The Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees entered the 2021 MLB season on opposite ends of the spectrum.
Most folks expected New York to command the American League East division.
Meanwhile, the consensus on Boston was that the club was likely going to be a non-factor in the playoff race.
Both of those expectations have been proven wrong.
As it turns out, the Red Sox and Yankees are battling each other for positioning in the Wild Card race with less than two months remaining in the regular season.
Now, to be clear, neither team is dead yet in the AL East race.
However, the Tampa Bay Rays have started to create some separation at the top of the division.
For Boston and New York, a Wild Card bid might be the most viable avenue to the postseason.
Let’s take a look at the keys for each team the rest of the way.
Keys For Red Sox Down The Stretch
Boston has two major concerns right now, and both have to do with the pitching staff.
First, the team’s rotation still has question marks.
That looks a lot better than it did a few weeks ago, but there are still unknowns.
Will Sale pitch like his vintage self?
Will Houck—a rookie—be up to the challenge of anchoring a playoff-bound rotation?
Which versions of Pivetta and Rodriguez will the Sox get the rest of the way?
Those questions will likely answer themselves.
Second, Boston should be concerned with Matt Barnes and some of the other late-innings relievers.
Barnes has been virtually unserviceable lately, allowing seven runs over his last three innings of work.
George Springer, noted UConn Husky, second decks Matt Barnes, noted UConn Husky pic.twitter.com/9R0rNQKCpV
— Mike Mavredakis (@MikeMavredakis) August 8, 2021
Setup man Adam Ottavino hasn’t been much better, allowing nine runs over his last 7.1 frames.
The Red Sox chose not to bring in any substantial relief help at the deadline, so they’re going to have to make do with what they have.
The team is certainly hoping that Barnes returns to All-Star form and that Ottavino channels the success he had in the first half.
On the bright side, Boston has a head start in the Wild Card race.
The Sox have a two-game cushion right now over New York.
Keys For Yankees Down The Stretch
The Yankees have a lot of imperfections, but if they’re able to get healthy, they’re going to be in good shape.
Health is the biggest key for New York from here on out.
Some of the players we’re about to mention are slated to return very soon, but currently, the Yankees are without Domingo German, Gerrit Cole, Jordan Montgomery, Aroldis Chapman, Gary Sanchez, Gio Urshela, Anthony Rizzo, and Gleyber Torres.
Within that bunch for New York, you’ve got more than half of the rotation, one of the best relievers on the roster, and a handful of quality bats.
Being without those guys is not easy to overcome, but the Yankees have done a nice job of staying afloat.
Looking ahead, if New York gets those players back with no further setbacks, the team could become very intimidating.
Plenty of good news on the injury front this afternoon for the #Yankees
– Gerrit Cole to start tomorrow
– Jordan Montgomery returns Tuesday
– Gary Sánchez on rehab, could be back Tuesday
– Anthony Rizzo to work out with team Monday
– Aroldis Chapman, Domingo Germán progressing
— Max Goodman (@MaxTGoodman) August 15, 2021
Getting healthy needs to happen sooner than later, though.
The Yankees can’t start thinking about the postseason until they take care of business in the Wild Card race.