Regardless of how this weekend plays out on Yawkey Way — assuming the road isn’t called Big Papi Drive by Sunday — it’s a fairly safe bet that both the Yankees and Red Sox will make the postseason, in some capacity.
While nothing is going to be decided six weeks from the finish line, Joe Girardi & Co. carry the burden of an increasing sense of urgency that goes beyond the deficit they face in the American League East.
Let’s just say the events of the only sudden-death playoff game in the Bronx, in 2015, is not going be made into a “Yankeeography” anytime soon. That one-and-done at the hands of the Astros — piloted by their ace, Dallas Keuchel — is among this franchise’s worst October memories. Mercifully, the humiliation was relatively brief, capped at one night.
In the history of the do-or-die wild-card game, which was implemented for the 2012 season, five of the 10 winners at least made it to the League Championship Series. The 2014 World Series featured a pair of wild cards, with the Giants outlasting the Royals in a superb seven games. So it’s certainly possible to use the sport’s consolation prize as a springboard.
“If you’re in, you’re in,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said.
Easy for him to say, with Boston holding a five-game lead over the Yankees after Friday night’s 9-6 victory. In total, the Red Sox have a nine-game cushion for a playoff spot overall, counting the distance between them and the Royals, the team a half-game out of the second wild-card spot. That’s a sizable safety net, courtesy of their 49-30 (. 620) mark since May 21, the AL’s best record over that period and second in the majors behind the supernatural Dodgers (61-15).
And what if the Yankees can’t catch the Sox? At least there’s no one on the level of a ’15 Keuchel waiting for them again, judging by the wild-card pack nipping at their heels. The Angels’ Parker Bridwell? The Royals’ Jason Vargas? The Twins’ Ervin Santana? None seems capable of turning out the lights in the Bronx like Keuchel, who had a knack for neutralizing the Yankees that season (22 scoreless innings).
Not that Girardi should be preparing any concession speeches. After these three at Fenway, the Yankees still host the Red Sox for four in New York (Aug. 31-Sept. 3) with Greg Bird, Starlin Castro and maybe Matt Holliday all expected back by then.
After missing the playoffs three out of the last four years, the Yankees probably don’t view the wild card with as much disdain as they used to. But they’d obviously prefer the other route in, over the Red Sox.
“You always want to feel like you’re in control of your own destiny,” Girardi said.
There’s no reason to think the Red Sox are going to suddenly fall apart down the stretch, not with Chris Sale — who faces CC Sabathia on Saturday night — positioned as the stopper and dominant Craig Kimbrel at the back end of the bullpen. Like the Yankees, Boston has game-changing rookies in Andrew Benintendi and Rafael Devers. The latter delivered a two-run home run Friday night, his seventh homer in only 19 games.
Not so great for the Red Sox was the fact that Drew Pomeranz, their sterling No. 2 starter, had to leave Friday night’s game with back spasms with one out in the fourth inning, midway through Chase Headley’s at-bat. Pomeranz, who is 12-4 with a 3.31 ERA, was through three scoreless innings before he rifled a fastball to the backstop. That brought out Farrell and the trainer, and after a pair of test pitches, Pomeranz was unable to continue, then was diagnosed with back spasms.
While that didn’t appear serious, it doesn’t sound as if the Yankees will have to worry about seeing David Price down the stretch. The Red Sox’s ailing $217-million lefthander, most recently shut down because of recurring elbow inflammation, has been incapable of resuming any semblance of a throwing program. When Farrell was pressed on Price again Friday, the manager suggested he isn’t close.
“I don’t have a return date at all,” Farrell said.
So Price may be sitting this one out. Too bad for him. Could be a fascinating race.