What could have been.
A look at the 2018 schedule upon its release late last year brought immediate anticipation of six Yankees-Red Sox games during the final two weeks of the regular season and the potential drama they might bring.
Instead, as the blood rivals start a three-game series Tuesday afternoon at the Stadium, there is little drama.
At least as far as the AL East title is concerned.
The 103-47 Red Sox, superb all season, bring an 11½-game lead into the series and a magic number of two, meaning they can clinch the crown with a victory Tuesday.
It’s all about putting themselves in the best position for the Oct. 3 AL wild-card game —likely against the A’s — with the best position being in the Bronx rather than a 3,000-mile trip west. The winner of that game gets the Red Sox in a best-of-five Division Series.
The Yankees (91-58) have allowed the A’s to climb within 1½ games of the top wild-card position by going 8-11 in their last 19 games, the only consolation being Oakland has finally cooled a bit, losing three of its last four.
“Obviously it [stinks] that they’re pretty much on their way to winning the division but you have to give credit to them,” reliever Dellin Betances said of the Red Sox. “They’ve had a hell of a season and now it’s up to us to do the best we can over the next four series and try to lock down home-field advantage for the wild card.”
Aaron Boone delivered a big-picture answer to the question of what his club can accomplish in the series.
“Trying to get right,” Boone said. “We’re trying to right this ship and get clicking and get certain guys going. A couple guys potentially back in the fold very soon will help. But we have to get jump-started. We’re trying to kind of round into form as best we can in every facet. So the focus is going out and trying to play a great brand of baseball starting Tuesday afternoon.”
The Yankees have not done that consistently of late and really not in the second half. They’re 29-25 since the All-Star break.
“We know we have to take care of business,” said Andrew McCutchen, a former NL MVP with the Pirates whom the Yankees acquired from the Giants on Aug. 31. “Haven’t really done that lately, but we just have to keep our heads up and get ready for the Red Sox. We just have to finish strong.”
As Boone alluded to, some reinforcements should be arriving soon. Closer Aroldis Chapman, out since Aug. 22 with left knee tendinitis, could be back at some point this week, as could rightfielder Aaron Judge.
Judge, who was activated last week after going on the disabled list July 27 with a fractured right wrist, was cleared to play defense but still hasn’t batted, though he has steadily been upping his baseball activity the last 10 days. He said not to overreact to the team’s struggles.
“Every team goes through it,” Judge said. “You don’t want to go through it, especially late like this. But we still have plenty of baseball left to get hot. It’s all about what team is hot at the end. That’s the biggest thing. If we can get hot here in the last two weeks we’re going to be in a good position.”
The Yankees are 5-8 against the Red Sox this season but were 5-4 until a four-game sweep by Boston at Fenway Park in early August dropped them from 5 ½ back to 9 ½ back.
“The games are obviously very important,” Boone said. “Maybe not from a division standpoint, but obviously very important for where we stand, and we have to play well in these last couple of weeks to get to where we want to go.”