They’ll play 18 in the regular season, but only once during spring training. Yesterday’s 8-4 Yankee win over the Red Sox could be inconsequential, or it could be a harbinger for what is to come.
Both teams enter the season with question marks, particularly with pitching. Bartolo Colon, who was offered a non-guaranteed minor league contract, pitched well enough to keep his team hopeful. He will probably take the place of Curt Schilling, but at 35, with shoulder and elbow problems, who much does he have left?
With Josh Beckett nursing an ailing back, and Tim Wakefield’s favourite battery mate (Doug Mirabelli) recently released, the Sox will give the opening day start (in Japan) to Daisuke Matsuzaka. The team is expecting more from him than 2007, when he went 15-12 with a 4.40 ERA. John Lester is expected to be the fifth starter, and hopefully he is fully recovered from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
The Yankees also have question marks with their pitching staff. Is 39 year old Mike Mussina washed up? He had career lows in wins (11), a very poor .311 BAA and a career worse ERA of 5.15. If he can’t contribute and Andy Pettitte’s elbow problems flare up, the only proven starter is Chien-Ming Wang. The other two prospective starters are extremely green. Phil Hughes is 21 with 13 MLB games under is belt. Ian Kennedy is 23 and has only pitched 3 times in the big leagues.
The Yankees everyday lineup is relatively intact. They will score runs, and the only health concern is Hideki Matsui, who has fully recovered from off season knee surgery. Bobby Abreu reported to camp in great condition, and is one of three Yanks who drove in more than 100 RBI, along with A-Rod and Derek Jeter. Jorge Posado, Robinson Cano, and Jason Giambi are also expected to contribute.
The Red Sox scored 101 fewer runs than the Yankees, and both David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez had major dips in their 2007 offensive production. Ortiz HR’s dropped from 54 to 35 and Ramirez 20HR and 88RBI were quite ordinary, particularly for a player who was earning $20 million. Perhaps at the age of 36 Ramirez is on the downward side of his career. Ortiz was slowed by a bad knee, so we’ll see if the surgery he had in the off-season can alleviate his low production.
Many prognosticators are claiming that this is the year that the Blue Jays will overtake one, if not both teams. It is very evident that the Yanks and Sox do not like each other. When Julian Taveraz drilled Derek Jeter in the forearm with a fastball, was it retaliation for what occurred last season when Joba Chamberlain threw two 98MPH fastballs over Kevin Youkilis’ head? Joe Girardi has a take no prisoners approach, and his hitters will definitely be protected.
With these two teams, it is always high drama and high theatre. Now that the curse of the Bambino has been lifted, and the Sox have won two of the last four World Series, they are the team to beat. The 20th century belonged to the Yankees, and their last World Championship was in 2000. Maybe the 21st century will belong to the Red Sox.
They will play 18 times in 2008. Both teams should contend, along with the Blue Jays. The Yanks will score more runs, but the Sox have an edge (on paper) in the starting rotation. The bullpens are relatively equal. With Joe Girardi at the helm and Hank Steinbrenner providing a lot of bulletin board quotes, the 2008 AL East campaign should be quite interesting.