TAMPA, Fla. — They say rivals bring out the best in one another. Maybe that’s why the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees are two of the best teams in baseball.

Make no mistake, major league baseball benefits when the “best rivalry in sports” is fired up. And that fire has been stoked since the start of last year. The 2018 season marked the first time that the Red Sox and Yanks each won 100 games. That’s the mark of a truly great team, and both teams were great last year.

The Red Sox, of course, were greater by any measurement. They won the American League East for the third straight year, and then eliminated New York in the AL Division Series on their way to a World Series win.

Both teams feel they have what it takes to win it all in 2019. The Red Sox essentially return the same club that won it all a year ago. The Yankees went out and added major pieces in the offseason, improving the infield (adding Troy Tulowitzki and DJ LeMahieu), the rotation (bringing back J.A. Happ and adding James Paxton) and the bullpen (re-signing Zack Britton and adding Adam Ottavino).

After a 14-1 Grapefruit League win over the Sox at George M. Steinbrenner Field on Friday, Yankees pitchers had the lowest WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) of any team in spring training. Most experts agree they have the best group of relievers in the game, with Britton and Ottavino joining flamethrowers Aroldis Chapman and Dellin Betances in the bullpen.

The Red Sox have seen this before.

“I don’t know how you guys felt about their bullpen last year but I thought it was a super bullpen like everybody’s saying,” Boston Manager Alex Cora said over the weekend. “I think it’s the same dinner, but with different condiments.”

More and more, bullpens are becoming part of the main entree of baseball rosters. Teams load up on power arms to shut down teams in the late stages of games. The Red Sox feel they can handle Yankees relievers, but back up north Red Sox fans have been growing restless with the Sox bullpen.

Matt Barnes and Ryan Brasier are expected to step into high-leverage situations this year, but through Sunday they had combined for just four innings of work and had matching ERAs of 9.00. Long relievers Hector Velazquez (9.72) and Brian Johnson (10.57) have both posted high ERAs this spring. Their struggles have been made more worrisome in the wake of Steven Wright’s 80-game suspension for PED use.

There were murmurs late last week when Dave Dombrowski, the Red Sox president of baseball operations, crossed paths with the agent of former Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel in Lakeland, Florida, but as of now the Red Sox seem committed to avoiding any high-cost additions that would put them over the final luxury tax threshold.

That could change if the Red Sox bullpen struggles at the start of the season. This team is too good to let a faulty bullpen lead to its demise. Boston’s hope is that the pitchers currently in camp provide the answers to the questions surrounding the bullpen. With Opening Day just over a week away, Red Sox fans want to see those answers soon.

Tom Caron is a studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on NESN. His column appears in the Portland Press Herald on Tuesdays.

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