Saturday, March 8, 2014
It's folly to try to draw lessons from meaningless spring training games in March. In the early days of spring training, it's all about getting timing down, about building a foundation for the marathon season ahead.
Mike Napoli, Boston’s new first baseman, will get his first taste of the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry when the teams meet on opening day.
The Associated Press
WHO: Yankees vs. Red Sox
WHEN: 1:05 p.m. April 1
WHERE: Yankee Stadium
That said, watching the Red Sox and Yankees play in Fort Myers, Fla., on Sunday served as a reminder of how many questions surround the two AL East giants entering the 2013 season.
Either the Yankees or Red Sox have played postseason baseball in every season since baseball instituted the wild card in 1995. In eight of those 18 seasons, both teams made the playoffs.
Could this be the year neither makes it to October?
It's certainly not out of the question. It's doubtful you'll find many people picking either team to win the division this year. Toronto will be the hot pick this month, with their offseason influx of talent from the Marlins. The Orioles are trying to return to the postseason for a second straight year, and the Rays are coming off a 90-win season.
There is uncertainty surrounding each of those three teams, but there is far more doubt in the Red Sox and Yankee clubhouses.
The ambiguity of the Red Sox roster has already been well-documented. This is a team that could win 90 games as easily as it could lose 90. David Ortiz is not clear of his Achilles issues yet, Mike Napoli (who hit a prodigious home run Sunday) has a degenerative hip condition, and the top of the rotation hasn't been effective in a year and a half. The Sox have missed the playoffs in three straight seasons for the first time since 2000-02.
The Yankees have made the postseason in 17 of the last 18 seasons, shrugging off criticism in recent years that they are too old. Yet there are real issues in Manager's Joe Girardi's camp. Alex Rodriguez is out until at least midseason and is at the center of a PED controversy. Mariano Rivera hasn't thrown a pitch since last May. Derek Jeter is recovering from a broken ankle but hasn't taken part in a spring training game yet. Curtis Granderson is out for more than two months. Phil Hughes and Kevin Youkilis have suffered preseason setbacks.
The Yankees heard similar cries about the end of the dynasty last season but went on to win an AL-best 95 games. Yet they're another year older, and are coming off a conservative offseason. For the first time in many years, the Yankees will be considered an underdog in the division.
You have to wonder if having the Red Sox and Yankees fall back into the middle of the pack is good for baseball. These are two teams that spent the past decade rekindling the game's greatest rivalry. They are teams that have fans from coast to coast and routinely help other clubs sell out their ballparks when they take the field as visitors. They will play each other 19 times in 2013, but the games they play against the other three teams in the East will be just as (if not more) important.
The Red Sox haven't won a postseason game since Game 6 of the 2008 AL Championship Series. Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia are the only players who took part in that game still with the team. There has been a complete overhaul in Boston, and team management believes this is now the beginning of a better future.
The Yankees are hoping to keep alive the success of their glorious past. The two rivals collide for real on opening day in the Bronx. It will be the start of one of the most uncertain seasons the AL East has seen in a long, long time.
Tom Caron is the studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network. His column appears in the Press Herald on Tuesdays.