By Steve Silverman
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The Yankees and Red Sox are exchanging body blows, and neither one of the rivals is wavering at this point.
That’s a good thing for Major League Baseball, which is heading into the final stages of its stretch run, and a spectacular postseason could follow.
The playoffs and World Series used to be among the high points of the sporting year. While Mets fans loved their team’s 2015 run to the Fall Classic against the Kansas City Royals, the confrontation was hardly big news in cities other than New York and Kansas City.
Baseball’s postseason has regularly been swallowed up by the NFL, and despite lesser TV ratings and alarm bells going off over long-term CTE issues, the NFL continues to dominate — last year’s Cubs-Indians World Series was an exception to the rule.
But there’s a chance that baseball could again have a postseason to remember this fall, one that could result in a strong arm-wrestling match with the NFL.
Let’s say the Red Sox hold onto their lead — currently three games — over the Yankees in the American League East. That would put the Bronx Bombers in the wild-card game against the Minnesota Twins or Los Angeles Angels. The Yankees should win that game and advance to the American League Division Series against the — gulp! — Cleveland Indians.
The Indians are a brilliant team right now, playing with skill and motivation. They have won 26 of their last 27 games, and after losing the World Series in the 10th inning of the seventh game last year, there’s little doubt how much they want it.
But the Yankees are hammering the ball right now, and if Aaron Judge has truly regained some of the stroke he had before the All-Star Game, they could find themselves getting consistent long-ball production from him, Gary Sanchez, Didi Gregorius, Todd Frazier, Brett Gardner and Matt Holliday.
If the Yankees can surprise the Indians and get the jump in that series, who’s to say they couldn’t finish the job and win in seven games? It’s not likely because of the Indians’ edge in starting pitching, but it is possible.
The Red Sox would face the Houston Astros in the other ALDS series, and that series should be very close.
The Red Sox are not a home run-hitting team without Big Papi, but they can hit with runners on base, they can make great defensive plays in the outfield, and they have an excellent 1-2 combination at the top of their rotation with Chris Sale and Drew Pomeranz. Closer Craig Kimbrel has been dominant this season as well.
Boston could survive against the Astros, and that would set up an epic confrontation with the Yankees for the American League pennant, the first since 2004, when the Red Sox stormed back from an 0-3 deficit to win the series.
A Yankees-Red Sox showdown would command the attention of the sports world, with all kinds of stories about the best rivalry in sports coming to the forefront once again.
A no matter who would win that series – and the Yankees have been the better team head-to-head this season (11-8) —the World Series could be epic if the Chicago Cubs can get back and attempt to defend their title.
The Cubs have the same kind of national following the Yankees and Red Sox have, and while the Dodgers or Nationals in the World Series would, too, be a good story, the Cubs vs. Yankees or the Cubs vs. Red Sox would be a huge event that could distract the country from the horrific events going on around the world.
No, hurricane and earthquake destruction, Kim Jong Un’s threats and Donald Trump’s missives won’t disappear, but the idea of Yankees vs. Red Sox and then the winner taking on the Cubs in an epic World Series would be a dream scenario for sports fans, other than obviously those with conflicting rooting interests.
It would be enough to allow baseball to get back to the forefront – for at least a few weeks – before football regains its position.
That would be a positive development for a sport that has seen its championship events regularly diminished by the NFL
Follow Steve on Twitter at @Profootballboy