MLB sends pair of diamond geezers to London Stadium

The London Stadium is preparing to host the first regular season baseball match in Europe. Photograph: Victoria Jones/PA
The London Stadium is preparing to host the first regular season baseball match in Europe. Photograph: Victoria Jones/PA
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Next weekend Major League Baseball becomes the last of the big four American sports to breach the shores of the UK. In the two-game series hosted at London Stadium, the New York Yankees and current World Champions Boston Red Sox will meet on Saturday 29 and Sunday 30 June.

The two American League East teams meet to showcase one of MLB’s greatest rivalries – probably the closest thing that US sports have to the Old Firm. The contest is most famous for the Curse of the Bambino, where the trade of Babe Ruth from Boston to New York in 1920 led to a belief the Red Sox wouldn’t win a World Series again. The curse was finally “lifted” in 2004 when the Red Sox overcame the Yankees in the American League Championship after being three games down in a best-of-seven series.

As these teams share a division, they will have played 19 games against each other by the end of the season and going into next weekend the Yankees lead this year’s series 4-1, although these have all been played at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx.

The Yankees currently head the AL East with a seven-game lead over the Red Sox and look like a formidable force as the Bronx Bombers look to build upon their record home run hitting season last year when they hit 267 home runs.

The Yanks have often been known as big hitting, and that hasn’t changed as they recently acquired 36-year-old Edwin Encarnacion, pictured, to add to an already potent line-up while looking to increase the output and stay ahead of their division rivals.

The veteran joins a team already stacked and adding the league home run leader will only have made any opposing pitcher dread the match-up a little more. With Gary Sanchez, Luke Voit, Gleyber Torres – all in the top ten home run hitters – and superstar in the making Aaron Judge due back from injury in time for the London games, next weekend could be a good day for fans hoping to catch long balls.

The Red Sox have had a tougher season than their rivals having made a disappointing start by winning only two of their first ten games. Experts expected a hot start with the team coming off a 2018 World Series win, but expectations were quickly tempered.

Since that opening fortnight, the Red Sox have improved dramatically, winning nearly 70 per cent of their games and clawing their way back into contention in the AL East and they know that if they can beat the Yankees in the remaining games, they could quickly overhaul the leaders. While the Red Sox have six players with more than ten home runs, they, more importantly, have scored only a few runs fewer than the Yankees and a slightly higher on-base percentage and batting average, meaning the Red Sox have created more scoring opportunities.

Xander Bogaerts is the short stop for Boston and has been an ever-present in the team, and the player has been in the Red Sox organisation since signing as a 16-year-old. Having played through the ranks, Bogaerts has been in the Majors since 2013, hitting 14 homers and batted in more than 50 runs.

These two teams are both on form and both very productive offensively, but of course, baseball isn’t always about hitting. There is the other side of the ball, pitching.

While both teams are in the top ten offensively, they are both also performing well in pitching. The Yankees are sitting just below a 
4 ERA (Earned Run Average is the average number of runs given up per nine innings) – while the Red Sox are just above four. So the pitchers from both organisations are keeping opposition hitters to limited chances.

As things stand Masahiro Tanaka is due to pitch for the Yankees against current 5th starter Brian Johnson for the Red Sox on Saturday. This seems like a lopsided start. Tanaka has a record of five wins and five losses but gives up only 3.23 runs per game compared to Johnsons ten runs, although Johnson has mostly been used as a relief pitcher.

Sunday’s match-up seems more competitive, CC Sabathia going up against Rick Porcello. Sabathia has a 4.14 ERA compared to Porcello’s 4.31 although Sabathia has given up a few more home runs. The Yankees hurler does have a higher strikeout rate, averaging 0.90 Ks per inning compared with Porcello’s 0.85.

By bringing two of the most known teams, MLB is trying to draw in the European fans but will be disappointed to see there are still tickets available for both days. With ticket prices being upwards of £100 could the first faux pas of the MLB’s adventures in Europe be to outprice the market?