Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

Why it's not inevitable Yankees will match up with Red Sox in ALDS

Alex Reimer
August 07, 2018 - 1:21 pm

Even though the Red Sox embarrassed the Yankees at Fenway Park last weekend, the Bombers are still on pace to win more than 100 games. But unlike the Sox, they won’t be able to coast through the rest of the summer. Don’t look now, but the A’s are only three games behind the Yankees for the wild card lead. 

It would be a real shame if the Yankees were forced to fly across the country for their seemingly inevitable one-game playoff. 

The Yankees are coming off a disastrous week, which predates their woeful weekend in Boston. Last Wednesday, right-hander Sonny Gray was booed off the mound at Yankee Stadium, and third base coach Phil Nevin lit into the Yanks for their apparent lack of effort. Then the Yankees lost four straight to the Red Sox, with the capper coming Sunday, when Aroldis Chapman blew a three-run lead in the ninth. 

Since July 1, the Yankees are 16-15. As we know, they’ve lost eight games to the Red Sox during that span, falling from one-game back in the division to nine. But their wild card lead is shrinking, too. The A’s have gone 20-8 over that same stretch.

Oakland’s run is centered around power hitting and a dominant bullpen. The A’s are fourth in the league in home runs (153), with Khris Davis hitting at least 30 home runs for the third straight season. There are seven players on the A’s who have reached double figures in home runs, including old friend Jed Lowrie, who has 17.

As a bullpen, the A’s are third in the league in ERA (3.31), just behind the Yankees. Closer Blake Treinen has fanned 75 batters in 57 innings, making him one of three relievers on the team who strikes out more than 10 hitters per nine innings. 

Oakland’s weak point is the starting rotation, which explains its acquisition Monday of Tigers right-hander Mike Fiers. He immediately becomes the best starter on the Athletics’ staff, boasting a 7-6 record with 3.48 ERA.

Mediocre starting pitching is a big disadvantage in a one-game playoff, for obvious reasons. But there are significant questions about the Yankees’ starting staff as well. Luis Severino, who’s been electric for most of the season, has an 8.28 ERA over his last five starts, including a four-run performance in 5.2 innings against the Red Sox on Friday. In the words of Alex Cora, it wasn’t a quality start.

Severino, 24, experienced a significant workload increase last year, going from 71 innings in 2016 to 193.1 innings in 2017. This season, he’s up to 143.1. The Verducci Effect says 25-and-under major league pitchers who packed on 30 or more additional innings from their previous high are at increased risk for injury or declining performance. Severino fits that characterization.

Aside from Severino, the Yankees could lean on Masahiro Tanaka, who’s only allowed one run over his previous three starts. But the Red Sox chased him after 4.2 innings Sunday.

With Aaron Judge (wrist) and Gary Sanchez (groin) still out, the Yankees will likely be undermanned for the bulk of August. They’re aided by their weak schedule, as they'll take on the moribund White Sox, Rangers, Mets, Rays, Blue Jays, Marlins, Orioles and Tigers before September. Then again, the Yankees are 28-21 against those clubs, including an even .500 against the Orioles and Rays. 

The Yankees are still in control of the wild card race. But it can no longer be considered inevitable they’ll match up with the Red Sox in the ALDS. First, they have to worry about holding off the pesky A’s, and then surviving them in the wild card round. 

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