SGG Pick of the Day, Oct. 5: American League Wild Card
Tuesday October 5, 8:08 p.m. ET on ESPN
New York Yankees (92-70) at Boston Red Sox (92-70)
PITCHING MATCHUP: Gerrit Cole (16-8, 3.23) vs. Nathan Eovaldi (11-9, 3.75)
ODDS: Yankees -120 (FanDuel)
OVER/UNDER: 8.5 (BetMGM)
SPREAD: Red Sox +1.5 (DraftKings)
Well, I’m sure the ESPN executives are happy – they got their marquee matchup. Even though I’m sure they would have preferred to have a five or seven game series, the TV folks are at least getting one Yankees/Red Sox game. I guarantee you they were decidedly not hoping for a Blue Jays/Mariners wild card game. The East Coast’s version of the Hatfields vs. the McCoys, this rivalry is as old as baseball itself and few things stir interest among casual baseball fans as much as the games that happen between these two legendary franchises – especially in the playoffs. Some of the game’s most memorable winner-take-all games in MLB history have been between these two franchises.
Both teams barely squeaked in, though, narrowly winning on the final day of the regular season and just managing to shut the playoff door on the young upstart teams in Toronto and Seattle for at least another year. The Rays were clearly the class of baseball’s toughest division this year – and the winner of tonight’s game will get the pleasure of facing Tampa Bay in the ALDS with their ace unavailable until Game 4 because they’re both pitching tonight.
Cole will likely finish second in AL Cy Young voting to Toronto’s Robbie Ray (meaning he still hasn’t won one), and Eovaldi might get some down-ballot votes, too. Both have been their team’s most consistent starters in 2021 and are both exactly who their managers would want on the bump in a must-win game. The weather in Boston is expected to be damp and cool, perhaps limiting the scoring early.
Eovaldi has made six starts vs. New York this year, acquitting himself pretty well with a 3.71 ERA in 34 innings and an excellent 34/4 K/BB ratio. Strangely he was much better pitching in the Bronx this year than at Fenway Park. His last start vs. the Yankees was a disaster as he allowed seven earned runs in just 2.2 innings at home. Cole has not had much success vs. Boston this year, laboring to a 4.91 ERA and allowing five home runs, nine walks and 24 hits in just 22 innings. He has also allowed three home runs in just 21 at-bats to Sox third baseman Rafael Devers who hit two key home runs vs. Washington on Sunday.
The Yankees will be missing infielder D.J. Lemahieu, who was placed on the Injured List with a sports hernia this weekend, and shortstop/third baseman Gio Urshela may still have lingering effects from making an extraordinary catch that saw him crash into the dugout on Sunday. The Red Sox will be concerned about outfielder/DH J.D. Martinez, who somehow injured his leg tripping over second base while jogging to the outfield between innings yesterday.
The key difference in this game is in the bullpens. If the game is close into the later innings and the game becomes a war of relievers, it is undeniable that the Yankees are in a much better position to win the game late. The recent return from injury of both Luis Severino and Jonathan Loaisaga as well as season-long staples Clay Holmes, Chad Green and Wandy Peralta gives New York lots of mix-and-match options in front of closer Aroldis Chapman, who appears to have rediscovered his form after his well-documented mid-season struggles.
On the other hand, the Red Sox likely don’t even know for sure who would close a game for them if they have a lead after 8 innings tonight. Have you heard the football expression “If you have a quarterback controversy, you don’t have a quarterback”? Same thing goes for Closers. In 2021 the Red Sox have a closer controversy because neither Adam Ottavino or Matt Barnes have pitched well enough to keep the job. They had to use Nick Pivetta to close out Game 162 vs. Washington, forcing him to make his first relief appearance all season! Boston’s most consistent reliever all year was Garrett Whitlock, a 25-year-old rookie who they stole from the Yankees in the Rule Five draft, who was injured through much of September. Can they trust a pitcher with 73 career MLB innings in a key spot? Even if Whitlock fares well, who can they trust after that? Martin Perez? Garrett Richards? You can’t win a big game relying on TWO guys named Garrett. It’s in the rule book.
Anything can happen in a winner-take-all game, so predictions are especially tough here, but I’m taking the YANKEES. They have overcome a lot of adversity this season to keep themselves in contention and improved health in their bullpen appears to have stabilized them. The Red Sox have been basically sliding downhill for three months after being perhaps MLB’s best team from April to June. Given that neither ace has exactly dominated their opponents’ lineup this year, the flammable nature of the Boston bullpen and the dimensions of Fenway Park, I am leaning toward taking the OVER as well.