Battle For American League East Crown Could Go Deep Into September

By Steve Silverman
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If you paid close attention to the moves made at the trade deadline Monday, you heard many of the sport’s insiders and experts applaud the Yankees for the acquisition of starting pitcher Sonny Gray from the Oakland A’s.

The move is clearly one that bolsters the Yankees’ starting pitching. And because of it, the Yankees are not only going to win the American League East, they are going to challenge the Houston Astros on even terms for AL superiority.

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At least that’s what the experts believe.

Let’s pump the brakes on both of those scenarios, shall we?

Less than a month ago, the Yankees were slumping badly and had fallen 4½ games behind the Boston Red Sox. Fans were in a panic, saying the Yankees quick getaway had given way to the growing pains of a young team still developing.

I wrote about the situation at that time, and I reminded fans that the Red Sox were anything but a super team and the Yankees would have an opportunity to come back and get themselves in the division race.

That’s just what happened, and now the Yankees are the ones getting the plaudits while the Red Sox are being ridiculed.

Boston has its share of problems, but the Red Sox are just a half-game behind the Yankees going into Tuesday night’s games. This is a pennant race that is likely to go deep into September.

Boston Red Sox

The Red Sox’s Dustin Pedroia celebrates with Mookie Betts (50) after hitting a three-run homer against the Toronto Blue Jays on July 20, 2017, at Fenway Park in Boston. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Just as the Yankees were slumping in June and early July, the Red Sox have played badly during the last three weeks. It does not mean they will disappear from the pennant race.

Prior to Monday night’s game, they had stopped hitting. Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts and Mitch Moreland have all gone into dreadful slumps, and the retirement of David Ortiz has resulted in a remarkable loss of power.

The Red Sox have been at the bottom of the American League ladder when it comes to home runs, and that’s a remarkable occurrence for a team that plays half of its games in Fenway Park.

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Once Betts starts hitting again – and he had two hits and three RBIs Monday night – the Red Sox will come around again. They have recently added phenom Rafael Devers and former Yankee Eduardo Nunez, and both have given Boston a lift.

The Red Sox may not be better than the Yankees, but they are good enough to give them a battle down the stretch.

The addition of Gray certainly helps New York’s pitching staff, but he is not the second coming of Jim “Catfish” Hunter, who was a proven winner when the Yankees signed him as a free agent prior to the 1975 season. Hunter won 23 games in his first year with the Yankees, and that followed four consecutive 20-plus-win seasons with Oakland.

Gray comes to the Yankees having pitched 97 innings this season with a 3.43 earned-run average and a 6-5 record. He, however, still has much to prove in his career.

Gray must show he can handle the pressure of playing in the Bronx and competing with the Red Sox, and he needs to stay healthy.

The Yankees have a wonderful bullpen, and the addition of David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle makes it even stronger. And a lineup that includes Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Matt Holliday and Brett Gardner is certainly capable of scoring runs in bunches.

If the Yankees are going to beat out the Red Sox and win the division, the lineup and the bullpen will likely lead the way.

But the Red Sox have their key weapons, and pitcher Chris Sale is right at the top of the list. He is the lead candidate to win the Cy Young award in the American League. He gives the Red Sox a great effort every fifth day, and it seems like they are almost assured of winning every time he steps on the mound.

Drew Pomeranz has been solid, but David Price and Rick Porcello have had issues. Price recently went on the disabled list with arm problems, and he is likely to be welcomed back to Fenway with a chorus of boos when he returns. Porcello was the Cy Young winner last year, but he has been hit hard in nearly every start lately.

Despite the Red Sox’s recent difficulties, they are not going to bow out and let the Yankees run away. In fact, this race could come down to the final series.

Yankee fans can dream of the playoffs and a World Series appearance in October, but much work has to be done to get there.

Follow Steve on Twitter at @Profootballboy

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