"We're excited," Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge said looking ahead to the American League Division Series against the Red Sox. "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."
He's not wrong. Though it might seem like the Yankees and Red Sox swallow up so much of baseball's national attention, it's been 14 years since they last faced one another in the playoffs, dating back to the legendary 2004 ALCS. They're each 100-win teams; they're each loaded with studs. So who has the edge? Let's go through each position.
Say whatever you want about Gary Sanchez, about his .186 batting average, about his occasional issues with passed balls. His struggles have been well-documented and they're of real concern to the Yankees. That said, we saw what he's capable of power-wise in 2016 and '17, and even this year, he's slugging .518 against lefties, which matters when the Red Sox will start Chris Sale and David Price in the first two games. For all of the credit that Sandy Leon (.177/.232/.279) gets for his defense, he was very literally the weakest hitter in baseball this year. Christian Vazquez (.207/.257/.283) was the second-weakest. When your catchers hit like pitchers, you don't get the edge.
Big advantage: Yankees
Mitch Moreland had a fantastic first half (.278/.353/.500) followed by a dreadful second half (.191/277/.322); the end result was his third roughly average season in a row. It's fair to note that there's a platoon situation here, because Moreland will yield to Steve Pearce against lefties, and he's hit a strong .259/.352/.503 against southpaws the last two years. Of course, the Yankees have Luke Voit (.333/.405/.689 with New York), who just keeps on hitting. He won't keep up a 50-homer pace forever, but he doesn't need to. He just needs to do this for a few more days.
:: ALDS schedule and results ::
Since Eduardo Nunez hasn't played second base for Boston in nearly two months, let's look at the most likely starting second basemen in this series.
Ian Kinsler (.242/.294/.311, 64 OPS+ with Boston)
Gleyber Torres (.271/.340/.480, 118 OPS+)
It's possible you'll see a Neil Walker here or a Brock Holt there, and it's true that Torres wasn't as good in the second half as he was in the first half, but the 36-year-old Kinsler is having his second consecutive below-average hitting season, though his defense is still solid.
There's no wrong answer here, honestly, because Didi Gregorius (.268/.335/.494) and Xander Bogaerts (.288/.360/.522) each had strong hitting seasons. While Gregorius is probably a somewhat better defender, Bogaerts' hitting line gives him the edge, as does the lingering uncertainty over Gregorius' right wrist injury. What's perhaps more important here is that the Red Sox have the home field advantage, because Gregorius (.299/.372/.572 at home, .233/.292/.408 road) is a completely different player away from the Bronx.
Small advantage: Red Sox
While Miguel Andujar (.297/.328/.527, with 27 homers) is likely to finish in the top two in the Rookie of the Year ballot, he's actually nearly two years older than Boston's Rafael Devers (.240/.298/.433). He also outhit both Devers and Nunez (.265/.289/.388) by a considerable margin, giving this edge easily to the Yankees. Due to Andujar's poor defense, expect Aaron Boone to often spot in Adeiny Hechavarria, as he did to great effect in the Wild Card Game.
Andrew McCutchen (.255/.368/.424 this year, and .253/.421/.471 with New York) has been a nice addition to the Yankee lineup, and just in time, because Brett Gardner's .236/.322/.368 was a considerable disappointment. On the Boston side, Andrew Benintendi (.290/.366/.465 with 16 homers and 21 steals) added nearly 40 points of slugging over his 2017 season. There's not much of a difference here, but it's worth noting something interesting about McCutchen: He's made one career start in front of the Green Monster. It came last weekend.
Small advantage: Red Sox
On the surface, the edge for Aaron Hicks here is a large one. He hit .248/.366/.467, while Jackie Bradley Jr. hit just .234/.314/.403. As usual, ignore the batting average there and focus on the large gaps in on-base and slugging. Easy, right? But it's not as simple as that, because Bradley is a better defender, and thanks to his elite hard-hit skills (his 50.2 percent hard-hit rate was similar to Shohei Ohtani or Ryan Braun), he turned it on in the second half: .269/.340/.487. Hicks gets the edge because he was this good all year, but it's closer than you think.
Small advantage: Yankees
Judge's 116.1 mph home run in the Wild Card Game didn't just give the Yankees a 2-0 lead, it also made a powerful case that his injured right wrist won't slow him down. (It was his hardest-hit ball since June.) When healthy, he's clearly a game changer. And yet: He's not Mookie Betts. Not only is Betts (.346/.438/.640) a much better fielder and a far more dangerous baserunner, he even out-slugged Judge (.278/.392/.528) by 112 points. Judge is a star. Betts is the star other stars want to be.
Advantage: Red Sox
Among the many, many accolades that J.D. Martinez earned in his first season in Boston, perhaps none stands out more than this: The Yankees added Giancarlo Stanton (.266/.343/.509, with 38 home runs), and he was very good, and he still doesn't even come close to what Martinez (.330./402/.629, 43 home runs) did. When even the great Stanton is a clear second place, you know you're doing something right. Martinez may be the most dangerous pure hitter in the game.
Advantage: Red Sox
If we knew which Sale we were going to see, that might tip the edge to Boston here, because full-strength Sale is the best starter on either side. But we don't really know what Sale we're going to get, do we? He hasn't thrown six-plus innings in a game since July; his velocity in his final regular-season start was a mere 90.1 mph. Throw in the angst over whether Price can conquer his Yankees issues, and the Yankees, with Luis Severino, J.A. Happ, and Masahiro Tanaka earn the slight advantage. This one could turn quickly, however.
If there's any spot on these rosters where one side has an edge large enough to potentially single-handedly win or lose the series, it's here. Let's compare the likely top six relievers for each side, with stats accrued only for these teams.
For the Yankees, that's Albertin Chapman, Dellin Betances, Zach Britton, Chad Green, Player Page for David Robertson, and Jonathan Holder. They had a 2.83 ERA, a 2.80 FIP, and struck out 33 percent of hitters they faced, walking nine percent.
For the Red Sox, that's probably Craig Kimbrel, Matt Barnes, Ryan Brasier, Brandon Workman, Steven Wright, and Joe Kelly. They had a 3.19 ERA, a 3.48 FIP, and struck out 28 percent of hitters they faced, walking 11 percent.
It's not that the Boston bullpen is bad, necessarily. It's that the Yankee relievers are fantastic.
Big Advantage: Yankees
The Red Sox won eight more games than the Yankees did this year, but the weakness at the bottom of the lineup and in the bullpen, plus questions about Sale's health, tips this one to the Bronx Bombers. Yankees in five.