Look, you never want to overreact too much to one game in baseball — or in this case, two games in one day — but after watching the New York Yankees sweep the Boston Red Sox in a doubleheader on Tuesday and pass Boston by percentage points in the standings, the obvious conclusion remains: The Yankees are soaring, while the Red Sox are in deep trouble.
Ten takeaways from the doubleheader, which leaves the Yankees at 68-52 (.567 winning percentage) and the Red Sox at 69-53 (.566) — and both teams in a tie with the Oakland Athletics (68-52) for the two wild cards.
1. It’s always fun to see the hometown broadcasters react to games like this. The Red Sox announcers got progressively more depressed as the night wore on and the Red Sox kept leaving runners on base in the 2-0 loss in the nightcap, while the Yankees announcers were predictably giddy in victory.
Paul O’Neill: “Who could have ever believed in the middle of July when you’re 10 games back that you would be passing the Boston Red Sox. What a great day for the Yankees here.”
The Yankees and Red Sox are even in the standings after NYY was 10.5 GB of BOS on July 6
It’s the 3rd-largest deficit either team has erased in the entire rivalry
1978: Yankees erased 14-gm deficit (year of Bucky Dent HR)
1949: Red Sox erased 12-gm deficit
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) August 18, 2021
David Cone: “The worm has turned. The Yankees serving notice. They’re back.”
Hey, they’re not wrong. On July 25, after losing the series final at Fenway Park, the Yankees were nine games back of the first-place Red Sox. Since July 26, the Yankees have gone 17-5, the best record in the majors, while the Red Sox have gone 8-14.
Making up nine games in just over three weeks is incredible. Books were written about the famous 1978 pennant race when the Yankees were 14 games back in the middle of July and rallied to win the division — but it took them two months to make up that deficit, not 22 games. Yes, the Red Sox are still in a good position, but it’s a disheartening mental blow to lose all that ground to the Yankees (let alone trail the first-place Tampa Bay Rays now by five games).
2. New York rookie starter Luis Gil was the story of the second game, tossing 4⅔ scoreless innings to become the first pitcher to begin his major league career with three straight scoreless starts. For years, we’ve heard about all these pitchers in the Yankees farm system with big arms, and now we finally have one contributing to the big league team. Gil, as the old-timers used to say, has electric stuff, with a fastball that major leaguers have had trouble squaring up, going just 3-for-22 so far, all singles.
In modern vernacular, that means a moving fastball up in the zone with a high spin rate. “His fastball plays up,” Yankees first baseman Luke Voit said after the game. “It looks like it has a little extra life up in the zone. The thing I love about him is his swagger. He’s got confidence. He doesn’t ever slow down, which is great.”
Really, the Yankees only turned to Gil out of desperation. Gerrit Cole and Jordan Montgomery landed on the COVID-19 injured list and Domingo German on the regular injured list. The Yankees bypassed Deivi Garcia — who started in the postseason in 2020 but has struggled at Scranton with a 7.08 ERA — and went with Gil, who was only a little better with a 5.64 ERA in eight Triple-A starts. Control had been his biggest issue with 23 walks in 30⅓ innings, but he’s been done a better job in the majors with seven over 15⅔ innings.
Anyway, as Voit said, Gil has provided a big — and surprising — lift. And if he continues to throw enough strikes, Gil is going be a force down the stretch.
3. The biggest out and play in the second game came in the top of the sixth inning when the Red Sox had runners at first and third with two outs. Brett Gardner had made a nice sliding play on Hunter Renfroe‘s base hit to left-center to keep the lead runner from scoring. Bobby Dalbec was up next and hit a soft liner back to pitcher Wandy Peralta, who knocked it down, scrambled after the ball as he bounced toward the third-base line, spun and made a perfect throw to Voit at first base.
“When it hit him, I’m like, ‘Oh, crap,'” Voit said. “And then I was like, I don’t know where this throw is going to go, and he made the throw of his life.”
Or maybe the biggest out came in the fifth, when Peralta entered to face Rafael Devers with the bases loaded and two outs. He got Devers to ground out softly to second base to preserve the 2-0 lead. The point here: Wandy Peralta is getting big outs for the Yankees.
4. It will be interesting to see how Aaron Boone manages things when Anthony Rizzo returns from the COVID-19 IL. Rizzo has been out since Aug. 7, and he took batting practice between games, his first time doing that since he landed on the IL. Rizzo said he felt the effects of the coronavirus while in quarantine. “It sucked,” he told reporters. “Achy and tired. I’d just get up and try to move around and get tired and everything hurts.”
When he does return, Rizzo will see Voit back in the lineup. Voit returned from the injured list on Aug. 8, and he has hit .243/.317/.486 with three home runs and nine RBIs in 10 games.
Voit made his case for playing time after the game.
“I was top-10 MVP last year, and I’ve been a great player for this organization for the last three years,” he said. “I’m not going down. I want to play. Obviously, I know it will be tough with Rizzo, but I deserve to play just as much as he does. I led the league in home runs last year. I feel really good again.”
Boone has said he’ll take it day by day, but one solution is to play Giancarlo Stanton in the outfield and use Voit as the designated hitter. Stanton played right field with Aaron Judge as the designated hitter, the eighth time he has started in the outfield since July 30, after not playing at all there before then. With Joey Gallo capable of handling center field, look for a lot of Stanton-Gallo-Judge alignments when Rizzo returns.
5. Speaking of Stanton, yes, Yankees fans are frustrated with the strikeouts and lack of home run production. He hit his 19th in the second game, a huge, 441-foot blast off Nathan Eovaldi, off an 0-2 curveball. It wasn’t a terrible pitch, at the bottom of the zone, but Stanton went down and golfed it out. With a .263/.361/.458 line in 2021, Stanton has been more good than great, but he is certainly capable of being great for 40 games down the stretch. He is a big — literally — component if the Yankees are to hold down a wild-card spot and even chase down the Rays.
441 ft from Big G 😲 pic.twitter.com/B0z1dyMj2v
— New York Yankees (@Yankees) August 18, 2021
6. Not to skip over Tuesday’s first game, but the Red Sox had their chances in that one, as well. Down 5-3 in the seventh, they loaded the bases against Jonathan Loaisiga on three singles with no outs. It looked like the Yankees’ bullpen might be on its way to a late-game meltdown, but Boone left Loaisiga in the game. Pinch hitter Travis Shaw hit a hard liner — 100 mph — right to the left fielder, and Loaisiga then fanned Enrique Hernandez and Renfroe for the two-inning save. Chad Green closed out the second game. But Loaisiga has been the team’s best reliever, and Boone is going to continue using him late in games, whether it’s the eighth inning or ninth inning. And it wouldn’t be surprising if the combination of Loaisiga and Green remains ahead of Aroldis Chapman on the closer chart when Chapman returns from the IL.
7. The Red Sox have made some intriguing defensive decisions with the return of Kyle Schwarber. Dalbec started the first game at first base, despite his continuing struggles at the plate. (And Shaw, just claimed off waivers, started the second.) Renfroe played center field in the first game, while Jarren Duran starting there in the second game. Alex Verdugo played left and J.D. Martinez in right both games, with Schwarber at DH. Meanwhile, Hernandez, who had played excellent defense in center field the first three months until Duran was called up, is now the second baseman.
Of course, the Red Sox have run this through all their computers and come up with this alignment to be what they feel is most optimal; but they’ve made themselves worse in right field and worse in center field (at least if Renfroe is playing there) without solving the offensive problem at first base. They clearly feel, at least for now, more comfortable with Martinez in the outfield than Schwarber at first base — and there’s a reason Martinez has mostly been a DH over the past several years.
8. The Red Sox’s offense hasn’t actually been that bad during this 8-14 stretch, hitting .276/.347/.445 while averaging 4.54 runs per game. Not great; not awful. They do need to get Verdugo going to add some depth to the lineup. He has just two home runs in his past 50 games.
9. Rookie Garrett Whitlock — claimed from the Yankees in the offseason in the Rule 5 draft — has been a bullpen weapon all season for the Red Sox, but he has now scuffled in two of his past three appearances. He had a blown save last week against the Rays and then got the loss in Tuesday’s first game when he walked a couple of batters and both came around to score. It could be nothing, but let’s see if he’s hitting the wall a bit as he creeps up to the 60-inning mark.
10. So, yes, a good day for the Yankees — but there is still a lot of baseball to play. As Boone said, “Bottom line: It’s nice that we’re in a position where we’re in control of what we do, we’re in control of our season, but we haven’t done anything yet.”
The other bottom line: Never, ever leave the Yankees for dead — as ready as you might have been to bury them back on July 4.
ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this story.