It's very rare that the rivalry between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox holds as little intrigue as it does to start the 2013 season, but both teams look far weaker this year than we've seen in quite some time.
The Red Sox have major questions in the lineup and in the starting rotation. The Yankees will start the season with key players Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, Phil Hughes and Michael Pineda all on the disabled list.
With a lot of question marks on both of these teams, it's vital for each to start the season strongly.
For the Red Sox, it's merely a matter of momentum. In an AL East that boasts strong teams in the Toronto Blue Jays, Tampa Bay Rays and Baltimore Orioles, a Red Sox roster with a lot of turnover must gel quickly.
Newcomers like Shane Victorino, Jonny Gomes, Mike Napoli and eventually Stephen Drew will have to replace the production lost when Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford were traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers last season, and Kevin Youkilis was traded to the Chicago White Sox.
Well, the production lost when Gonzalez was traded, at least.
Meanwhile, the rotation is fairly similar, with Ryan Dempster replacing Josh Beckett. The hope is that the starting five will not underachieve as badly as it did in 2012, when the Red Sox had a team ERA of 4.70, third-worst in the American League.
The Red Sox probably aren't as bad as people are making them out to be. A healthy Jacoby Ellsbury is an MVP candidate, while youngster Will Middlebrooks could post big numbers this season. Still, if the Red Sox fall down the standings early in the season, they won't catch up in the strong AL East.
For the Yankees, the beginning of the season is all about treading water until their stars return from injury. This was an aging team already—now, they'll start the season without four players in the lineup who combined to hit 100 home runs and 305 RBI and score 341 runs.
Oh, and Nick Swisher left in free agency, too.
On Monday, the Yankees will open with a lineup that includes Ben Francisco at DH, Laynce Nix at third base and Vernon Wells manning left field. This is not your father's Yankees.
Obviously, once this team gets its stars back it will be dangerous. But until then, it's very possible the Bronx Bombers will sink to the bottom of the AL East standings. If New York can somehow remain competitive over the first two months or so, it could make a push late in the season.
Which team will finish higher in the standings in 2013?
So no, this rivalry doesn't have its traditional intrigue, but this opening series is still pretty darn important for these two teams. Neither squad can afford to start the season off on the wrong foot.
Besides, you could put little leaguers on each roster; that wouldn't change the fact that this is still the Yankees versus the Red Sox on Opening Day. It generally doesn't get any better than that.
Even if 161 games later, neither one of these teams will be prepping for October baseball.
Hit me up on Twitter—my tweets are more excited for Opening Day than Smalls after he hit his first home run.