Eduardo Rodriguez, a starter by trade, could also give the Sox a big weapon as a reliever in this series. Rodriguez could give Cora the type of impact lefty the team hasn't had in the bullpen all season.
Are there any relievers who are unavailable?
Yankees: Considering the layoff between the regular season's final game on Sept. 30 and Wednesday's Wild Card Game, the Yanks' relief crew will be rested and ready for Game 1. Betances had the heaviest workload of any reliever in the Wild Card Game, and that was 25 pitches over two innings.
Red Sox: After clinching the division title on Sept. 20, and home field throughout the playoffs a few days later, Cora has been preparing for this game for the past two weeks. He has used his relievers accordingly, and everyone will be fresh and ready to go for Game 1. Nathan Eovaldi, who is all but certain to pitch Game 4 if the series extends that far, will be available in relief for Game 1.
Any injuries of note?
Yankees: Boone said the Yankees' injury concerns of September -- Chapman, Gregorius, Hicks and Judge -- have all been answered positively. The rocket that Judge stroked in the first inning of the Wild Card Game should serve as evidence that his right wrist is playable. Gregorius and Hicks got thumbs-ups in the final week of the regular season.
Red Sox: Health is a strength for the Sox heading into this postseason. Cora has rested his players throughout the season to make sure they'd be there when it counted most. Nunez had some leg woes down the stretch, so the club will keep a close eye on him.
Who is hot and who is not?
Yankees: Voit homered in three straight games leading into the Wild Card Game and he narrowly missed a three-run blast, as the burly slugger chugged for the first triple of his career. McCutchen has been an on-base machine since being traded to the Yankees, reaching safely in 12 of his 22 first innings. Sanchez went 0-for-3, including a rally-killing double play, in the Wild Card Game. He batted .179/.316/.372 in 23 September games, and .186/.291/.406 for the entire regular season. Sanchez's defense has also been suspect, and New York carried three catchers for the Wild Card Game.
Red Sox: Betts hit at a torrid clip to close the regular season, hitting .609 with three homers and eight RBIs in his final 23 at-bats. Often overshadowed by Betts and Martinez, Bogaerts had a .987 OPS in September. First baseman Moreland had a tremendous start to the season, but he had a.600 OPS with just four homers after the All-Star break. Due to Moreland's recent struggles, look for Pearce to start Game 1 against left-hander Happ. Sale loves throwing to Leon, which makes it likely he will catch Game 1. That's good news for Yankees pitchers, as Leon has been close to an automatic out of late, getting two hits in his past 40 at-bats. If the game is on the line, Cora will hit for Leon as early as the fifth inning.
Anything else fans might want to know?
Home field has been significant in the rivalry this season. The Red Sox went 7-3 at Fenway, while the Yankees posted a 6-3 mark in The Bronx. This is the first time Boston has started a postseason series at home since the 2013 World Series. Starting the playoffs on the road is nothing new for the Yankees. They fell into an 0-2 series hole in last year's ALDS against Cleveland, then rallied to win the series in five games. New York lost all four ALCS games played in Houston last year.