By Sean Sylver, 98.5 The Sports Hub
Just over a month ago, the Yankees kicked off Fourth of July festivities with some Sunday night fireworks in an 11-1 win over David Price and the Red Sox. Luis Severino won his league-leading 13th game, while Price yielded a career-high five home runs to fall to 2-6 with an 8.43 ERA against New York in a Boston uniform. With the victory, the Bronx Bombers pulled ahead of the Sox by percentage points atop the AL East.
The local nine responded by ripping off a 10-game winning streak. Buoyed by a cream puff schedule and facing teams a combined 121 games under .500, the Sox went 19-5 the rest of July to build a 5.5-game lead in the division. Meanwhile, the Yankees lost Gary Sanchez, then Aaron Judge, and Severino - who rookie manager Aaron Boone rode like a rented mule in the early going - has cooled, winning just one of his last four starts and giving up a total of 19 earned runs.
We’re constantly reminded that wins against also-rans are like loading up on empty calories. Sox owner John Henry recently acknowledged this year’s squad will be defined by its postseason performance. Even as they spin their wheels, the Yankees are a postseason team, and the Sox have dropped the last two series to them. So with the scene shifting to Fenway for the first time since April, this upcoming four-game set seemed as good an opportunity as ever for Boston to put a knee in the back of the neck of their rivals.
Then, Chris Sale hit the DL.
Instead of Sale on the hill against C.C. Sabathia Thursday night, it’ll be Brian Johnson. He'll be followed by Rick Porcello, new acquisition Nathan Eovaldi, and, with the Sunday night spotlight on him once again, Price.
A popular game back in high school and college was “Would You Rather?” Let’s bring it back for this column. Would you rather have a slugger with a fractured wrist (Judge) or an ace with a sore shoulder (Sale)?
A fracture is a fracture. The bone heals, but that doesn’t mean everything immediately returns to normal. Boston fans have observed the lasting effects of wrist maladies with Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz, for example, over the last decade.
Given the way the Sox have handled Sale in 2018, the shelf stint seems like a precautionary measure. But is he a modern-day Pedro Martinez, for whom fatigue was an issue every season of his Red Sox career? Or will this continue to manifest down the stretch? With Sale reportedly set to return against the Blue Jays next Wednesday, we'll keep our fingers crossed.
Luckily for the Red Sox, they added pitching depth at the deadline with a veteran of 138 big league starts in Eovaldi. With Eduardo Rodriguez only just now starting to stir after another injury and Drew Pomeranz continuing to wander in the desert, the righty is a pennant chase option, if not a postseason difference maker. He won't shoulder the burden of J.A. Happ, the Yankees' deadline pickup, who will miss Saturday's start with a nasty case of hand, foot and mouth disease. Happ may very well slot in as New York's No. 2 starter.
If you’re not bullish on Happ and you think the Yankees starting pitching depth is mostly comprised of guys who were good five years ago, take a look at their options in the late innings. Already flush with bullpen options in Aroldis Chapman, David Robertson and Dellin Betances, the Bombers stretched out their ‘pen with the addition of Zach Britton. While Britton’s strikeout-to-walk ratio indicates he may not be what he once was, he’s better than what the Red Sox added to their bullpen, which is nothing.
There’s still the August 31 deadline for waiver trades, I suppose.
Boston will tangle with lefty Sabathia tonight. While Alex Cora’s team has a phenomenal record against righties this season, returns have been modest against southpaws. That’s an area the Sox did choose to address with the additions of Ian Kinsler and Steve Pearce, but neither approximates a full-time player at this stage of their careers.
The Yankees traded for two former All-Stars last week and now need to get a couple of mashers back into the lineup. For Boston, the juxtaposition of the Sale announcement and the lack of a bullpen move couldn’t have looked worse. Let’s hope Johnson can chew some innings tonight, Eovaldi looks like the guy who dominated the Twins on Sunday, and Price gets out of the fourth inning this time.
Dave Dombrowski elected to add depth to the squad with the best record in the major leagues. Each of the moves had purpose. But 5.5 games can vanish quickly, particularly when the team nipping at your heels is in town the next four nights. It’s Sox vs. Yankees, once again. Fire it up.
Sean Sylver can be heard on 98.5 The Sports Hub. You can follow him on Twitter @TheSylverFox.