For the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, their respective first halves defied preseason expectations.
The Red Sox were expected to languish toward the bottom of the American League East but instead surged into first place. The Yankees were projected to win the division but instead endured an inconsistent first half, endangering their chances at a fifth straight playoff appearance.
The second half starts Thursday night for the rivals when the Red Sox visit the Yankees for the opener of a four-game series.
The teams will play eight games over the next two weekends and Boston leads the season series 6-0 after the Yankees won 23 of 29 meetings in the previous two seasons, including nine of 10 in the pandemic 2020 season when the Red Sox went 24-36 and finished in the cellar.
The Red Sox won four games over the Yankees by three runs or fewer and in the most recent meeting on June 27 hit three homers off Gerrit Cole in a 9-2 rout at Fenway Park.
The Red Sox headed into the break by getting strong first halves from Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers along with a bounce-back season from J.D. Martinez, all of them All-Stars. Bogaerts batted .321 with 15 homers and 51 RBIs, Devers batted .282 with 22 homers and 72 RBIs and Martinez batted .299 with 18 homers and 62 RBIs after hitting .213 last season.
Despite ending the first half in first place, the Red Sox felt disappointed after losing two of three in each of their past two series — at home to the Philadelphia Phillies after dropping a road set to the Los Angeles Angels.
Boston went into the All-Star break after taking a 5-4 loss to Philadelphia on Sunday when it committed three errors and went 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position.
“We’re in first place in the East. Nobody can take that away from us,” Boston manager Alex Cora said. “I’m a little disappointed that we lost the last two series, but good teams get disappointed when that happens. We expect better than this.”
New York reached nine games over .500 at 28-19 following a three-game sweep of the Chicago White Sox from May 21-23, but is just 18-24 since and enters the series eight games out of first place in the division and 4 1/2 games out of the second wild card.
Among the reasons for New York’s lack of traction in the first half is an inconsistent offense that headed into the All-Star break 12th in the American League with 370 runs scored, 10th in slugging at .394 and seventh with 114 homers.
New York’s offense has picked it up slightly of late by scoring at least five runs six times since its last meeting with Boston but the Yankees are 6-6 in those games due to three epic bullpen meltdowns, two by Aroldis Chapman and one by Chad Green.
Chapman lost his closer’s role for the time being by allowing four runs in the ninth inning of an 11-8 loss to the Los Angeles Angels on June 30 and three runs in the seventh inning of a 10-5 loss to the New York Mets in the opener of a doubleheader on July 4. Green allowed a game-ending three-run homer to Jose Altuve on Sunday when the Yankees blew a five-run lead and took an 8-7 loss in Houston.
“It’s the ultimate gut punch,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “You’ve got a five-run lead in the ninth against a great team with a chance to earn the sweep and they come back to win. We’ve got some things to get better at and make sure all hands are where they need to be.”
Boston’s Eduardo Rodriguez (6-5, 5.52 ERA), who is 2-5 with a 6.21 ERA in his past 13 starts, opens the series.
He last pitched on July 7 against the Angels when he allowed four runs on nine hits in five innings after allowing a combined two runs over 12 innings in his previous two outings.
The left-hander is 1-0 with a 3.97 ERA in two starts against the Yankees this season. He is 7-6 with a 3.88 ERA in 20 appearances (18 starts) against New York.
The Yankees did not announce their starter as of Wednesday night.
–Field Level Media