This is as good as September baseball gets. The streaking Boston Red Sox, winners of seven straight games, play host to the New York Yankees at Fenway Park in a three-game set that has huge playoff implications. The intrigue is through the roof and, with no love lost between these two franchises, the games will surely be intense.
Entering Friday’s series opener, the Red Sox hold the top Wild Card spot in the American League and are two games ahead of the Yankees, who are the second Wild Card team. But, New York is just one game ahead of the Toronto Blue Jays and two games ahead of the Seattle Mariners. The reeling Oakland Athletics are four games behind New York.
This is the final meeting between the Red Sox and Yankees. The season series has been dominated by Boston, which won the first seven matchups and holds a 10-6 overall advantage. So, the Red Sox will win the season series regardless of how this weekend goes, which could be important if both teams finish with the same record and home-field advantage in the Wild Card game. Because of the season series, the tiebreaker would favor Boston.
It’s a battle of two staff aces on Friday as Gerrit Cole pitches for the Yankees and Nathan Eovaldi goes for the Red Sox. First pitch from Boston is at 7:10 p.m. ET. The BetUS Sportsbook has the Yankees as -114 moneyline favorites while the Red Sox are +104. MLB odds have the over/under at nine runs.
Eovaldi Has Been Lights Out
Eovaldi became a fan favorite in Boston just months after arriving in the middle of the 2018 season, as he helped the Red Sox win a World Series by turning into an unhittable relief option for Alex Cora. Now, he’s back in the rotation and, with Chris Sale sidelined for most of the year due to Tommy John surgery, Eovaldi has been by far Boston’s best starting pitcher.
He has made 30 starts with a 3.58 ERA and has the lowest walk rate of any qualified starter in the majors. Eovaldi has walked just 32 batters in 173.2 innings, good for 1.7 walks per nine innings. With his strikeout stuff, elite control and ability to avoid home runs, he prevents runs well. He has allowed three runs or fewer in each of his last nine starts.
Eovaldi is also even better at home than he is on the road, sporting a 2.99 ERA at Fenway Park. Plus, the Red Sox haven’t lost one of his home starts in exactly two months. So, if you’re betting online, you should back Eovaldi even against a Yankees offense that has as much firepower as it gets (at full strength).
Overall, Cole has been good as usual this season, starting basically every five days and giving the Yankees a good chance to win. He leads the AL in wins (15) and strikeout rate and has a 3.03 ERA. His numbers are in line with what he did in his first season as a Yankee and what he did in his two seasons with the Houston Astros.
But, he got shelled by the Cleveland Indians his last time out — 10 hits and seven runs in 5.2 innings — and has only gotten an out in the seventh inning (or later) once since the middle of July. A Covid diagnosis and minor hamstring injury have likely contributed to his relatively uncharacteristic short outings the last few months while not really affecting his actual effectiveness. However, the Yankees are in desperate need of a strong, late-inning start from their ace on Friday so they can avoid relying heavily on their overworked bullpen.
That seems like a tough ask, though, considering that Cole hasn’t been able to keep his pitch count down in recent starts because he hasn’t put batters away as quickly as usual. With a really tough Boston lineup that, with Kyle Schwarber starting to rake, is a minefield from top to bottom, Cole is going to have trouble giving New York length. The MLB lines don’t seem too worried about that, but you should be.
Boston Bats Heating Up
Even though Schwarber didn’t play right away for the Red Sox while recovering from a hamstring injury at the trade deadline, picking him up from the Washington Nationals was a turning point in Boston’s season. The Red Sox’ bats have been on fire in August and September, with a team OPS since the deadline of well over .800. It was well below that from April through July.
Now, Boston’s lineup is one of the deeper ones in baseball, with above-average hitters across the board and on the bench as well. The rotation outside of Eovaldi and Sale can be shaky and the bullpen is showing its cracks, but this lineup — centered around Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts and J.D. Martinez — can score runs in bunches and will make Boston a tough out should the Red Sox get to the postseason.
The Yankees have more star power but, if you’re making MLB picks, you probably would rather have Boston’s bunch. The Red Sox aren’t the home run-or-bust group that the Yankees are, so they have much more margin for error on offense. And, with Eovaldi pitching gems on a regular basis, it’s tough to bet against Boston as a home underdog.