I’ve approached every Red Sox-Yankees series so far this season differently. The first series was Boston’s home opener. The Red Sox had lost their first six games – all on the road – and they needed that first win to get the monkey off their back. They took two of three, winning the series in the final game on April 10. It was Boston’s first shutout of an opponent, which went a long way towards convincing fans that the Red Sox’s pitching could back its offense.
Beating the Yankees at Fenway is challenging, but not overwhelmingly. When the Red Sox visited Yankee Stadium in May, that series felt like the first true indicator of how the AL East’s top two teams stacked up against each other. Boston’s three-game sweep in New York finally brought the Red Sox back to .500, effectively purging the first 1.5 months in which a great team struggled to find its identity.
The second Red Sox trip to Yankee Stadium was simply an opportunity. With a series win, the Red Sox could send a powerful message to the Yankees: “We can come into your park, and we can still kick your ass. What can you do?” And that’s exactly what the Red Sox did, sweeping the Yankees yet again and scoring nearly twice as many runs (25-13 in three games).
By the time the second Fenway series came around in early August, it had become clear that both the Red Sox and Yankees would go to the playoffs. The two might fight for the AL East, but both teams would at least earn a chance at a World Series. This series became a simple indicator of whether the Red Sox would fade late in the season. A series loss would suggest the Red Sox backing limply into the playoffs, which worked in neither 2005 nor 2009. A series win would suggest an aggressive push into the playoffs, as the Red Sox did in 2003, 2004, 2007 and 2008. In those years, the Red Sox won two World Series and went to two ALCS Game 7’s..
The Red Sox won the series and the season-series for the first time since 2004. Those three games showed the Red Sox would not fade away. It also showed that Yankee ace CC Sabathia‘s problems with the Red Sox aren’t going away, making any seven-game series with the Yankees seem far less scary.
Now the Yankees come to town one last time, and I don’t know what’s left to prove. The last series started with the Red Sox and Yankees tied for the AL East. This time, the Red Sox hold a two-game lead. Without a sweep, the Yankees will leave Fenway still behind in the divisional race. But does that even matter? The Red Sox have the best road record in the majors, and the Yankees rank second in the AL. Neither team is afraid to go on the road, and neither team knows which opponent poses the bigger first-round challenge.
Detroit’s Justin Verlander will win the AL Cy Young and maybe even the MVP, but the Tigers have the statistically weakest offense of any likely AL playoff team. Texas’ C.J. Wilson, meanwhile, is a career 4-1 with a 1.43 ERA against Boston. The Rangers, meanwhile, beat the Yankees rather easily in the ALCS last season, and the Tigers are 4-3 against the Yankees this season. Who each team should want to face in the postseason remains very unclear.
I suppose I want the Red Sox to win the AL East: Doing so would force the Yankees to play of the road, where they are three fewer games over .500. The Yankees are the only team with both the offense and pitching to go stride-for-stride with the Red Sox, so whatever scenario makes them most likely to be eliminated is the way I lean. If taking two of three (or ideally sweeping) improves the odds of the Yankees playing the majority of their playoff games on the road, then I suppose I want the Red Sox to take two of three.
But really, I just don’t care. These two teams will meet again in the ALCS. Whoever holds home-field advantage won’t matter because both teams have no problem winning on the road.
The final measure of the Red Sox’s and Yankees’ worth won’t be taken until October. Their two remaining series until then just don’t feel as important.