These 2019 Yankees, the domineering favorites and lovable underdogs all rolled into one, can pull off their greatest trick yet this weekend right here in The Bronx.
They own the opportunity to bury their top rivals, the game’s defending champions, before the calendar (and the weather) officially turns to summer.
OK, allow me to immediately plead guilty to embellishment, yet you get the idea: These next four days, the Yankees could create some serious distance between themselves and the Red Sox, or they can let Alex Cora’s group right back in this American League East race.
“Oh, huge,” Luke Voit said, after the Yankees won their eighth straight series Wednesday with a 7-0 pounding of the Padres at Yankee Stadium, when asked about the Red Sox’s upcoming visit. “Obviously this is a big series for us to help our lead in first place and we’re going to do whatever we can.
“It’s the best rivalry in baseball. So we’re so excited. We haven’t seen these guys in a while. So it’s going to be a lot of fun this weekend.”
When we last left baseball’s Hatfields and McCoys, the Yankees had swept the Red Sox here in a quick, two-game set April 16-17 to improve to 8-9 and drop the Red Sox to a mind-blowingly awful 6-13. Since then, the Sawx have risen from the dead, posting a 23-13 record (heading into their Wednesday night home game against the Indians) to climb back over .500.
The Yankees, however, have gone 28-10 in the same time span to build their lead to seven games after their matinee clubbing of the Pads; the Rays trailed the Yankees by a 1 ¹/₂ games entering their Wednesday night contest against the Blue Jays at Tropicana Field.
So a four-game sweep would give the Yankees a double-digit lead over the Red Sox, whereas a sweep the other way would create a three-team divisional dogfight.
“I know what the standings are,” Aaron Boone said. “But I don’t really get ahead like [contemplating the entire series and its consequences]. It’s like, all right, we’ve got J.A. going tomorrow. I think [Chris] Sale’s pitching [for Boston; he is]. It’s like, what can we do to go win a ballgame? And that’s about as far as I let myself go, honestly.”
Fortunately for Boone, he has public servants like yours truly to point out how significant this weekend can turn out to be. And goodness, the Yankees have aced every test they’ve faced going back to that first rivalry series here. On Wednesday, they quickly dismantled Padres rookie starter Chris Paddack, the talk of the industry, as their first two batters DJ LeMahieu and Voit went deep, while James Paxton shined in his return from the injured list.
James Paxton is brilliant but brief in another Yankees win
Four innings after almost three weeks on the injured list…
That regulars Aaron Hicks and Gary Sanchez and high-leverage relievers Zack Britton and Tommy Kahnle enjoyed full days off — closer Aroldis Chapman warmed up in the ninth when San Diego rallied against Nestor Cortes Jr., then sat down when Cortes cleaned up his own mess — better prepared the Yankees for the battle that awaits them.
“It’s going to be an exciting series, and it’s probably going to come down to the eighth or ninth inning a lot of the time,” Voit said. “It’s going to come down to the bullpen. And I trust what our bullpen can do.”
Some historical perspective: On this very calendar weekend in 2007, the Red Sox took the first two games of a Fenway Park series with the Yankees and increased their divisional lead to 13 ½ games. The Yankees closed within 1 ½ games before running out of gas. And you of course know of 1978, when George Steinbrenner’s team stood 14 games behind the Bosox on July 19 and somehow still captured the AL East.
Those rank as the exceptions, though. These Yankees, riddled by injuries, have proven an exceptional bunch so far. Does their party stop here, or does it intensify? No matter how it plays out, to steal from the increasingly legitimate Voit, it’ll feel huge.