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Sunday Spotlight – What we’re watching for in Red Sox-Yankees

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It’s a showdown between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox like you’ve never seen before.

When the coronavirus reshuffled the Major League Baseball schedule this past week, the Yankees’ first home series of 2020 became a weekend battle with their biggest rivals, the Red Sox. That normally would be a recipe for Bronx bedlam, but with the Red Sox rebuilding — well, as much as a team like Boston ever does — and no fans in the stands, this isn’t exactly a typical set between the two teams. Still, there’s plenty to look for as the AL East squads battle tonight on ESPN (7 p.m. ET).

To get you ready, we asked baseball reporters Sam Miller and David Schoenfield some key questions about the game.

How much different does a rivalry series like this feel without fans in the stands?

Sam Miller: It’s not too bad — but ask me again in October, when angsty fan energy really does activate the home viewer. The vast emptiness is not, of course, what I’d prefer for any games. But so far it’s been the second-tier games — and, especially, the interleague games, with their unfamiliar team pairings — that feel wan or inauthentic in silence. I don’t actually need fans to tell me that Yankees-Red Sox is real baseball, with real stakes, played by players who care very much about smiting their opponents. I’d probably bite my nails watching Yankees-Red Sox on mute.

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David Schoenfield: I think this is one of those series where we will really note the absence of fans in stands. Sure, the viewing experience on television so far has felt pretty normal, but part of the lure of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry is the bloodlust between Yankees fans and Red Sox fans. After a few years where the rivalry waned in enthusiasm — the Yankees were mediocre, the Red Sox had some bad years — it’s picked back up again in recent seasons, and as the Yankees’ title drought now extends past an entire decade, their fans were hungry to kick Boston’s tail in 2020. Unfortunately, they won’t be able to watch in person.

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Aaron Judge blasts a home run to right-center field, and Jackie Bradley Jr. gets his foot caught in the wall advertisement as he attempts to climb up to make the grab.

Yes, it’s early — but should the Red Sox already be thinking about next year?

Miller: We should all be thinking about next year! I’m thinking about sampling flavors at the self-serve frozen yogurt shop, high-fiving teammates after pickup basketball games and visiting my parents. But no, the Red Sox shouldn’t forget about this year. They’re a coin flip to make the expanded playoffs, and under the current setup there’s probably very little advantage, or disadvantage, tied to the seedings. (Higher seeds get home field, but in front of no crowds anyway.) Barring a complete catastrophe, that’s going to be true no matter how many times you ask me: I’ll be very surprised if the Red Sox aren’t within a six-game winning streak of a postseason spot when the season reaches the final week.

Schoenfield: Boston’s rotation isn’t exactly what you would expect from a Red Sox team — they ran Ryan Weber and Zack Godley in the first two games of their series, with Austin Brice starting Sunday — and with Eduardo Rodriguez out for the season due to a heart condition, possibly stemming from COVID-19, Nathan Eovaldi is the only recognizable name right now. That said … no, with this lineup, the playoffs remain a possibility. On paper, I see six good teams in the AL — the Yankees, Rays, Twins, Indians, Astros and A’s — which leaves two playoff spots up for grabs. Given that the AL also includes some obvious bottom-feeders, the Red Sox have a decent chance at sneaking in.

Which Yankees slugger is the scariest for a pitcher to see right now: the slimmed-down Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge or Gleyber Torres?

Miller: Stanton’s 121 mph homer on opening weekend — the second-hardest homer ever tracked — should be a warning to all pitchers, third basemen and low-flying objects that might get in the way of his next solid contact. But Judge’s home run on Wednesday was almost more impressive, in a different way: It was a fastball up and probably out of the zone, and Judge seemed to just pop it up. But the ball kept carrying until it was clear of the wall, with Orioles pitcher Asher Wojciechowski‘s baffled/disgusted reaction face saying it all. So put it this way: Stanton is probably slightly more likely to break the scoreboard, but Judge is probably slightly more likely to break the pitcher’s ERA.

Schoenfield: Judge, primarily for this reason: He’s pulling the ball again. Last year, he pulled only six of his 27 home runs. In 2018, it was nine of 27. But in his rookie season in 2017, it was 23 out of 52. Three of his first four home runs this season were pulled to left. Yes, Judge is still a good bet to belt a majority of his home runs to center field and right field, but pulling those home runs is a good sign that he’s healthy, that the bat speed is there and that you better be careful if you think you can jam him inside with hard stuff.

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Gerrit Cole posts 20th straight regular-season win as Yankees beat Red Sox

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NEW YORK — Gerrit Cole posted his 20th straight regular-season win over his last 27 starts dating to last season, becoming the sixth pitcher to ever reach the mark by throwing seven sharp innings to lead the New York Yankees over the Boston Red Sox 10-3 Friday night.

A noted Yankees fan growing up in Southern California, Cole (4-0) allowed one run and four hits in his first taste of the storied rivalry in front of empty seats. He struck out eight, walked none and threw 95 pitches.

Cole, who came within one strike of a win in his previous start before getting pulled, moved closer to the all-time record of 24 consecutive victories by Carl Hubbell in 1936-37. Roy Face is next at 22, followed by Roger Clemens, Jake Arrieta, Rube Marquard and Cole at 20 each.

Cole’s only defeat since May 2019 was in the World Series opener last year, when he pitched for Houston and lost to Washington.

The Yankees improved to 7-0 at home for the fourth time since 1959 (also 2017, 1998 and 1987). New York also beat Boston for the seventh straight time and is 12-1 at home against the Red Sox since the start of last season.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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Nationals bring up prospect Luis Garcia, place Starlin Castro on IL

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BALTIMORE — The Washington Nationals are ready to find out if 20-year-old infielder Luis Garcia has the poise and talent to play in the big leagues.

The Nationals selected Garcia’s contract on Friday, a move that coincided with infielder Starlin Castro being placed on the 10-day injured list with a broken right wrist. Garcia was in the starting lineup for Washington, prepared to make his major league debut against the Orioles.

Garcia is considered to be one of the top prospects in the minor league system of the defending World Series champion Nationals. Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2016, the slick-fielding middle infielder has hit .281 with 51 doubles, 13 triples, 12 homers and 106 RBIs in 305 career minor league games.

In 2019, Garcia was named the Nationals’ minor league defensive player of the year with Double-A Harrisburg, where he played shortstop and second base. As a 19-year-old, he was the youngest player in the Eastern League.

Also on Friday, the Nationals transferred lefty Sam Freeman to the 60-day injured list with a left flexor mass strain.

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Cardinals manager Mike Shildt says team did nothing ‘egregious’ to cause outbreak

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As he prepares his team for a return to the playing field, St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Shildt is defending his players over any narrative that they did something “egregious” to cause the COVID-19 outbreak that has sidelined them since July 29.

“What I can tell you, with confidence, is it would be very irresponsible and a misstep to say this group went out and did anything that was egregious,” Shildt said Friday evening. “To say something otherwise, would be inaccurate. Strongly inaccurate.”

Shildt admits his team made smaller mistakes that led them twice to being quarantined, but he’s confident there won’t be any more starts and stops based on their behavior.

“We will be even more prudent with every regulation that is out there,” he said. “I don’t think you’ll have anyone touch anyone on the field the rest of this year. Our dugouts will be even more sterile. We’re going to show up later. Every meeting will be outside. It’s going to be very little time spent in the ballpark.

“I can confidently tell you there was no cavalier approach to this before this happened.”

The Cardinals will play three doubleheaders in Chicago in the coming days as they begin to play catch-up on their schedule. They’ve played just five games this season.

“You could say it’s a fourth chance,” Shildt said. “Spring training, summer camp, an initial quarantine, then another one.”

Out of an abundance of caution — and to keep their distance — each healthy player and staff member drove a rental car from St. Louis to Chicago on Friday.

The Cardinals will play the White Sox and then the Cubs over the next week, with doubleheaders scheduled for Saturday, Monday and Wednesday. To prepare, Shildt said players had individualized workouts beginning on Tuesday of this week but no one who tested positive for COVID-19 has been cleared to play again.

In all, 10 players and eight staff members tested positive. It forced the team to call up players from their alternate training site in Springfield, including top prospect Dylan Carlson. He’ll be in the starting lineup on Saturday. They also reworked their coaching staff by bringing back fan favorite Jose Oquendo to coach third base.

“This is history and we’re going to do our best to learn from others but candidly we’re making it right now,” Shildt stated.

The Cardinals will mix their regular starters in with bullpen days as Adam Wainwright will pitch in Game 1 on Saturday with several relievers taking the ball in Game 2. Dakota Hudson and Kwang-Hyun Kim will get their turns before ace Jack Flaherty sees action on Wednesday for the first time since Opening Day.

Near the end of a long video call with Shildt from his hotel room in Chicago, he was asked if there was ever a moment he thought the Cardinals would not play baseball again this year. “Full disclosure, I had two minute internal dialogue about it and shut it out,” he said.

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