The Boston Red Sox will host the first matchup of 2018 with the New York Yankees on Tuesday. The three-game series is the first look of a 19-game epic throughout the course of the season and, potentially, being a preview of a potential playoff matchup.
Both teams have the muscle to flex in all facets of the game, but it's no secret that one team is hot while the other is, well, not. The Red Sox and their 8-1 record have translated into the best winning percentage in baseball. For the Yankees, the early going has been marred by injury and mediocre outcomes that have resulted in an even 5-5 record in their first ten games.
As we prepare for the next chapter in this long and bitter rivalry, the stakes will be different for each, even if the end goal is the same.
Welcome to the rivalry, new guys
Sure, this could be addressed to names like Giancarlo Stanton and JD Martinez, but expect no one to be under heavier scrutiny than Aaron Boone and Alex Cora, the first-year managers of the Yankees and Red Sox, respectively.
Both managers are familiar with the rivalry in their playing days: both Aaron Boone and Bucky Dent share the same middle name (hint: it's NSFW), and Alex Cora's four years with the Red Sox came just at the beginning of Boston supremacy in the mid-2000s. Now, they'll experience the rivalry from a different perspective, one that will pit their strategy and wits rather than their ability to field a grounder or hit a fastball.
It'll be interesting to see how the two new guys, who are part of a new wave of managers, will respond to the command that now rests on their shoulders.
If there is one game you shouldn't miss, it'll be the first.
That's because it will be fledgling ace Luis Severino (2-0, 1.38 ERA) for the Yankees' against the jewel of the Red Sox in Chris Sale (0-0 0.82 ERA), and both have significant success against one another. In 2017, Severino surrendered a single run in 14 innings pitched at Fenway Park, while Chris Sale's career ERA against the Yankees is below 2.00. There's no reason to think either one will break the mold, so it could be a pitching matchup that stifles both highly dangerous offenses.
The second game will feature Masahiro Tanaka (1-1, 2.92 ERA) against David Price (1-0, 0.00 ERA). Will the Yankees charge Price with his first runs of the season? Both pitchers seem to have regained their old forms in the early going as 2018 will prove to be a redemption year for both pitchers with balky elbows and heaps of expectations.
The final matchup has Rick Porcello going for the Red Sox, but it remains to be seen who the Yankees will put out there with CC Sabathia still on the disabled list.
Both teams will face their fair share of questions before first pitch. Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts suffered an ankle injury in the series finale against the Rays and is out for the next couple of weeks. If not, can Boston make due with its star shortstop's 1.111 OPS? JD Martinez finally hit his first home run, but what will his encore act be as the Red Sox foil to the Yankees' acquiring Giancarlo Stanton?
For New York, the questions will surround both Stanton and Gary Sanchez. Both are off to miserable starts for the Yankees, with the latter batting .064 and the former having two platinum sombreros (five strikeouts in one game) in the same homestand. If both were looking to change their luck, the odds will be stacked against them with Chris Sale on the mound to start off the series.
The first series is always important
Yes, the Yankees and Red Sox play each other 19 times this year, and the games will always hold more meaning the deeper we get into the season.
Don't underestimate the importance of the first one because whoever wins it will send a declarative statement to the other. For the Red Sox, they will claim the AL East as theirs to defend as they seek a third straight division championship. The Yankees will seek to usurp the current administration and replace it with their own.
But putting the big picture aside for the moment, this modest three-game series has serious implications in the early going. The Red Sox hold a 3.5 game lead over the third-place Yankees, and a series victory can create some much-needed separation. If the Yankees fail to win at least two out of three, they will look up the backsides of the Red Sox as they climb the mountain in pursuit. If they win the series or perhaps pull off a sweep, they will be right on Boston's heels in a neck and neck race that is expected to go down to the wire.
Regardless of the current records, both teams will provide the first real competition either have faced so far this season. Credit has to be given to the Red Sox for beating teams they are expected to beat, but the entirety of their 8-1 record came at the expense of the lowly Tampa Bay Rays (twice) and the even lower Miami Marlins. Will the success translate against a far more skilled opponent?
For the Yankees, they need to determine what type of team they want to be. There have been flashes of the endless production from such a powerful offense, but injuries have worn the team thin already and there hasn't been the consistency to catapult them to the top. Will they rise to the occasion against such a hated rival?
Bragging rights are on the line, plain and simple. The Red Sox already have plenty to boast about with their best start in franchise history. Two five-strikeout games by newbie Yankee Giancarlo Stanton has just provided fodder for Red Sox nation. Meanwhile, the Yankees need to prove that they are serious in reversing the Red Sox fortune from the last two years.
But this is just a glimpse at the bigger picture, a small fraction of which will be revealed as a teaser come Tuesday. But the surging Red Sox have left the stumbling Yankees at the starting line, which is why I see the Red Sox having the momentum ahead of game one, with Chris Sale's first pitch scheduled at 7:10 pm.
Prediction: Red Sox win two out of three games.