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Morning Mound Visit: AL Wild Card Preview

We wanted chaos and instead got ESPN Sunday Night Baseball.

Boston Red Sox v New York Yankees - Game Two Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images

With wins on the last day of the season, the Red Sox and Yankees denied us of a three-way tie between them and the other 90-win team in the AL East: the Blue Jays. If there’s any consolation for the outside observer, it’s that these two teams are fairly evenly matched (much more so than the Dodgers and Cardinals), so it should be a great game between two bitter rivals.

When last these two teams met, it was all Yankees. That’s thanks to Giancarlo Stanton who didn’t strand a runner over a three-game series going 7-for-12 with three home runs. Despite sweeping the final two series, the Yankees still lost the season series 9-10, so the Red Sox will have home-field advantage.

Taking the mound will be Cy Young candidates Gerrit Cole and Nathan Eovaldi. Cole has received much more attention this year given his past dominance, but Eovaldi has been his equal or better in several categories. Eovaldi’s ERA is also almost a full run higher than his FIP.

Nathan Eovaldi vs Gerrit Cole

Stat Eovaldi Cole
Stat Eovaldi Cole
IP 182.1 181.1
ERA 3.75 3.23
FIP 2.79 2.92
K% 25.5 33.5
BB% 4.6 5.6
SwStr% 12.5 14.5
CSW% 29.8 32.1
fWAR 5.6 5.3

Cole probably still has the edge but not by much. At least, not by as much as one might think if they had written off Eovaldi after a down 2019 and gotten all their AL East news from MLB’s Twitter account. A point in Eovaldi’s favor is that the Yankees hit righties a bit worse than they hit lefties. As a team, the Yankees slashed .255/.337/.422 against left-handed pitching this year, but against righties, their line was down to .230/.316/.400. That’s buoyed by Stanton and Judge who have mashed everyone, but the rest of the lineup has lagged behind.

The Yankees lineup was extremely righty-heavy before the deadline acquisitions of Joey Gallo and Anthony Rizzo. Oddly enough, Rizzo has struggled against righties this season and mashed lefties though, historically, he’s hit both well and righties better. With DJ LeMahieu and Luke Voit on the injured list, the Yankees only have three projected starters who have been even average against righties. Gio Urshela, Gary Sanchez, Gleyber Torres, and Rougned Odor all have a wRC+ of 89 or lower against right-handed pitching.

Meanwhile, the Red Sox have been a top-five offense when it comes to hitting right-handed pitching. That’s to be expected with an offense featuring Rafael Devers, Alex Verdugo, and Kyle Schwarber. Not to mention Xander Bogaerts has a 135 wRC+ against righties.

Obviously, Cole is no typical right-hander, but in four starts against Boston this year, the former Cy Young winner has looked vulnerable. In 22 innings, Cole has given up 13 runs. By game score, his worst start of the year came June 27 against Boston when he gave up three homers and six runs over five innings.

Of course, Eovaldi’s worst start of the season also came against the Yankees when he allowed seven runs in 2 23 innings on September 24. In five other starts, however, he was solid, giving up eight runs in 31 1⁄3 innings.

When both starters are out of the game, the advantage skews toward the Yankees who have one of the best bullpens in the majors. Jonathan Loaisiga, Lucas Luetge, and Chad Green have all been great getting the bulk of innings, and they’re backed up by Joely Rodriguez, Michael King, and Clay Holmes who all have sub-3.00 ERA. Luis Severino has looked like his old self in a handful of appearances since his return. With this wealth of options, the Yankees likely won’t have to burn Nestor Cortes or another starter in a swingman role should Cole struggle early which will help in the ALDS if they advance that far.

The Red Sox don’t have that luxury. While they got Garrett Whitlock back from the injured list just in time, Boston’s bullpen ranks 24th in the majors in walk rate at 10.8 percent. The only playoff team worse than them is the Cardinals at 11.8. For all its flaws, the Yankees offense leads the majors in walk rate at 10.2 percent.

Chris Sale only threw 62 pitches on Sunday, so he might be available for an inning, but otherwise, the Red Sox are hoping Eovaldi can go deep enough to get the ball to Adam Ottavino, Tanner Houck, and Whitlock.

Prediction

Yankees win 6-2. Giancarlo Stanton hits a ball to the moon.

Other Reading

Christian Romo | Amazin Avenue: Luis Rojas will not return as Mets manager in 2022. Rojas’s tenure ends after two disappointing seasons in New York as the Mets went 103-119 with him at the helm.

Michael Baumann | The Ringer: There have been 16 Wild Card games and among them some all-time great games. Some stinkers have been mixed in as well. Michael Baumann gave an uncontroversial ranking of all 16.

Patrick Dubuque | Baseball Prospectus $: The Giants won 107 games in no small part because all their 33-35 year olds had excellent years. Did the extra rest provided by the shortened season in 2020 give a needed boost to players on the wrong side of 30?