By Terry Cushman – @cushmanMLB
It’s conceivable that neither team will make another huge splash the remainder of this hot stove season. The exact opposite could hold true, or some minor moves could take place on either roster. For now, here is how I see both teams matching up as they currently stand.
The Red Sox literally have the same starting lineup which finished last place in the home run catagory in 2017. Minus Eduardo Nunez that is. An optimist will point out how as recently as 2016, the Red Sox were the #1 offense in major league baseball. Most of that very same roster will be starting this coming opening day. A realist might expect this year’s offense to fall somewhere in the middle between 2016 and 2017, but still rely on part of the small ball tactics which resulted in a repeat AL East title last season. It’s possible Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi, Hanley Ramirez, and Rafael Devers could all be 30/100 players this coming season. Should this come to fruition, the Red Sox would certainly be at least a top five offense.
On the grimmer side of reality, the Yankees have Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Gary Sanchez, all of whom will collectively average 120 home runs this season. Greg Bird, Didi Greigorious, and Brett Gardner have the potential to be highly productive as well. Unlike the Red Sox, the Yankees do not have to pin their hopes on any stars aligning. They are a bonafide powerhouse lineup who could very well put up some historic numbers, with nearly every game having the feel of a home run derby.
If the Red Sox are going overcome the above lineup and win the division, they will need the pitchers in their rotation to perform along their career numbers. Chris Sale was the sure fire 2017 AL Cy Young winner until he got thumped twice by the Indians, and then ran out of gas in the final weeks. With more careful management, and the discipline to avoid chasing stupid records, Sale should at least be a top five or ten candidate again this year. David Price will need to show more durability to hopefully pitch AT LEAST 180 innings. He put together a nice string of starts late last spring, as well as some spectacular long relief appearances in September and October. Price’s velocity touched the middle and upper 90’s at various points. If Price plans on defying the “pitching over the age of 30” stereotype, 2018 would be an ideal time to try and justify his contract. Everyone can agree 2016 was an aberration for Rick Porcello, but 12-14 wins will be enough to pull his weight should he find a way to bounce back. Pomeranz & Rodriguez would make formidable #2 starts on most rotations, which would put this current Red Sox rotation over the top if each have strong seasons.
On paper the Yankees have an adequate rotation with the potential to be a great rotation. Red Sox fans have begun to accept the fact that Luis Severino will be making our lives hell for probably the next decade. He had a breakout year in 2017, and showed great tenacity during the Yankees’ playoff run. Sonny Gray is a complete wildcard. He could be electric, or be exposed as a pitcher who can’t perform in a big market. Masahiro Tanaka has always been a steady arm in their rotation despite his struggles during the first half of last season. Tanaka has notoriously given the Red Sox fits over the last couple years. At face value the Yankee’s should at least be mildly optimistic about both Tanaka & Gray. Finally, C.C. Sabathia & Jordan Montgomery will perhaps be the strongest anchors of any back end of the rotation starts in the AL East.
The one thing both rotations have in common is that they have key starters who are injury prone. Health will be key.
Advantage: Red Sox
Craig Kimbrel has the potential to be the best reliever of the two teams. But the cold hard truth is that the Yankees have the more elite bullpen. Robertson & Chapman make up the best eighth and ninth inning tandems in the entire league. If that pairing doesn’t sound daunting enough, Tommy Kahnle, Chad Green, and Dellin Betances could be highly dominant in the middle innings. It’s a deep enough bullpen that if Aaron Boone wants to remove his starting pitcher in the 4th or 5th inning, the Yankee’s will be able to shut teams down in the latter halves of games.
Alex Cora has much more of a mess on his hands. If Carson Smith lives up to his potential now that he’s finally recovered from Tommy John surgery, and Tyler Thornburg from a shoulder injury, it will take a lot of pressure off as far as figuring out where the pieces fit. Joe Kelly has proven to be highly effective the last season and a half. Austin Maddox could very well emerge as top late inning reliever over the course of the next season or two. The theme here for the Red Sox is that it’s all “IF’s.” Even IF all of the above mentioned Red Sox relievers are effective in defined roles, they simply will not be as lights out as their Yankee counterparts.
Potential Big Moves?: For the Red Sox, the only difference maker on the market is J.D. Martinez. They have been linked to him, but no deal seems imminent or even certain. The Yankees have been linked to Gerrit Cole, but have the prospects to pry away any top arms from an organization willing to sell.
If the season started tomorrow, I would make the Yankees the clear favorite to win it. They are the better balanced team, and have shown the willingness to make the necessary moves to elevate themselves to that position. Dave Dombrowski has been quoted as saying the Red Sox could essentially stand pat and begin the season with this current roster. I personally would have very grave concerns for Boston’s chances if they don’t seek at least one major upgrade to it’s lineup, and bullpen.
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