American League Wild Card Preview

BY HAAKON MELAND, SPORTS STAFFER.

New York vs. Boston. Yankees vs. Red Sox. Gerrit Cole vs. Nathan Eovaldi. The Rivalry. Except this time in a way you’ve never seen before. For the first time in the history of the “winner take all” Wild Card game, the Boston Red Sox will host the division rival New York Yankees. 

Both teams had a stressful last week of baseball leading into the Wild Card game. The Yankees, after going 5-1 in their series against Boston and Toronto, had a tough time against the AL East Champion Tampa Bay Rays. It came down to a walk-off, 1-0 win in Game 162 to clinch their spot in the Wild Card. The walk-off single came from Aaron Judge, his first career walk off hit. With the Yankees win in game 162, the Red Sox needed to beat the Nationals to avoid a Game 163 with the Toronto Blue Jays who came up just short of the postseason. Boston ended up coming back from a 5-1 deficit and took the lead in the top of the 9th inning with a two-run home run by Rafeal Devers. The Red Sox win not only allowed them to avoid a Game 163 but also clinch home field for the Wild Card game because of their tiebreaker with the Yankees.  

Both the Yankees and the Red Sox ended the regular season with a record of 92-70. The Red Sox won the season series with the Yankees which gave them the home field for the Wild Card. Although the Yankees lost the season series with Boston, the Yankees have won their last seven games vs the Red Sox. A four-game sweep at Yankee Stadium in early August which included “The Andrew Heaney Game” to complete the sweep. Then a three–game sweep in Boston just over week ago where Giancarlo Stanton dominated the Red Sox pitching. 

The pitching matchup in the Wild Card game is a rematch of the second of the three-game series from Fenway just over a week ago. Cole got the decision after going 6.0 innings striking out six and allowing 3 earned runs which came off the bat of Rafeal Devers. Eovaldi had a start that day that he would like to forget. Eovaldi did not make it through the 3rd inning giving up seven earned runs and didn’t record a strikeout.  

Keys to The Game: 

For the Red Sox, Eovaldi needs to go 6.0 innings allowing no more than two runs. The former Yankee is usually very dominant versus the Bombers, but has taken the loss in his last two starts against them. The Red Sox bullpen is the Achilles heel of this team. Matt Barnes has not been effective since the substance ban. Ottavino has been terrible. Recently they’ve been relying on starters to get outs out the bullpen: Nick Pivetta and Garrett Richards. Eduardo Rodriguez came out of the bullpen in Game 162. I would assume they are all hands-on deck for this Wild Card game. The Red Sox lineup is one of the scariest in baseball. Devers and Bogaerts have carried them offensively and they added some left-handed pop with Schwarber at the trade deadline. Cole has not been himself since the leaving a start with a hamstring issue back in August. The Red Sox lineup needs to do damage on Cole early in the game before he figures it out. Cole is no stranger to giving up the long ball, especially early in games. Red Sox need to take advantage if they want to advance.  

For the 27-time World Series Champion New York Yankees…. They need to hit the baseball. They were shut down by the Rays pitching staff in their last series of the season. Judge and Stanton have done the heavy lifting since the beginning of August and it’s time for guys like Gleyber Torres and Joey Gallo to step up. DJ LeMahieu is a big loss. The Yankees have been the streakiest team in baseball all year and they need to get on another hot streak. The bullpen has been a strong suit for the Yankees, especially in the second half. Clay Holmes has been nothing but dominant since putting on the pinstripes and Luis Severino and Mike King have been much needed weapons out of the pen. Jonathan Loaisiga came out of nowhere and became the Yankees best relief pitcher this year, and honestly should’ve been an All-Star. The Yankees in an elimination game need 5 shutout innings from Cole. Nothing less. No early homeruns. I assume Aaron Boone will go with some formula of Severino-Holmes-Loaisiga-Chapman. Need Chapman to be automatic, can’t get too cute, and for health of Yankees fans. Please, no heartbreaking homeruns.  

The last time these two teams met in the playoffs was in the 2018 ALDS. The Red Sox dominated that series besides the David Price stinker in Game 2 when Judge and Gary Sanchez tattooed baseballs over the green monster. None of that matters tomorrow night. Forget the last 162 games. It all comes down to the Wild Card game. Yankees vs Boston. Winner takes all. It doesn’t get much better than this. 

My prediction: Yankees 5-2. 

Postseason record: 0-0.

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