(Photo Credit: REUTERS/ADAM HUNGER)
It's a two-team race, and we're nowhere near the final stretch.
But the race for the AL East title is already projected to be the most exciting race for the division title in recent memory. Not only are both the Red Sox and Yankees back in form—meaning, ultra-talented head to toe while resurrecting the animosity of the rivalry—but they stand as the two best teams in all of baseball.
Considering it's only the second month of the season and we've already seen two separate impressive runs of utter dominance by either team, it's hard to imagine what the final stretch will entail. Except, we kind of can predict what will happen as we enter the dog days of August and September.
Because the final two weeks of the season will be the most volatile, and yet also most important, two week-stretch for either team. In that span they will play each other for the final six times of the season, barring a matchup in the postseason. The implications of those six games, with a three-game series to conclude the 2018 season, are many-fold: the division is on the line, as are bragging rights. And perhaps, at this rate, best record in baseball and home field advantage.
There are over 100 games left in the season, and baseball has always proven that we never really can predict this stuff. Except the parallels between these two teams are so identical, almost eerie like, it's as if they are the same team; anything the Yankees can do the Red Sox can do better, and vice versa.
Don't believe me? Look at the numbers.
In the first 20 games of the season, the Red Sox had already rattled off two separate nine-game winning streaks to stake themselves to baseball's best record at 18-2. The Yankees had gone 11-9 in that same span and sat in third place behind a surging Blue Jays team that had created some distance ahead of them in second place.
And then, the roles reversed. From April 21 to May 11, the Yankees went 17-3 while the Sox fell back to Earth with an 11-9 run in that same span. Since then, both teams have been jockeying for first place in the division while refusing to give any ground.
Despite the similar hot streaks, the numbers show a closer similarity between the two. The Yankees hold a slight edge with a plus-76 run differential compared to a plus-75 for the Red Sox. Both teams are favored by home field advantage (15-7 record for Boston, 18-7 for New York) while also being road warriors (17-8 and 12-6, respectively).
Both have established winning philosophies, and at the helm are the two neophyte managers in Alex Cora for Boston and Aaron Boone for the Yankees. These, however, are easy comparisons; new managers leading talented ball clubs hard to beat don't fully show how alike these two teams are. The stats, however, don't lie. Both teams are producing runs at incredible rates that have them either first or second in many offensive categories.
...with slight differences
The similarities are clear. Both teams produce the most amount of runs in all of baseball, but the philosophies are different in such a precise way that each team has carved out their own identity despite the similar numbers.
The higher batting average for the Red Sox is a testament to their contact-first approach. They are five back from the least amount of strikeouts in the league with 364, while the Yankees are 15th with 396. Yes, the Red Sox lead the league over the Yankees in home runs—in four more games—but 30 of their 68 are supplied by the power duo of JD Martinez and Mookie Betts. The Yankees feature a fearsome foursome with at least 10 home runs in Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Didi Gregorius, and Giancarlo Stanton. After a two home run performance, Tyler Austin, who leads all rookies with eight, isn't far behind.
The on-base percentage (OBP) disparity also stands as a testament to different philosophies. The Red Sox lead the league in hits, but are 22nd with 143 walks; they are aggressive hitters who know how to control the zone while simultaneously attack pitchers early and often, hence the league lead in hits and average. The Yankees control the strike zone to make pitchers work; their 192 walks are first in baseball as they ascribe to the three true outcomes in the modern game: walk, strikeout, home run. As long as they produce the first and third outcomes often, they'll take the strikeouts in stride.
Boston's schedule has featured weaker opponents than the Yankees. That's not to discredit the team's achievements to date; they are beating the opponents they are faced against, which is the name of the game. But Boston has faced the Tampa Bay Rays thrice, Baltimore twice, and Miami, Kansas City, and Texas once.
|Opponent ||Record||Times Played (Series)|
|Tampa Bay Rays ||22-23||3|
|New York Yankees||30-13||2|
|Los Angeles Angels||26-21||1|
|Toronto Blue Jays||22-25||2 |
|Kansas City Royals||14-32||1|
That's 188 wins against 227 losses. Compared to the Yankees' combined opponent record:
| Opponent||Record|| Times Played (Series)|
|Boston Red Sox||32-15||2|
|Kansas City Royals||14-32||1|
|Los Angeles Angels||26-21||1|
|Oakland A's|| 25-22||1|
|Tampa Bay Rays||22-23||1|
|Toronto Blue Jays ||22-25||1|
Yankees' opponents are a combined 263-289, and that's not including the two-game washout against Washington. The Yankees have played four teams over .500 while already having gone through the gauntlet of the Angels, Houston, and Cleveland successfully. Meanwhile, the Red Sox have built their success on beating up on American League East opponents. They've already played nine series against the Rays, Blue Jays, and Orioles, all teams with losing records who have quickly fallen out of the race.
But you can't take back wins in baseball. The Red Sox and their 32 wins are just as legitimate as the Yankees' 30. The first true test for Boston will come at the end of May when, after a three-game set against the Rays (again) they will play the scary Atlanta Braves, the diminishing but still division opponent Blue Jays, and then a four-game set against Houston in their first ALDS rematch.
This will be a legendary race to the finish line. The new guard of Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Chris Sale and Luis Severino have not only inherited an ancient rivalry but have turned it into their own.
Yes, these teams have their differences, but the similarities can't be ignored. The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox are two of the best teams in baseball, and with the rivalry as hot-blooded as ever, this summer will only add wood to the fire.
And, boy, will that fire be spectacular.