Still, Austin said he isn’t anticipating this week’s three-game set between his Yankees and Kelly’s Red Sox to be different from any other series he’ll play in this season. Boston is just another team on the schedule to him.
“We’re just coming out here to try to win ballgames,” Austin said when asked about the rivalry returning to Yankee Stadium.
Indeed, it’s natural to be excited for this series, and here’s why: Both teams are very good and very entertaining this year, coming in with the two best records in baseball. The Red Sox broke out to a 17-2 start, and the Yankees have responded by winning 15 of their past 16. The Sox enter the series with a one-game lead in the American League East. Yes, it’s only May, but given the short- and long-term history between these teams, the adrenaline should be pumping on both sides.
Here’s a game-by-game look at how it all might shake out in the Bronx.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, this game will mark the first time in the series’ 115-year history that the teams are meeting this late in a season both holding winning percentages of .700 or higher. The Red Sox enter with a .735 winning percentage, while the Yankees are at .706.
If you weren’t already aware of how well the teams have played this season, that should give you an idea.
Need more evidence? The Red Sox and Yankees began this week ranking first and second in the majors in three key offensive areas: runs (Yankees first, Red Sox second), run differential per game (Red Sox first, Yankees second) and extra-base hits (Red Sox first, Yankees second).
For Boston, the extra-base hits have come in large part from Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez and Xander Bogaerts. Betts has 12 doubles and a league-high 13 home runs, Martinez has eight of each, and Bogaerts has 10 doubles and three homers.
For the Yankees, Didi Gregorius (10 doubles, 10 home runs), Gary Sanchez (eight doubles, nine HRs), Aaron Judge (nine doubles, eight HRs) and Giancarlo Stanton (seven doubles, seven HRs) have been providing the pop. Miguel Andujar, New York’s 23-year-old third baseman, has 12 doubles and went on an eight-game extra-base-hit streak earlier this season.
All of this means Pomeranz and Severino will have their hands full Tuesday. Severino will look to build off one of the best outings of his young career. The right-hander posted his first shutout last week in Houston, holding a dangerous Astros lineup to just five hits in a 4-0 Yankees win. Pomeranz, on the other hand, is still seeking his first really good outing this season. The lefty missed the first few weeks while recovering from a left forearm flexor injury and has been mediocre at best in three starts.
Betts left Sunday’s game against Texas early after he was hit in the right shoulder blade by a throw while running the bases, but he is expected to play Tuesday. Severino will have to pitch delicately to the slugging leadoff hitter, who began the week having barreled a major-league-high 22 balls, according to Statcast.
After making that dry statement and several others like it, Austin burst out laughing. He knew exactly what he was doing. He wasn’t falling for any traps that might stir up more drama.
“I’m pretty boring over here, guys,” he said, still laughing.
Yeah, sure he’s boring. And sure these next three games will be boring too.
At least Hanley Ramirez is realistically looking at what the next few days will hold.
Game 2: 7 p.m. Wednesday
If a healthy Betts is the most dangerous man in the Boston lineup, Sanchez is the most dangerous man in the Yankees’ lineup — at least for Red Sox pitchers.
Although the power-hitting catcher enters the series hitting just .198 this season, he is beginning to heat up, and he has owned Price so far in his career. In 12 at-bats against the Boston lefty, Sanchez is batting .500, with five of the six hits being home runs. He also has 11 RBIs.
The latest of those five home runs came in the middle game of last month’s three-game set at Fenway Park. With two runs already in on a Stanton triple in the first, Sanchez launched a two-run shot over the Green Monster to give the Yankees a quick 4-0 lead in what would be a short night for Price.
Price left following the first inning with a tingling sensation in his left hand. He hasn’t fared well in the four starts he has made since, allowing 17 earned runs in 22 innings. In his latest outing, Price allowed nine runs (seven earned) and six hits in 3⅔ innings against Texas.
Sanchez isn’t the only Yankees hitter to have had success against Price. The 27 homers Price has allowed against the Yankees are the most he has given up to any team in his career. His 4.67 ERA and 1.39 WHIP are both the second worst he has had against any team he has faced at least five times.
Given Price has had so much trouble going deep into games, look for the Yankees to attack him the way they have opposing pitchers all season: by making him work, pushing up his pitch count early.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Yankees rank third in the majors in pitches faced this season, having seen 5,422. Only Dodgers and Astros hitters had seen more entering play Monday.
Game 3: 7:05 p.m. Thursday
Arguably the premier matchup of the week, the series finale features a pair of former Cy Young Award winners. Of late, both have shown Cy Young form.
Porcello has been dominant, using his sinker-slider combination effectively to induce ground balls and rack up strikeouts. He has 46 K’s in 46⅓ innings. Porcello this season has induced his highest percentage of ground balls and gotten his highest percentage of chased pitches since Statcast started tracking that data in 2015.
The strikeouts are not high for Sabathia — he has half as many as Porcello — but in this late stage of his career, the 37-year-old has figured out how to control the strike zone despite his lost velocity.
Sabathia’s past four outings have been particularly impressive. Across 23⅓ innings, the left-hander has allowed just one earned run. Following an early April disabled list stint for a hip injury, he has helped the Yankees beat the Blue Jays, Twins, Angels and Indians, teams that could factor into the postseason race as the season goes on.
Sabathia has been getting outs mostly via the fly ball. Per Statcast, the percentages of ground balls and line drives he has induced this season are at their lowest points of the past four years. His fly ball percentage is at its highest point.
If any of this week’s three games figures to be a low-scoring contest, this would be it.
As his team prepared for the series, Yankees manager Aaron Boone had a simple message for his hitters regarding the Red Sox starting pitchers: “Go make them earn it.”
“I feel confident our guys will come out and do that. We understand all that goes with [the series] from the outside, that there will be more eyes on this one,” Boone said, “and that’s what you love about being a part of this.”