This isn’t a showdown. It’s a fiesta.
Baseball’s two best teams, which also happen to be the game’s greatest rivals, will kick off a three-game series Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium, and let’s face it: Life is so good among this Northeast Corridor route that the stakes do not reside particularly high for the Yankees or Red Sox at the moment.
Thanks to their respective runs of excellence, the Yankees (24-10) could sweep the Sawx (25-9), or vice versa, and the victim would remain the American League’s second-best club. And since the Yankees already shaved a 7 ½-game AL East deficit to one game in 14 days (it has been stuck at one since Thursday), evidence exists that neither team will likely fall and fail to get up from whatever transpires.
Hence this week offers more opportunities to shine than to sink, which leads to this atypically upbeat premise: Who has the most to gain from this series? Here’s our breakdown:
1. Gleyber Torres
It’s Gleyber’s World. The Yankees phenom debuted in the big leagues by starting and completing 15 games in 15 days, slashing .327/.357/.500 and capping the stretch with a walk-off homer Sunday against the Indians, supplanting Mickey Mantle as the youngest Yankee to slug a game-ending round-tripper.
“I see why they really like him,” Cleveland manager Terry Francona said late Sunday afternoon.
Now the 21-year-old gets his rivalry debut. If Torres delivers another huge hit or two, plus the great fielding we’ve seen at second base? The Yankees might have to install a “Gleyber’s Neighbors” seating area behind their dugout as a worthy sequel to The Judge’s Chambers.
2. Luis Severino
The Yankees’ ace is coming off his first career shutout — of the defending champion Astros, of all teams — and shoots for redemption Tuesday from his one bad start this season, a 14-1 pummeling by the Red Sox in the season-series opener April 10 at Fenway Park.
“I think that day, the slider wasn’t that good,” Severino said Sunday. “I was a little in the middle. My fastball command [was off], maybe. I’m just trying to get them to miss my pitches more.”
That hasn’t been a problem overall, with 52 strikeouts in 47 innings. Most impressive, he has permitted only two homers, which goes a long way toward explaining his 2.11 ERA. A strong start Tuesday would help his Cy Young Award narrative among what has begun as a crowded race.
3. Mookie Betts
He would rank higher if not for the right shoulder contusion he suffered Sunday in Texas, which leaves his availability for this series in doubt. Boston’s right fielder finished second to Mike Trout in the 2016 AL Most Valuable Player voting, and he seems determined to top that silver medal this season. His 1.252 OPS leads all of baseball, with the Yankees’ Didi Gregorius third at 1.062, and some big hits in The Bronx would elevate his already esteemed status.
4. Aaron Boone
The Yankees’ rookie skipper seems a long way advanced from that 9-9 start, doesn’t he? A series victory over Boston and its rookie manager, Alex Cora, would nudge him further along in his on-the-job development.
5. David Price
A brilliant first two starts, both against the Rays, have faded away as the left-hander will bring a 5.11 ERA into his Wednesday night assignment. Can he start a turnaround against the opponent that has given him the most trouble historically? Since he appears stuck in this rivalry, unlikely to opt out of the four years (and $127 million) left on his contract after this season, he might as well try to thrive in it.
6. Giancarlo Stanton
Remember him? During the Yankees’ 15-1 stretch, the new guy has a .237/.313/.458 slash line, giving him a “Roger Clemens in 1999” vibe: a big-name, big-money ride-along. We’re still awaiting his proverbial “True Yankee” moment. This series should serve him up a chance or three, and the same goes for his Red Sox counterpart, J.D. Martinez, who is off to a far better start.
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