Yankees Need a Miracle to Catch Red Sox

This October will be 14 years since the Yankees and Red Sox last met in the postseason. It looks like that drought won’t reach 15 years as the rivals are headed for a best-of-5 matchup in the ALDS if the AL East runner-up can win the AL Wild-Card Game. The problem is that as of now the Yankees are the team headed for the one-game playoff.

The Yankees are in trouble. Their poor play against the league’s worst team has them trailing the Red Sox by four games in the loss column (the only number that matters) entering a four-game series in Boston this weekend. They have 10 games left against the Red Sox, so they technically control their own destiny, but it’s going to take a lot of winning in August and September.

It’s been a while since I have done an email exchange with longtime “friend” Michael Hurley of CBS Boston for a Yankees-Red sox series. But with the two meeting for a big series this weekend I thought now was as good of a time as any to bother him.

Keefe: Michael, it’s been a long time. A very long time. So long I can’t even remember the last time we did one of these. All I know is the last time we did one of these and the many times before that, none of them came in August with a meaningful series between the two teams. Usually by now, one of the two has run away with the division, and it’s just another boring Yankees-Red Sox weekend. But not this time. Not this August. This August we have a four-game series with the division actually on the line.

The Yankees head to Boston trailing the Red Sox by four games in the loss column, and they head there without Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez and with Didi Gregorius batting third and Aaron Hicks batting fourth and the idiot that is Aaron Boone waiting to put together illogical lineups and make ridiculous in-game decisions. They also might be without J.A. Happ, who they traded for specifically because of his success against the Red Sox, but he contracted hand, foot and mouth disease, which I thought was something that was last present when the Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock. The Red Sox will be without Chris Sale and possibly without Xander Boegarts, Brian Johnson will open the series for them, and former Yankee and Yankees fan whipping boy Nathan Eovaldi will see his old team.

Some of the rivalry’s biggest names will be missing this weekend, but unfortunately, both Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez will be playing. The duo has become what I thought Judge and Giancarlo Stanton could be (and Sanchez too, but Boone has refrained from ever stacking the three together, opting to divide them up with the big bats of Gregorius and Hicks). I believe when both teams are 100 percent healthy that the Yankees are the better team top to bottom and I think we will see that if Betts and Martinez ever come back to earth.

They might not hit back-to-back, but the two seem to be this Red Sox team’s version of David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez. Maybe even better?

Hurley: It has been a long time. Maybe we’re being forgetful but it does feel like there hasn’t been this much intrigue on the Red Sox and Yankees in August for a long time. Don’t check the records on that.

Betts and Martinez are statistically like Ortiz and Ramirez, sure. But they’re also not at all like Ortiz and Ramirez. That era is over, and I know that if you’re like me, it’s tough to adjust. I prefer the early-2000s game much better than whatever is going on now. And for as great as Betts is and as great as Martinez has been — and even, say, how good Mike Trout is on a regular basis — there’s just something to be missed about having massive power hitters filling slots 3-7 in a lineup every night. Steroid Era for life.

I mean, you’ve told a million stories in your life, but the one you’ve probably shared the most was how you sat in Fenway for Game 5 (?) of the ALCS, whizzing down your leg as you watched the little asterisk on the Sox’ lineup board make its way back around to Ortiz and Ramirez. For as good as Betts and Martinez are, I don’t think you’ll ever feel that way about them, right?

It does kind of feel like we’re all getting robbed a little bit by this four-game series. A month ago this looked like it’d be a showdown of two teams tied for first place. Maybe some leftover feelings from Tyler Austin’s insane overreaction to spiking someone would surface. But instead the Red Sox lead by 5.5, Chris Sale was put on the DL even though this series was upcoming, Aaron Judge broke his wrist, Xander Bogaerts probably won’t play, and as you said, there will be Brian Johnson be and Nathan Eovaldi starts. Kind of a thud of a four-game series.

It kind of feels like the only way this series can bring some excitement will be if the Yankees can pull a 2006 and rip off a jumbo series sweep. But we all know that was a once-in-a-lifetime event. The Red Sox and Yankees are destined to split every series and every season series for the rest of our lives.

Keefe: Ah, the 2006 five-game sweep. What a glorious weekend that was. Now all I can think about is how the Yankees didn’t win the World Series that season against the weakest playoff field of all time. Instead they lost to the Tigers in four games, despite having this lineup:

Johnny Damon, CF
Derek Jeter, SS
Bobby Abreu, RF
Gary Sheffield, 1B
Jason Giambi, DH
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Hideki Matsui, LF
Jorge Posada, C
Robinson Cano, 2B

The team was so stacked they had to play Sheffield at FIRST BASE, A-Rod was batting SIXTH and Robinson Cano batted NINTH despite hitting .342 in the regular season. I guess pitching matters in the postseason, and you can’t expect a 42-year-old Randy Johnson and Jared Wright to win playoff games for you. Good job by Brian Cashman not addressing that need that season.

But you’re right about the lineups. Those 2003-2005 Yankees and Red Sox lineups ridiculous. We now know why they were so ridiculous, and unfortunately, that era of baseball is gone because performance-enhancing drugs are bad! So bad in fact that if you’re suspended for using them you can’t play in the postseason, but if you’re suspended for domestic violence, you’re cleared for October! Major League Baseball is great.

Another great decision of Major League Baseball’s is your favorite topic: the wild-card game. Most likely, the Yankees are headed to that game for the third time in four seasons. The previous two times (2015 and 2017), they would have advanced to the ALDS in the old format, but instead played nine playoff innings one time and catapulted to the ALCS the other time. This time will be the biggest atrocity of them all.

The Yankees are on pace to win 104 games, and will then play the Mariners or A’s in ONE GAME to determine if they advance to the ALDS. They will burn Luis Severino in that game in order to advance and then face the Red Sox in a five-game series in which their best starting pitcher will only pitch once.

But hey, “Win your division!” is what everyone says.

Hurley: You’re probably the only person on earth who feels similarly about the one-game playoff as I do. (Except for when the Yankees benefited as the second wild card that one time. I know you enjoyed that. Briefly.)

At this point I’ve basically given up the fight. People just don’t care about what’s fair or reasonable, and there will always be the reply of “JUST WIN YER DIVIZION!” even when one division has a pair of 100-game winners and another division *cough AL Central* is straight butt. Just pure buttock. The Twins are in second place in the AL Central. They’re 11 games under .500. The Rays are two games over .500 and yet are 19.5 games out of first place in the East. BUT JUST WIN YOUR DIVISION AND STOP YOUR WHINING!

The Indians can win the AL Central if they start their relievers and pick their positions out of a hat every inning.

What I’ve come to terms with is the fact that baseball has always been a little unfair. Back when only one team “won” the AL and made the World Series, that likely wasted the efforts of a great 104-win team or two, without even giving them a chance. Before the wild card was introduced in ’94, some good teams were probably left out of the postseason field. Fine. Whatever.

Doesn’t change the fact that MLB using ONE GAME — nine innings — to determine anything of substance is insane. Maybe I’ve done this with you before, but in case I haven’t, here’s the percentage of the regular season accounted for in the first round of each league’s playoffs:

NFL (1 game; 16-game regular season): 6.25%

NBA/NBA (4-7 games; 82-game regular season: Between 4.88% and 8.54%

MLB (1 game; 162-game regular season): 0.6%

Zero-point-six percent! Makes sense.

Anyways, that’s only part of the idiocy this year. Because this year, as every year, the winner of the wild-card game will play the best team in the league. Let’s assume the current standings hold, and let’s assume that the Yankees beat the Mariners. The Yankees will then have to face the Red Sox in a five-game ALDS. The Indians (sixth-best record in the AL) will get the Astros (6.5 games worse than the Red Sox) in the ALDS.

Why on God’s green earth would you want the teams with the two best records to face each other in a five-game ALDS? Why, Neil? Why?

It was idiotic before when divisional opponents couldn’t meet in the ALDS. It’s idiotic now that there’s nothing to prevent the two best teams from playing each other in the ALDS.

Why are there only idiots in charge of these things? Why? Why? Why? 

I’m mad now.

Keefe: I wish I knew the answer. But we’re talking about a league in which half of its teams have the pitchers hit and the other half do. It doesn’t matter that some pitchers haven’t had to hit since they were in high school and some even longer than that. What other professional sport asks its players to do something they aren’t a professional at? Major League hitters have a hard enough time hitting Major League pitching, but pitchers are supposed to be able to?

I know one pitcher who Major League hitters, most importantly, the Yankees, don’t have a problem hitting: David Price.

In April, Price lasted one inning, allowing four earned runs on three hits and two walks against the Yankees. During the May series, I jokingly tweeted that the Red Sox would announce Price wouldn’t make his scheduled start against the Yankees because he was too scared to face them. Sure enough, he was scratched from his start due to a video game-related injury. In July, he faced them again, allowing eight earned runs on nine hits, including five home runs, in 3 1/3 innings.

I’m waiting for the announcement that Price has a mysterious injury or an excuse to arise so he can miss his start on Sunday night. Maybe he will hurt his hand playing video games again. Maybe he will text Alex Cora from his couch and say he is stuck in an elevator. Maybe he will hold a thermometer up to the light in the trainer’s room before the game or make himself throw up so it seems like he has the flu. I have a hard time believing he will actually take the mound on Sunday Night Baseball, especially if the game means what it ccould potentially mean.

The Red Sox gave Price $217 million not knowing if he could handle Boston or win in the postseason, and he hasn’t been able to do either. I wouldn’t say his tenure has gone as bad as Carl Crawford’s, but it’s right there. Price just needs to blog about how the Boston media is mean to him.

With his poor performance, his elbow seemingly on the brink of tearing over the last two seasons, and $127 million owed to him from 2019-2022, I feel like Price is basically going to have to stay healthy and be Curt Schilling in the 2001 postseason to change his image.

Hurley: Wow, sounds like somebody in this conversation has weasled his way out of a junior hockey game or two with a little tomfoolery. Not surprising.

I’m actually in the middle of writing now why Price has a lot to prove on Sunday night. Not that I think he will actually prove it, or that one start can really “prove” anything grand, but he at least has the opportunity to do something somewhat positive against the Yankees. It definitely has all the makings of a potential disaster. Can you imagine if the Yankees take the first three games and the Red Sox put all their eggs into David Price’s basket to prevent the division lead from dropping to 1.5 games? That would qualify as must-see TV.

But one thing you overlooked in all of that (credit to you for not overlooking the video game injury) is that Price has got to be furiously refreshing his weather app all week long here in Boston. The weather on Saturday looks dicey. I don’t know how much it’s going to rain, but it is supposed to rain. And with a 4 p.m. scheduled start time, the teams lose three hours they otherwise could have waited to start the game. And we know that the Yankees will refuse to start any game after, I don’t know, 8 o’clock, or they’ll have to start boycotting ESPN or whatever it is they do when they lose out on some sleep and rest. (Very nice homage to Adrian Gonzalez by the Yankees this year, I will give them that.) So Price may be sitting inside his 8-billion-dollar condo right now doing some sort of rain dance, hoping against hope that Saturday’s game gets rained out and he can get pushed back a day. After the last Sunday night outing against the Yankees, I can’t imagine he wants anything to do with that game.

I actually wouldn’t mind that happening, just to see the Yankees react to having to potentially play another double-header this season. You’ve just got to feel terrible for those guys, you know? Poor babies.

On Price, one last thought: This might qualify as a crazy HOT TAKE or whatever, but I don’t consider it out of the realm of possibility at all that Price still opts out of his contract at the end of this season, knowing he won’t get nearly the $127 million left on his current deal. The guy just seems M-I-S-E-R-A-B-L-E here, and I don’t ever see it getting better. I just don’t. He signed this deal with the idea of opting out like Sabathia or A-Rod and somehow making even more money. Last offseason’s dry market obviously changed that, as did Price’s “unique” elbow situation, as has his 3.77 ERA in Boston, as have his outbursts at the media, etc. etc. etc. If he becomes a free agent this winter at age 33, he’ll be lucky to find a two-year deal that will pay him $30 million total. But he’s already made $144 million, and aside from owning a random Batmobile, he seems like a gym shorts and T-shirt kind of guy.

What I’m saying is, David Price, future Atlanta Brave. Book it now. (Please.)

Keefe: That’s actually a very reasonable and intelligent theory. I’m surprised it came from you. I could easily see him being a Brave and pitching to a 2.50 ERA in the NL East.

So with the Red Sox sitting at 75-34 with the best record in baseball, what are people in Boston mad about? Here, the Yankees might be 68-38 with the second-best record in baseball and would be winning any other division other than the AL East, but because they are trailing the Red Sox and moving closer and closer to the wild-card game it feels like they are a .500 team.

Injuries have prevented the Yankees from having their entire lineup for even a single month of the season, and that coupled with Boone’s lineup decisions and in-game management, has given Yankees fans enough reason to complain. But no storyline has drawn more attention than Sonny Gray.

On Wednesday, Gray made Yankees history by becoming the first Yankee ever to allow five or more earned runs in less than four innings for the sixth time in a season. The Yankees are now 10–11 when Gray stars and 58-27 when he doesn’t. He has single-handedly put the Yankees in their current hole in the division.

The Red Sox don’t have a Sonny Gray, but there must be something Red Sox fans are complaining about. This is a fan base that was upset after the team’s 2005 ALDS loss despite what happened the year before.

Hurley: I actually laughed out loud when I heard that Sonny Gray became the first person to do that six times in a season “since earned runs began being kept as a statistic.” What a brutal low blow that was by whoever worded that. 

In Boston, people aren’t “mad,” per se. It’s kind of weird. When I was growing up, everyone in Boston was sharply negative and critical toward the team. Rightly so; they always blew it or were terrible. But since they’ve won their titles, that sort of nasty side of the fan base has really dissipated. It’s sad. Going to Fenway now feels like going to Disney Land. Everything is just so wonderful!

The most negative things you can find these days are basically A) David Price and B) nobody gives a rat’s patoot about the regular season anymore. Even with Price, there are large swaths of fans who fight back against any negative coverage of him, because … I don’t know? The guy has given no effort to even pretend to care about anyone else, but … I don’t know. But sure, I think a lot of Red Sox fans in a perfect world would like to see Price give up 8 runs in 1 inning but still have the Red Sox win the game. That surprisingly doesn’t happen too often.

The regular season thing is legitimate, and this year it’s bolstered by the fact that so many baseball teams FREAKING STINK. The Red Sox are 51-11 against the Orioles, Rays, Blue Jays, Royals, Angels, Marlins, Rangers and Nationals. The average record of those bum-ass teams is 46-62. That gets a big old whoopity-do from the fan base. And I don’t really blame them. 

The Red Sox won 93 games in 2016, won the division, and got swept by Cleveland. The Red Sox won 93 games last year, winning back to back AL East titles for the first time ever, then lost to Houston in four games. Granted, those were obviously two powerhouses that they ran into, but the point is that nobody’s getting overly thrilled about regular-season success right now.

It’s kind of funny because the Red Sox are on pace to win 111 games. The most they’ve ever won in a season is 105. They haven’t won 100 or more games in a season since 1946. 1946! Here they, potentially becoming one of like six or seven teams to ever win 110-plus games, and everyone here is just kind of like, ” …. cool. The bullpen still STINKS before Kimbrel. Good luck in October.”

In that sense, I kind of respect the way people are looking at it. Maybe it’s the glut of championships in the city combined with the Red Sox’ postseason flops in recent years that just has everybody waiting for a series victory before really getting excited about this team.

Keefe: CC Sabathia has a podcast and he has his teammates as guests on it and a lot of times they talk about potentially winning the World Series. Recently, Boone was a guest on it and he talked about being annoyed that the Red Sox keep winning, but not being worried because the Yankees need to take care of their own business, which they haven’t. Sabathia has said he isn’t worried about the Yankees’ division deficit because the Yankees play the Red Sox 10 more times. This happy-go-lucky sentiment has been echoed through the Yankees fan base by fools.

Let’s go to my favorite math game. The Red Sox gave played .688 baseball for 109 games. Let’s say they play one game over .500 for the rest of the season  and go 27-26. They would finish at 102-60. The Yankees would have to go 34-22 just to tie them, which isn’t crazy, but it’s crazy to think the Red Sox will suddenly become a .509 team.

If that doesn’t wake up Yankees fans, who think everything Boone and Brian Cashman does is right, then maybe this will.

The Yankees and Red Sox have 10 games remaining. Seven of those 10 are in Boston. Going off CC’s plan of beating Boston to erase the deficit, the Yankees would have to go 7-3 in those 10 games to even the loss column and then win three other games without losing one. If the Yankees don’t win the division, but do win the wild-card game, they would see the Red Sox again in a five-game series with Games 1 and 2 in Boston, and also Game 5, is necessary. So if the Yankees don’t win the division, and an ALDS between the two goes five games, 10 of the 15 games between the two will be played in Boston.

A four-game difference in the loss column right now might not seem like a lot to some overly-positive Yankees fans, who can’t do simple math, but it’s a big deal. Even if the Yankees were to split the series this weekend and leave Boston still four games back, well that’s four more games off the schedule with the Red Sox not losing any ground. Unless he Red Sox give us a 2006 or 2011 collapse, the Yankees are going to have to win at least three games this weekend. It’s going to take a miracle for that to happen.

Hurley: Do you ever sleep? With that level of panic and worry, I’m guessing no. I picture you in front of a corkboard, the ashes of a Camel hanging off your lower lip, your 37th cup of coffee getting cold on the desk, as you connect strings to all the different potential timelines that might develop and then doing the accompanying math. It’s kind of funny. Not that you’re wrong. But it is funny.

I guess through the course of this conversation we’ve been reminded that despite our great many differences (for example, you are a dirtbag and I am a kind fellow; I am exceptional at Wiffle Ball (Editor’s Note: I made one bad pitch to him out of thousands in my career) and you are dreadful; and so on and so forth) we really have similar baseball philosophies. Namely we understand that those who value games in August and September more than games in April and May are crazy and wrong.

I do think the 2011 Red Sox collapse does leave open the door for the Yankees. Plus, who knows if Sale’s injury actually becomes an issue? And if, say, Kimbrel blows out his shoulder, the Sox are in trouble. If Bogaerts is out for a long stretch then the infield from second to third becomes Kinsler, Holt, and Nunez. Yeesh.

So it’s maybe not exactly as dire as you portray it, BUT you definitely kind of need to see three Yankees wins this week in order to feel any level of good about it. Let’s just hope for your sanity that you knew enough not to book a trip to Boston for some of these games. We all know how that turns out. It’s usually hilarious for me, but I feel like there’s probably only so much you can take before you just collapse into a puddle on a Fenway concourse, never to be heard from again.