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Sep. 24—When the Red Sox last faced the Yankees at Fenway Park in late July, they took three out of four to deliver what seemed at the time like a knockout blow.
That turned out not to be the case after New York surged back, Boston faltered and the two wound up converging in the standings. Yet after both clubs endured roller coaster second halves, the Red Sox once again find themselves in position to finish their rivals off for good.
Entering the weekend, Boston leads New York by two games in the American League Wild Card standings, with Toronto right there in the hunt as well.
Should the Red Sox win the series, it would all but ensure Boston's inclusion in the AL Wild Card Game and put the Yankees in a really tough spot. But if the Yankees win, they would have a much better shot at making and possibly even hosting the one-game playoff.
It's not an exaggeration to say this is the biggest series of the season for both teams.
Coming in hot
After fighting through a brutal August and a prolonged COVID-19 outbreak that wiped out a third of the club's big league roster, the Red Sox are back to full strength and playing their best baseball in months. Boston is currently riding a seven game winning streak, has gone 19-11 since the club's last meeting with the Yankees and is 7-2-1 in series over that stretch.
The Yankees have been all over the place through that same stretch. When the Yankees swept the Red Sox between Aug. 17-18 they were in the middle of what would become a 13-game winning streak, but after that New York fell into a devastating 2-11 slump. They have since recovered and are now 7-3 over their last 10 games and are coming off a three-game sweep of the last-place Texas Rangers.
Two of the league's top pitchers will square off in Friday's series opener, as Red Sox righty Nathan Eovaldi (10-8, 3.58 ERA) takes on Yankees ace and AL Cy Young contender Gerrit Cole (15-8, 3.03).
Cole is among the league leaders in most major pitching stats and is first in the AL in wins (15) and strikeouts per nine (12.278). He's also gone 5-2 with a 2.77 ERA since returning from the COVID-19 list on Aug. 16, but he's also coming off one of his worst starts of the year, allowing seven runs on 10 hits in Sunday's loss to Cleveland.
Eovaldi, meanwhile, has given up fewer walks (1.658) and home runs (0.726) per nine innings than any other AL starter. The Red Sox have also won his last six starts, with Eovaldi posting a 2.27 ERA with 48 strikeouts and six walks over 35.2 innings despite winding up with a no decision all six times out.
Nick Pivetta (9-7, 4.63) will face Nestor Cortes Jr. (2-2, 2.79) on Saturday and Eduardo Rodriguez (11-8, 4.97) is scheduled to face Jordan Montgomery (6-6, 3.55) in Sunday's finale.
Settling some business
Who had the better trade deadline? This weekend will go a long way towards answering that question, and the two teams' big ticket acquisitions will have a huge opportunity to prove their worth.
For the Yankees, Joey Gallo has been the definition of a two-outcome player since joining the club. He's posted excellent power numbers with 13 home runs and 21 RBI while also putting up a hideous .169 average with 75 strikeouts in 196 plate appearances, leaving his OPS at a lower than expected .773. Anthony Rizzo has also been solid, hitting six home runs with 18 RBI and a .772 OPS while delivering good defense at first base.
Meanwhile, Kyle Schwarber didn't make his debut for the Red Sox until Aug. 13 but has been excellent since then. The slugger is batting .297 with a .431 on-base percentage and .971 OPS, and he's hit six home runs with 17 RBI, including a two homer showing on Wednesday against the Mets.
The trio got their first taste of the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry at Yankee Stadium back in August, but with the season on the line the players now expect a whole different level of energy at Fenway Park this weekend.
"Very excited to see what the atmosphere is going to be like, it's going to be my first Red Sox-Yankees matchup here in Boston, so I'm excited to show up to the field on Friday and see the buzz," Schwarber said following Wednesday's game. "It's going to be fun, it's going to be electric and I think we're all going to be ready for the challenge."
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