In the recent past, a three-game weekend series in New York between the Yankees and Red Sox would have been a marquee event. This year, Yankee Stadium will bear witness to a battle between the third and fourth-place teams in the AL East, neither of which is steamrolling toward a postseason berth.
At 40-37, the Yankees enter the weekend slightly above water and within striking distance of postseason position. Meanwhile, the Red Sox arrive to the Bronx at 36-43, seven games below .500 and a shell of the team that won a World Series last October.
According to ESPN's playoff odds, neither New York or Boston own better than a 21 percent chance to qualify for the playoffs, making this series strangely ordinary and without the accustomed buzz that usually surrounds the long-time rivals.
If, however, one of the AL East foes is poised to for a second-half surge and date with destiny, it's like this weekend's home team, not the defending division champions. Before dissecting the main reason that the Yankees are a better bet for second-half success than the Red Sox, let's look at the biggest pro and con for each of the disappointing AL East teams.
First, the good. For the Yankees and Red Sox, the names and styles are different, but the results are eerily similar since the start of the season. In Masahiro Tanaka (106.2 IP, 2.77 FIP) and Jon Lester (106.0 IP, 2.84 FIP), the Yankees and Red Sox, respectively, have aces carrying flawed rosters.
As the season nears its midway point, take a minute to gawk at the record of each team when its ace doesn't toe the rubber.
For the Yankees, baseball's second-most expensive roster owns a 28-34 record when its sensational rookie doesn't start. To put that in perspective, that .451 winning percentage is nearly identical to what the 2014 Colorado Rockies have looked like this season.
In Boston, Lester's work has led to a 9-7 record across 16 starts. At first glance, that's far from spectacular, but more context is needed. When the 30-year-old southpaw isn't taking the ball for manager John Farrell, the Red Sox are a 28-36 team.
If Tanaka and Lester could pitch every day, perhaps meager offenses wouldn't be dragging down each of these teams. The years of the Yankees and Red Sox pumping out 900-plus run seasons, wearing down the opposition and bludgeoning opponents with relentless lineups are gone.
As the following chart shows, neither team is in the top 10 of any significant offensive category thus far in 2014.
|Yankees, Red Sox Offensive Ranks (Entering Play on 6/26)|
Entering the weekend tilt in the Bronx, the two teams featured six everyday hitters with OPS+ marks of at least 110 or 10 percent above league average. No, not six each. That figure is the total between the two lineups entering play on June 27.
While the sextet of Mark Teixeira (129 OPS+), Brett Gardner (114 OPS+), Jacoby Ellsbury (110 OPS+), Mike Napoli (135 OPS+), Brock Holt (124 OPS+) and David Ortiz (132 OPS+) has carried its combined weight, the rest of these lineups haven't.
In 2003, during the epicenter of this rivalry and offensive boom within the sport, 15 of the 18 regular hitters in Yankees-Red Sox rivalry boasted OPS+ marks of at least league average.
With pitching rotations relying on aces to carry huge burdens and mediocre offenses, it's easy to see why both teams enter the weekend with negative run differentials and the prospect of chasing down the Blue Jays and Orioles all summer long.
From this point forward, it's not about talent, resources or want. Instead, the reason the Yankees are more likely to make a push in the AL East this summer: The franchise wants it more.
After missing out on the postseason in 2013 and spending more than $500 million on talent last winter, the Yankees are staring at the prospect of back-to-back dark Octobers at Yankee Stadium for the first time since the early 90s. Meanwhile, the Red Sox are in the honeymoon phase of winning a World Series title. If the team takes a step back, finishes around .500 and misses out on October, few will levy pointed criticism.
Those dueling realities have governed the perception around how each team will attack the non-waiver trade deadline on July 31.
In New York, reinforcements are expected to arrive soon. General manager Brian Cashman was blunt when recently answering questions about the likelihood of making a move soon, per John Harper of The New York Daily News.
"We usually make moves every year so I expect to make moves," Cashman said.
Around 200 miles north of Harper and Cashman, Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe recently suggested that the Red Sox sell in July, bring up young, rising prospects and take a glimpse of what a fresh contender could look like in 2015.
The Yankees aren't very good. Right now, the Red Sox look even worse. Unless something changes over the next six weeks, the franchise motivated to win in 2014 will get back in the race.