Yankees and Red Sox at War - Again
by Trevor Whenham - 08/15/2006
Here's a story that could have been written any year this decade - with about 50 games left in the MLB season, the American League East is a dogfight with the Yankees and the Red Sox alone on the top and separated by just one game as of Sunday. Both teams have potent lineups, but this year more than any year recently both teams also have holes so big you could drive a tractor through them.
Despite the problems, however, the Yankees have climbed up to be the second choice of bettors to win the World Series at 13/5. Boston is further back in a group with Minnesota and the White Sox at 6/1. Keep in mind, however, that the Bronx Bombers are a favorite of public bettors and the bookies set their lines accordingly.
Both teams can't win the division, and the loser is far from a lock for the wild card, so it's time to figure out which team you are going to put your effort into tracking and backing. Both teams should win a lot of games down the stretch, and they will be playable for several of them (though both teams are notoriously overbet more often than not), but here is some analysis to help you decide which horse you are going to back to a division title, a pennant and beyond:
Trade deadline acquisitions - The Yankees did what the Yankees do - they spent a fortune on the biggest name available. Brian Cashman would have you believe that Bobby Abreu is one of the top 5 offensive talents in the league. Clearly Cashman is prone to exaggeration. Abreu is a solid bat who hasn't been the same since he swung out of his shoes to win the Home Run Derby last year. He's also, and I'm being generous here, somewhat below elite levels when it comes to fielding. Still, he's an upgrade.
The bigger deal in my mind, though, is the trade of Shawn Chacon to Pittsburgh for Craig Wilson. Wilson is a very good power hitter against left-handed batters, but that's irrelevant. The point is that Shawn Chacon and his gas can are out of town, so there is no longer any risk of him going out to the mound and torching the team's hopes. He has shown he can pitch in the past, but he was a terrifying liability for the Yanks. In his place they got Cory Lidle. He'll never be mistaken for Cy Young, but he looked solid in his first two starts.
The Red Sox did nothing. On the surface that seems a bit mystifying, but you have to decide how important deadline deals really are. For every Carlos Beltran, who carries his new team deep in the playoffs with incredible heroics, there are 20 bum deals that are a waste of everyone's time. So, the Yankees are clearly ahead in this category, but it's unclear if it matters.
Starting pitching - The single biggest factor for playoff success, and neither team is in particularly great shape. The Yankees have been running on four and a half starters all year, and that half a starter has had about 12 heads. Mussina has been solid, as we have come to expect, Wang has been a pleasant surprise with a few ugly starts, Randy Johnson is getting old and Jaret Wright burns five innings a start. That is not like the Yankee rotations of the past, and it will not put fear into anyone.
Unfortunately, the Red Sox aren't much better. Schilling has been good, but he isn't the dominant ace he once was. Beckett has been passable, but he gives up way too many runs. Wakefield and Clement are as dependably average as you would expect them to be. For a while Jon Lester, a rookie who is barely old enough to vote, was their best option, but seems to have hit a wall, collecting two losses and two no decisions in his last four starts. Not the close, bad luck kind of losses, either. You can't make your betting decision based on the strengths of the staffs.
Bullpen - Essentially a wash. Both teams have serviceable if not overwhelming pens. You could argue that the Yanks have an advantage because they have a couple of veteran starters in the pen, but when those starters are Tanyon Sturtze and Sidney Ponson it's not much of an argument. The edge probably goes to New York because of the closers. Jonathan Papelbon has slightly better numbers than Mariano Rivera, but Papelbon's last few games show he might be fading a bit, and Rivera is such a veteran pro that you know that won't happen to him.
Bats - A total wash. Both have three batters over .300, both have freaks who can mash, both have incredible depth that should avoid prolonged lineup slumps. The popular trend right now would be to give the Red Sox the nod because you would rather have David Ortiz up in a clutch spot with a game on the line than A-Rod. A cheap shot, but not untrue.
Defense - Yuck. The Yankees have allowed 31 runs in their last 6 games. The Red Sox have allowed 34. It's a good thing both teams can score a lot of runs, because they sure can't stop them.
Head-to-head - The teams play nine more games, including two day-night double headers. Those games will likely decide who will win the division. So far this season, they are 5-5.
Trends - The Yankees have been shut down twice recently by young phenoms. Jered Weaver stopped them on Sunday and Adam Loewen completely silenced them earlier in the week. That doesn't bode well for later match-ups against Detroit, Baltimore, Seattle, Minnesota or Tampa Bay, and it is especially concerning if they hit the Tigers in the playoffs - all of their pitchers can pitch.
The Red Sox fell out of first place on Aug. 4 for the first time since the middle of June. When the Yankees passed them last time, the Sox responded with a 12-game winning streak. They've won three in a row so far right now, so maybe they are going to do it again.
Conclusion - You have to pick and choose on a game-by-game basis how you are going to bet with these teams for a while yet. There is no team with a clear advantage, and anyone who says there is, is either a fan of that team or a liar. This one could go down to the final weekend.