The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox further proved that their rivalry is the greatest in sports history this weekend, with Boston taking two of three games in a hotly anticipated series at Yankee Stadium over the weekend. Another three-game set takes place at Fenway Park this weekend and Boston now has a 5.5 game lead over New York in the AL East and there’s just one question: what’s next?
Well, that’s an interesting question considering both teams’ respective positions with six weeks remaining in the regular season. The Red Sox have a load of momentum behind them whereas the Yankees would sign Satan himself if it meant just a single hot streak for the rest of the year.
What’s next for Boston?
What’s next for Boston is tricky, especially since the team has won 10 of its last 11 and is looking like the hottest team in baseball right now. Eduardo Nunez has been a great spark since being acquired from the San Francisco Giants last month, and rookie Rafael Devers’ poise at the plate reached a national stage last night when he tied last night’s game in the ninth inning with a home run off of hard-throwing Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman.
Boston just needs to keep their collective foot on the gas pedal. Save for a makeup game against the Cleveland Indians tonight, they have two games against the St. Louis Cardinals before meeting the Bronx Bombers again this weekend. The only real change that Boston must make is in its bullpen management, as a 3-0 lead was blown by Addison Reed and Joe Kelly on Friday night and Matt Barnes let a 1-1 tie get away last night, though Boston eventually won in extra innings.
This team is running hot and isn’t showing any signs of cooling off. The Red Sox want that AL East crown badly, so the Yankees and the rest of the pack had better move out of the way.
What’s next for New York?
Unlike the Red Sox, the Yankees have a lot of adjustments to make over the rest of the season if they want to make a run at the AL East crown, let alone a Wild Card berth.
The first thing that has to be done is at least consider moving right fielder Aaron Judge down in the lineup. The rookie slugger has 35 home runs and 78 RBI on the season but has seen his batting average drop an eye-popping 40 points since the All-Star Break. He is batting just .158 in August and has just five home runs since winning this year’s Home Run Derby. Be it fatigue from the Derby, umpires calling his at-bats differently, or pitchers adjusting their approach to the big right-hander Judge is not getting as many good pitches to hit and isn’t doing the Yankees any favours batting out of the No. 3 spot.
Perhaps by moving Judge to the lower-middle or even lower-third of the lineup, the potential AL Rookie of the Year can get his groove back and recapture the lightning in the bottle that made him a household name in the first half.
The more important area that the Yankees must address, however, is the bullpen. The aforementioned Aroldis Chapman showed more flaws in his game this weekend to where manager Joe Girardi must now seriously consider removing him from the closer’s role. The hard-throwing Cuban walked the first three batters he faced in Friday night’s victory, giving up a run and likely would have more had it not been for a timely double play started by outfielder Aaron Hicks. Last night needs no explanation, as Chapman faced seven total batters and allowed three of them to reach base.
Given how New York has people capable of closing in their bullpen in the form of strikeout artists David Robertson and Dellin Betances, and even Tommy Kahnle, perhaps the best move would be to demote Chapman if only temporarily. It has gotten to where fans, teammates and coaches alike have to hold their breath when he takes the mound and that cannot be the case at this stage of the game.
Finally, New York must find its own gas pedal and just go all out to win games, be it by shuffling the lineup, calling up prospects like Miguel Andujar or Chance Adams from the minors or even releasing Jacoby Ellsbury outright. This means taking anything less than three of the four upcoming games against the crosstown rival New York Mets is unacceptable.
Only then will the first-half magic have a shot at being recaptured, lest manager Joe Girardi continues to insist on taking games slow and not being more aggressive at the plate and on the mound.
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