The Yankees' Aaron Judge hits a home run against the Boston Red Sox on July 1, 2018, at Yankee Stadium.

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Murti: This Chapter Of Yankees-Red Sox Rivalry Could End Up Being Best Of All

Sept. Games, Potential Playoff Showdown Loom Large

July 20, 2018 - 10:10 am
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The rest of this season will be about the Yankees beating the Red Sox, not necessarily finishing ahead of them. Those are two very different things because this season could end the way no other Yankees-Red Sox season in history has.

There have been great finishes, like 1949 and 1978, and thanks to the wild-card era, epic playoff series like 2003 and 2004. But this year’s Yankees and Red Sox teams are gearing up for another October in which the road to postseason glory might just have to run through each other, and not in any way similar to those other years.

Yes, the Astros are still very much a factor here, and until they are dethroned, they are indeed like the heavyweight champ that needs to be knocked out. But play along with this for a moment and see how historic this finish could get.

The Yankees and Red Sox will play 10 more games against each other in the second half -- four of them are in the first week in August, just after the trading deadline. The other six are in September, with the final three of those games played at Fenway Park on Sept. 28-30.

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We would all love to see the slimmest of margins in the AL East race at that point, heightening the drama as each team -- we presume -- goes all out to win the division and avoid the October landmine known as the wild-card game, when one random misstep in nine innings could this year send a 100-plus win team packing before the leaves can even think of turning a different color.

Here’s where it might get interesting. 

Let’s say the winner of the AL East will finish with the best overall record. (Again, apologies to Houston, Seattle, Cleveland or anyone else offended by this little exercise, but play along for our entertainment.)

And because they hold the lead right now as we begin the second half, let’s just say Boston wins the division.

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This would send the Yankees, as the second-place finisher, into the AL wild-card game. Should they win that game, they would advance to the best-of-five ALDS against the top seed -- the Red Sox, who they just played six times in the final 13 regular-season games, including the last three.

Reverse that scenario with the Yankees winning the division and owning the best record while the Red Sox fall into the wild-card game. If the Red Sox win that game, it’s the exact same thing -- Yankees-Red Sox in the ALDS. These two teams who will spend the next 10 weeks trying to kill each other and watch scoreboards every night till their eyes pop out could essentially be doing all of this just to settle the score again in a five-game battle royale. 

Sure, the stakes were higher in the 2003 and 2004 ALCS, with the winner advancing to the World Series, where here they would just be moving into the ALCS.  But imagine the race is so tight that those last three games at Fenway will have these teams close enough in the standings to make this possible. And there is even the possibility of both teams finishing tied and forcing Game 163 to determine who ends up in the elimination-game scenario and who doesn’t.   

All of this leads to the possibility of the Yankees and Red Sox playing games with playoff-level intensity eight times in nine games. Or dare I think nine times in 10 games if Game 163 materializes?

And no, this isn’t meant to belittle Houston, Cleveland, Seattle or Oakland. This is purely an exercise in fantasy -- or torture -- based on the reality that the Yankees and Red Sox could play knockdown, drag-out, never-ending baseball games for nearly two weeks in a row at the end of this season.

As the Yankees pursued, but ultimately lost out on, Manny Machado there was one question everyone I spoke to about the Yankees' interest had to ask: Why?  There were even those inside the organization who weren’t quite sure why Machado was in the mix, other than to speculate that Miguel Andujar might have to be part of a deal for the pitching upgrade the Yankees crave, and this would be a cherry on top kind of move to bolster the team for the stretch drive. None of that matters now that Machado is a Dodger.

But as I played out this Yankees-Red Sox Armageddon scenario in my mind, I wondered if trying to add Machado’s right-handed power -- a combined 31-for-98 (.316) with seven home runs against Chris Sale, David Price, and Rick Porcello -- was about adding a player to make them better specifically against one opponent.

Several GMs, scouts and executives told me it was too specific a focus to risk losing a top prospect to add a player who didn’t fill the main need, which, of course, is starting pitching. Two former GMs told me the thought process definitely made sense if the acquisition cost was reasonable, while another team executive said adding right-handed power would definitely play, although AL contenders have been trying to add righty relievers in an effort to neutralize the big righty bats the Yankees already have.

And while the search for pitching continues, perhaps Toronto’s J.A. Happ is the same type of acquisition -- one specifically brought in to face Boston. Before giving up five runs (four on a grand slam by Mookie Betts) in just 3 2/3 innings against Boston in his last start before the All-Star break, Happ previously faced the Red Sox on April 24 in Toronto and held them to one run in seven innings while striking out 10. And in 2017, Happ made four starts against Boston while pitching to a 1.90 ERA.

Whoever general manager Brian Cashman lands -- and he has said that the only thing keeping him from adding this trade season will be the acquisition cost -- he would be counted on to potentially make three starts against Boston, one in each remaining series.

And maybe, just maybe, there will be more in October, when the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry could swallow up the baseball world in a two-week run through the fire swamp that would make that 1978 finish look like a spring training game.

Follow Sweeny on Twitter at @YankeesWFAN