After a scorching start to the 2021 season, which had the Boston Red Sox leading the AL East most of July and with a 10.5-game lead on the Yankees, Boston barely squeaked into the playoffs, ultimately tying with New York at 92 wins and just edging out the Toronto Blue Jays at 91. Now a single game will determine the fates of perhaps the most famous rivals in sports.
Here are our best bets from Adam Burke, Derek Carty and Jason Weingarten on Tuesday’s AL wild-card game between the Yankees and Red Sox.
New York Yankees (-125) at Boston Red Sox (+ 105)
Burke: The biggest question in this game is which version of Gerrit Cole we are going to get. We all know how dominant Cole was before the crackdown on sticky stuff and his struggles have been well-documented since then, as he’s posted a 4.15 ERA with a 3.66 FIP since June 3. That was the first day that MLB started really paying attention to foreign substances.
The narrative about Cole isn’t fully accurate, though. He still struck out 146 batters in 110.2 innings of work and allowed three runs or fewer in 13 of his 19 starts. His bar is just a lot higher than that based on his last four seasons.
However, starters don’t work as deep in playoff games because managers have a quick hook at the first sign of trouble in the middle innings. Relievers carry much more importance in these games. Cole could go out there and be dominant, but if he isn’t, the reinforcements will arrive quicker than usual.
Nathan Eovaldi is a guy whose advanced metrics looked better than his traditional ones, though a 3.75 ERA is nothing to scoff at. He had a 2.79 FIP and got burned by a .326 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) and a 70.4 percent LOB (left on base) percentage, which was pretty low given most of his metrics. The crackdown on sticky stuff didn’t seem to bother Eovaldi much, as his ERA from June 4 through the end of the season was lower than it was prior, even though his FIP was a bit higher.
Once again, though, it comes down to the bullpens in a lot of these games. The Yankees do have an advantage in that department, as their bullpen had a lower walk rate, a lower ERA, FIP and xFIP, and seems to be deeper on talent.
Boston does bring the stronger, more reliable offense to the matchup and Eovaldi’s excellent control will limit New York’s best offensive ability, which is drawing walks. His 4.6 percent walk rate was one of the lowest in baseball among qualified starters. He also only allowed 15 home runs.
The Yankees don’t really generate a ton of offense without the walk and the long ball, and those are the two main areas where Eovaldi excels. As a result, I do like the Red Sox on the first five innings line, as I worry a bit about their bullpen in the late innings. This one should be loaded with drama in the back half of the game … and I’d like to stay away from that.
Pick: Boston Red Sox F5 ML (+ 105)
Carty: On first glance, I thought this should be an easy bet on the Yankees, or at least a “this is a fair line, don’t bet it” situation. But I actually think there may be slight value on Boston.
The early line implied a 47 percent chance of a Red Sox victory, but my projection system, THE BAT, pegs it 51 percent. That’s a small margin and one we may not bother with in the regular season, but if you’re looking to bet a side here to have something to route for while you watch, it appears Boston is the way to go. And because this game appears more lopsided than it actually is, it’s possible that line may get even better as the game approaches. After all, the pitching matchup is Cole vs. Eovaldi, and the Yankees offense is elite following the traded deadline acquisitions of Joey Gallo and Anthony Rizzo.
While name value would suggest Cole is at the advantage here by far, it’s worth nothing that he -- for whatever reason -- has been less dominant since mid-June when MLB started cracking down on sticky substances. His effective fastball velocity has dropped 1 mph, his fastball spin rate has dropped 162 rpm, his ERA has been 3.97 and his xFIP has been 3.37. That’s still great, but it’s not “maybe-the-best-pitcher-in-baseball” great anymore. THE BAT projects Cole for a true underlying ERA of 3.18, but Eovaldi comes in at 3.61. In other words, we’d expect there to be barely half a run of ERA separating Cole from Eovaldi in a neutral context. That 3.61 ERA would rank Eovaldi 19th-best in baseball. Which sounds insane for Nathan Eovaldi, but all he’s done is deliver for two seasons now. He’s a great pitcher and people don’t think of him that way.
While the Yankees offense at full strength is better than Boston’s, this is not a full-strength squad with DJ LeMahieu, Luke Voit, Aaron Hicks, Miguel Andujar and Clint Frazier all on the IL. Throw in home-field advantage for the Red Sox, and this game is much closer to a toss-up than casual fans may believe.
Pick: Red Sox Moneyline (+ 106)
Prop bets I like
Carty: Right now, I only see Over bets available for Home Run props, but if they wind up adding unders, Brett Gardner would be a good a fantastic choice if he gets equal but opposite odds to his over odds (+ 600). Fenway is death on lefty power, and Gardner has so little to begin with. The over odds imply .16 home runs, and THE BAT X says .07. There’d also potentially be value on Gallo’s under.
With just overs available right now, Xander Bogaerts would be the best bet at favorable odds.
Pick: Xander Bogaerts to hit a HR (+ 800)
First Inning Run: "Yes" + 115
Make sure to shop around for prices on the Yes/No score 1st inning prop in the Yankee game. DraftKings and BetMGM have yes at + 110 while Circa and Pinnacle both have it at + 105. My first bet of the MLB postseason is Yankees/Red Sox 1st inning Yes score + 115 at Circa risking $1000. I will keep track of these bets every game throughout the playoffs.
The break-even is + 100 for this prop so I’m only looking at playing it today at + 101 or better. If you can wait until right before game time you are likely to get the best price as a majority of bettors bet No Score 1st inning, regardless of the price. As an added benefit the Yankees are batting Anthony Rizzo leadoff in a Rizzo/Judge/Stanton lineup, while the Red Sox are batting Kyle Schwarber at leadoff with Kike Hernandez and Rafael Devers behind him. I will take plus money with the top of those lineups anytime.