Waiting on a rivalry

Waiting on a rivalry
July 19, 2013, 11:00 am
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Like Larry King and Joan Rivers, the Red Sox/Yankees rivalry will never die, but as the teams kick off the second half this weekend at Fenway, the rivalry remains in a state of shock. Or in a coma. Or just plain drunk. So, what happened?

Well, it doesn’t help the teams still haven’t met in the postseason since the historic 2004 ALCS, but the rivalry really shut down with Boston’s September 2011 collapse. From that moment, through 2012, the Sox had too many other things to worry about without getting all that worked up about the Yankees. It’s hard to find the strength to hate your biggest rival when you’re so consumed with hating yourself. As for the Yankees, there’s only so much emotion and satisfaction to be found in pounding on your rival (which they did 13 of 18 times last year) when your rival is in such a pathetic state. Would Peter Griffin have as much fun beating up that big yellow chicken after it was already flame broiled and sliced up on a platter?

The 2013 Sox season opened at Yankee Stadium, a stage tailor made to jump start the insanity, but again, for the Sox, the series wasn’t about the Yankees; there were still more focused on cleaning up their own house than they were with taking a dump in the Yankees’. Meanwhile, injuries had ravaged the once proud New York line-up and left them with a roster as recognizable as Steve Nebraska’s supporting cast in The Scout. Ben Francisco? Francisco Cervelli? Chris Stewart? David Adams? Plus a mix of old names and faces long past their primes like Ichiro, Vernon Wells, Travis Hafner and Lyle Overbay.

The Sox took two of three in the opening series, and two of three when the teams met at Yankees Stadium again from May 31-June 2. But over those six games, there was something missing. Sure, there was a little extra animosity. You could dress up two teams of monkeys in Sox and Yankees uniforms and they’d find a way to despise each other. But it’s not the same. The Red Sox and Yankees aren’t the same. NOTHING IS THE SAME.

For one, the Sox and Yankees have officially swapped roles. As we start the second half, Boston is the team with hope for the immediate future. They’re not without issues, but they sit atop of the American League. They’re feeling good. They find themselves in a place of power over the guys in pinstripes. On the other hand, the Yankees are gasping for air.

Despite miraculously finding themselves seven games above .500, it appears unlikely that New York can keep it up. Mark Texeira is done for the year. Derek Jeter is 39 and back on the DL. Curtis Granderson is back on the DL and isn’t set to return until August, at which point he’ll inevitably end up back on the DL. A-Rod may return next week, but his body’s breaking down and a large suspension might be looming.

As it is, the Yankees offense has been brutal. They start the second half ranked 20th in the majors in runs and homers; they’re 24th in team batting average (.243!) and .OBP. They have a negative run differential, and are one of only two above-.500 teams in baseball who can say that.

To this point, they’ve been kept alive by their pitching, but that looks on the verge of collapse as well. CC Sabathia (who will throw on Sunday night) is a few days shy of his 33rd birthday and it shows. He’s 9-8 with a 4.07 ERA. He’s currently posting career worsts in hits and homers per nine innings, as well as adjusted ERA.

Andy Pettite, who pitches for New York tonight, recently celebrated his 41st birthday, and it shows. (He’s 7-6, but his 4.39 ERA is the third worst in his 18 year career, and his 92 ERA+ is the worst). New York’s most reliable pitcher has been Hiroki Kuroda, and he starts on Saturday, but he’s also 38 years old.

In other words, much like the Sox last year, the Yankees have a hell of lot more to worry about than this rivalry. They’re not trotting into Fenway this weekend looking for a showdown with the hated Sox. To be honest, they don’t have all that many reason to even hate them anyone. It doesn’t matter who they’re playing, they just need to win. If they don’t, and fast, the New York Yankees could possibly find themselves as sellers at the deadline, thus reviving another string of awful “Maybe the Mayans were right!” jokes and potentially leading Brian Cashman to put out a mob hit on ARod.

But the bottom line is, for yet another series and potentially another season, the storied Red Sox/Yankees rivalry will lack the intensity by which it used to be defined, and at this point it’s fair to wonder when we’ll see that intensity again. Will it take another A-Rod/Varitek-like brawl? A long awaited playoff rematch?

Either way, as long as the Sox maintain the upper hand, the wait will be a little easier to swallow.