McAdam: Sox, Yanks meet in familiar top spots

McAdam: Sox, Yanks meet in familiar top spots
May 31, 2013, 11:00 am
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NEW YORK -- Almost exactly two months ago, when they first met, the Red Sox and Yankees were regarded as baseball afterthoughts, mere shadows of their former selves.
     
The Red Sox and Yankees may have dominated the American League East for the better part of the last decade, but now their time was done.
     
The Sox were coming off their worst season in almost half a century and were beginning the year with their third manager in as many seasons.
     
The Yankees would be without Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson.
     
And besides, wasn't this the year of the Toronto Blue Jays, who acquired half a roster full of All Stars last winter? Or, at the very least, the Baltimore Orioles, who snapped a long string of losing
seasons and made the playoffs for the first time since the Clinton Adminstration?
     
The Red Sox and Yankees were old news.
     
Yet one third of the way through the season, what was old is new again. And perched in a familiar position, ranked first and second in the division.
     
After all the talk of a sea changes in the A.L. East, it's business as usual. Red Sox, Yankees -- same as it ever was.
     
The Blue Jays have stumbled and occupy last place in the division. The Rays have been inconsistent, particularly in their bullpen, and are just above .500. The Orioles loom in third.
     
Many expected that the Yankees would be hard-pressed to find a way  to stay in the playoff chase, but not Clay Buchholz.
     
"They always find a way to get to the top," marveled Buchholz, who will return to the mound to start the final game of the series Sunday night.
     
With more than half their projected lineup on the DL, the Yankees have managed to remain in contention, kept afloat by the play of Lyle Overbay, Vernon Wells and Travis Hafner - castoffs all.
    
As hard-hit as the Yanks were by injuries, having lost the left side of the infield, and then, some of their replacements, they were at least building on a strong foundation.
     
A year ago, the Yankees won 95 games and reached the ALCS, where they met a quick and ignominious end at the hands of the Detroit Tigers.
     
Then there are the Sox themselves, who were in shambles last summer - plotting to have their manager fired, shedding payroll in a massive trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and seemingly starting over from scratch.
     
But under John Farrell, the Red Sox have executed a quick rebuild. Save for a rough two-week stretch earlier this month, the Sox have either had the best record in the division -- or close to it.
     
"That just shows you the kind of group of guys we've got here," said Buchholz. "We've got a lot of new guys here and it's fun to come to the ballpark, just like it was in spring training."
     
The season has taken shape now, one-third of the way complete, and while the end of May doesn't always foreshadow how things will look at the start of October, neither team can be considered a fluke.
     
"Both teams have answered some questions," said Farrell, "and they've met some challenges head-on with personnel and changes to the roster."

The Sox have witnessed rebound seasons from their top two starters, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz. They've incorporated newcomers like Mike Napoli and Stephen Drew into the everyday lineup. They've withstood, so far, the loss of closer Joel Hanrahan.
     
And, as the calendar turns to June, they're comfortable in their own skin.
     
"We know more about ourselves, which is what's important to us," said Farrell. "Where guys slot in, how guys perform . . . We're going in there at less than full strength because of some injuries, but we haven't used that as a crutch and the expectation stays the same, regardless of who's in the lineup. And that is to win, to hopefully win and compete and win a division title."
     
Both teams are approaching better health. The Yankees will welcome back Mark Teixeira and Kevin Youkilis to the lineup Friday night. The Red Sox anticipate that Shane Victorino and Will Middlebrooks will return soon.
     
This weekend, the battle resumes. The Red Sox and Yankees conceded nothing when projections had them playing for pride -- and little more.
     
With two months down and four months to go, they're back in familiar territory -- at each other's throats, seeking the top spot in the division they've ruled for the past decade.
     
The more things change, the more they stay the same.