Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The New Order

All empires eventually fall. The Romans collapsed after a thousand years. The British finally quit after a few hundred years.

The Yankees lasted about five.

Since the 2001 World Series, the Yankees have gone from world-beaters to world-weary. The gritty players like Paul O'Neill and Scott Brosius have been replaced by big-name players who either do photo shoots where they make out with themselves or let their wives decide where they should play. They're a shell of their former selves. Even Aviv knows this but he just can't bring himself to admit it. I mean, who brags about winning 89 games and beating the Blue Jays by three?

While the Yankees have descended into mediocrity, the Boston Red Sox have become the dominant team of the 21st Century. With two titles in four years, they were riddled with injuries in 2008 and still came within a game of the World Series. Their real competition now doesn't reside in the Bronx, but far to the South in the strip club capital of Florida.

After coming up just short in the AL East last year, the Red Sox will once again win the division. They have the best pitching staff in the division from top to bottom. Their strong front three of Beckett, Lester and Matsuzaka matches up with any team. Some may deride Wakefield at the four spot and the Smoltz-Penny tandem at five. Those people will eat their words. Wakes gives the Sox a consistent 10+ wins at just $4 million per year. Penny is looking healthy in spring training. And if you can find me a tougher competitor than Smoltz, I'd like to see him. I wouldn't insult any of these guys by comparing them to Kevin Brown.

But it's their bullpen that puts the Sox pitching at another level. Papelbon, Saito, Okajima, Masterson, Lopez and Delcarmen. The Yankees have an aging Rivera and then...who? Marte? Edwar Ramirez? You can't hear it right now, but I'm laughing out loud.

And why are you so hyped about the Yankee starters, Aviv? Sabathia is 20 pounds away from generating his own gravitational pull. And isn't he the one who went 6-8 with a 3.83 ERA in the AL before getting traded to the Brewers in 2008? AJ Burnett isn't in a contract year anymore, which locks him for 130 innings, 20 starts and an ERA somewhere north of four. I'll give you Wang, but Pettitte is practically eligible for AARP membership and Joba has barely hit 92 on the radar gun this spring.

Then we come to the lineups. There is no doubt that the Yankees scored with the signing of Teixeira. But that benefit comes three years down the line. Look at his numbers in 2008 compared to Giambi's. Not that different.

And if you go position by position, right now you can give the Yankees the edge at exactly two; catcher and short. And that has everything to do with Jeter's bat and nothing to do with his pathetic glove. It's a push at first and the Sox are better everywhere else. Yes, that does depend on Lowell and Ortiz staying healthy. But they're already ahead of the Yankees in that aspect, with New York having to start the immortal Cody Ransom at third thanks to A-Rod's injury.

Some people, like my co-writer, like to make the argument that the Sox did nothing to increase their offense. They are missing the point. The Sox don't need to increase their offense; they were second in runs scored, RBI and OPS in the AL last year. That was done with injuries riddling the lineup all year. Boston still has the Hank Aaron Award winner and the AL MVP in their lineup, as well as the steal of the off-season on their bench in Rocco Baldelli. What the Sox did in the off-season to get better was improve their pitching, which will have the same effect as adding a bigger bat.

The real threat to Boston is Tampa Bay, a team that mirrors the Sox in many ways. But Tampa caught a lot of breaks last year and avoided major injuries. The odds of that happening again in 2009 are pretty slim. If they can get past their self-imposed salary cap limits, the Rays could be an annual threat in the AL.

So if you couldn't tell, it's going to be another playoff-free year in the Bronx while the Rays and Sox swap spots. It's 26 and stalling for the New York Geriatrics, a team living off the past glories of the 20th Century. And while their fans comfort themselves with stories of Whitey Ford and Reggie Jackson, the Red Sox will make it three titles in six years. Just another championship for the dominant team of the new millennium.

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