Brett Gardner is helping the Yankees stay in contention with his career year.Tonight on ESPN’s "Sunday Night Baseball" (8 ET, ESPN and WatchESPN), the Boston Red Sox host the New York Yankees with these teams in positions they’re not used to -- outside the top two in the division.
The Yankees enter the game third in the American League East, with the Red Sox fifth. The last time neither team finished in the top two in the division was 1992. That year, the Toronto Blue Jays won both the AL East and the World Series.
The teams’ relative lack of success hasn’t been due to a lack of spending, as the Yankees (second) and Red Sox (fourth) rank among the highest Opening Day payrolls in baseball, according to The Associated Press.
The Yankees are over .500 despite a negative-29 run differential, thanks in large part to contributions from unexpected players.
Most Wins Above Replacement
Yankees This Season
Gardner has 4.0 wins above replacement this season, a team high. If that number is prorated over 162 team games, he would finish with 5.9.
The last Yankees outfielder other than Gardner to post a season like that was Bernie Williams, who had a WAR of 6.4 in 1995. Gardner has already topped that in his career, with 7.3 in 2010.
The performance shouldn’t be unexpected for Gardner, who has 19.6 WAR since the start of 2010, ninth among all major league outfielders, despite playing just 16 games in 2012. His hard-hit average is up to .177 this season, more than 50 points higher than last year.
BetancesEntering Sunday’s game, no relief pitcher in baseball had more strikeouts this season than Betances’ 96. In fact, the second most is from Braves closer Craig Kimbrel with 75. That 21-strikeout separation is the same as the distance between second and 28th.
One could make an argument that Betances has been the best pitcher in baseball. Among hurlers with at least 50 innings pitched, Betances has the best ERA (1.52), WHIP (0.75), opponents’ batting average (.133), strikeouts per nine innings pitched (13.2) and strikeout percentage (39.2 percent).
The Yankees have used Betances a lot this year. He has 29 relief appearances of more than one inning this season, five more than any other pitcher in the majors.
BuchholzThe Red Sox will send Clay Buchholz to the mound tonight. Buchholz had a career year in 2013 (12-1, 1.74 ERA in 16 starts) but is having one of his worst seasons this year. His 16 percent strikeout rate and .299 opponents’ batting average this season are both career worsts.
Strangely, Buchholz has improved in certain areas. His 7.6 percent walk rate is the lowest of his career. He has also thrown more pitches on the outer third or farther outside (53 percent) than in any season the past six years. But he’s throwing fewer pitches in the strike zone (47 percent) than in any season over the past six years. He’s also allowing a .335 BA on balls in play, the second-highest mark of his career and 80 points higher than last season.