By Matt Straub
Before the baseball season began, Brad and I had a debate over who was in a better position, the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox. We agreed on New York having an amazing future, but I argued the Red Sox being a year or two ahead in the development cycle was a huge factor in their favor, especially for the current season.
For a while, it looked like Brad was going to win the argument. The Yankees’ young stars looked ready to take over right away, and some surprising veterans were helping. The pitching was getting just as much of a boost from young talent as the offense, and a dynasty felt like it was coming.
Now, however, it looks like I’m going to be proven right. The Yankees have hit the wall, and, as the song goes, you have to lose to know how to win. The Yankees can still recover this year, but in the long term adversity will be good for this group’s development, even if they fall apart this season. The Red Sox, who went through those growing pains in various ways over the last two years, knew how to deal with their early problems, and now look like they’re ready to run away with the division.
Many think the first half of the season ends when the All-Star break hits, but we’re actually already past the true halfway mark in the year. So let’s look at how the Yankees and Red Sox got to this point and what they’ll have to do in order to have sustained success into October. While we’re here, we’ll also take a brief look at the Mets, who have seen their own hopes dashed by circumstances beyond their control.
New York Yankees
The “Baby Bombers” gave their fans a taste of what will be a great future in the first half of the year, but the harsh reality of youth has hit the team lately. After spending 51 days in first place, the Yankees have won just six of their last 20 games, giving control of the division to Boston. The next week or so will be crucial for the young players on this team, who are trying to help New York get to the All-Star break with a chance to get back in the race. If they can stay at three games back or even shave a game or two off the deficit, the All-Star break will be a great chance for the team to regroup. Another bad week could have the Yanks at five or six back at the break, however, and cast some doubt on all the optimism which invaded the Bronx in April and May. If the Yankees are to rally, they will need health and quality from their starting pitchers. Masahiro Tanaka, after struggling early, has looked great lately, and CC Sabathia just came off the DL. If they can provide veteran presence at the top of the rotation and the young guns like Jordan Montgomery, who has been an outstanding presence for the back of the rotation, the Yankees can compete into the fall. If the old guys falter and Luis Severino shows any sign of wearing down, the Yankees are in trouble. The bullpen will be fine when it matters, but the Yanks have to get to the pen first. Offensively, there are similar questions. Aaron Judge looks like a fan made him in Road to the Show, decided he should be 6-foot-8, put his attributes all up to 99, and put him on the real field at Yankee Stadium, but can he do this all year? After a slow start, Gary Sanchez has been crushing the ball for five weeks now, and a potential healthy return from Matt Holiday could be a big boost to the lineup. Losing Aaron Hicks hurts, and injuries are starting to creep up on the batting order. Can their depth lift the Bombers? If not, the next infusion of youth and another year of experience for the current young stars will serve the Yankees well in 2018.
Boston Red Sox
It took some time, but the Red Sox are right where I said they’d be during that debate. Yes, Boston has its problems, but it is the class of its division. The young stars who were the key to my argument that the future is now in Boston struggled early, but they are gaining their stride. Sox fans have gone from wondering what’s wrong with Mookie Betts to putting him back in the MVP discussion. Jackie Bradley Jr. is on one of his famous tears, which is making up for one of his patented brutal slumps early. Xander Bogaerts has finally started hitting homers, and Andrew Benintendi is showing his late-season surge last year wasn’t a fluke. The veterans, like Dustin Pedroia and Mitch Moreland have been healthy and productive, and Hanley Ramirez started hitting lefties as soon as reporters mentioned to him that he wasn’t. The big issues have been on the mound, where David Price follows his rare good starts by picking fights with people because he’s incapable of being happy, Rick Porcello has lost his Cy Young magic and ruined my fantasy team, and Doug Fister became the 10th man to start a game in the first half for the Sox, who have been without three projected starters at various points. The bullpen has stabilized recently, even without two projected big pieces, Tyler Thornburg and Carson Smith, who never made it to the field. Craig Kimbrel has been unstoppable as the closer, and Boston’s depth in the bullpen has been a pleasant surprise. There’s a long way to go, but it looks like it would take a number of big injuries to keep Boston from winning the East again.
New York Mets
Speaking of injuries, let’s spend a second talking about the team from Flushing. The Mets have showed signs of life lately, recently winning seven of eight against bad teams, which is what good teams do. They came right back to earth, however, when they went to Washington, which reminded them who the power in the East was. Terry Collins and his crew deserves credit for how close it is to being competitive considering what this team has been through this year. It’s hard to imagine a team as ravaged by injuries as the Mets have been this year. On the pitching side alone, Noah Syndergaard has only made five starts, Matt Harvey is hurt again and bad when he isn’t, and Steven Matz is just now back to his old self. Among the position players, the Mets have had just three men take the field 70 or more times. Yoenis Cespedes can’t stay healthy, Curtis Granderson can’t show any consistency, and Jose Reyes can’t be counted on to keep up this pace. Yes, his average has been down, but he has shown up every day, something the Mets badly need. But can he keep this up? He has played 145 games or more just twice since 2008. Even worse, they are already eight back on the loss side in the wild card race, and it might be time to sell off some veteran pieces while they’re doing something worthwhile, like Reyes and an occasionally hot Granderson. They certainly could get something for some of their bullpen arms. This run is over. Injuries and bad luck have cost the Mets their chance at another playoff run. It’s time to start rebuilding for 2018 and beyond.