It's just so darned tempting, isn't it?
It isn't so much the depleted state of their lineup, nor is it the basis of a one-game smackdown, courtesy of Curt Schilling. The temptation to bury the Yankees, even as early as May, comes forth from a prevailing idea that this was a long time coming, that this is a team that would have been in a freefall a year ago had it not struck gold with Aaron Small and Shawn Chacon.
As it stands now, your Boston Red Sox are 4-1 head-to-head this season against their chief rivals in the American League East. Aside from Keith Foulke's ninth-inning meltdown, last night's 9-5 win over New York was thoroughly convincing, and created a 2 1/2 game lead over the Yankees, three over Toronto. Not that we count numbers in the standings until well after school's out, but sure, we glance here and there.
You get the sense that the Yankees have lost a bit of the swagger they normally employ, mostly based on the fact they've lost some key ingredients. Sure, the lineup will be even more dangerous once Gary Sheffield is back and the bullpen appears to be as good as ever -- as long as Joe Torre doesn't find himself overworking it to the state he did in 2004, which he may be forced to do considering his starting staff. After all, what good is getting back Red Sox killer Sheffield when he's counteracted by Jaret Wright on the mound, a pitcher the Red Sox own.
Sheffield, who should return to the lineup tonight after a rehab stint with Trenton last evening, hit .393 against the Red Sox last season with five home runs and 16 runs batted in. So, while the Red Sox won't exactly be sending any bouquets to welcome him back, they might send Wright a little something as a token for all he's given them over the years. Wright finally won his first career game against the Red Sox last season, but is just 1-4 with a 7.30 ERA lifetime against them. At Fenway Park, his career ERA is 5.92.
Oh, it gets better: Randy Johnson goes in the series finale on Thursday. Sorry, I meant better for the Red Sox. Did you ever think you'd see the day when Matt Clement looked to be a better bet against the Big Unit?
These are your $200 million Yankees. Inevitably, they will be a different $200 million-plus Yankee club sometime soon.
Fixes are inevitable, but their needs are multiplying like Mogwais all the time. Someone will likely be needed to replace Shawn Chacon long-term in the rotation after he had a hematoma drained on his left leg yesterday. They may need someone to replace Hideki Matsui long-term and frankly, Terrance Long probably isn't the answer (especially after watching him play left field with an uncertainty usually reserved for the 12-and-under crowd). Carl Pavano isn't likely to be back, or show up for that matter, and Johnson has deteriorated about as quickly as we all remember watching fellow lefty Alan Embree last season.
I mean, just for comparison: Schilling, Josh Beckett, Tim Wakefield, Clement, and David Wells.
Compare that to Mike Mussina, Randy Johnson, Jaret Wright, Chien Ming Wang, and Small.
It's like one of those SAT questions so easy you risk getting it wrong because you feel like you're being tricked. Wang hasn't been bad, but he did allow seven earned runs last night for his second loss of the season. Mussina has been phenomenal, but the Sox are blessed this time with missing him in the rotation. Whatever magic spell the 2005 10-0 Small had upon him has obviously worn off (0-2, 8.59 ERA).
So, we hesitate to bury them, armed with the knowledge that George Steinbrenner will pay to fix things. But where does he start? And what is it going to cost this time? I don't care how good any scouting department is, there is no way they could possibly have seen 10-0 potential in Small a year ago. If the Yankees don't get that little gift from heaven, they don't win the AL East (or tie for it, whichever).
Meanwhile, the Red Sox continue to motor along, despite having to send Lenny DiNardo out there every week or so, and not having their leadoff hitter since the first weekend of the season. They're 12-5 so far this month and through 42 games are just off pace to win 100. Only Detroit and Chicago have better marks in the AL, and they are 18-10 against their brethren from the AL East. New York, meanwhile, is just 10-8.
They get Wright and Johnson the next two nights, then the Devil Rays for four. At Fenway. Where they are 12-6 on the year.
Not that there aren't concerns in Boston, I know. Beckett's blisters could pop up at any moment. Schilling could morph back into the guy who struggled after a 133-pitch outing, Mike Timlin might be overworked, and Wells could look about as bad as many expect him to Friday night. Alex Gonzalez still can't hit his weight, Jason Varitek's decline is getting concerning, and no, I have not seen that catch Coco made, thank you very much.
But when you put these teams side-by-side, there's just no comparison. Despite all the bats in its Murders' Row lineup, the Yankees are an inferior team to the more balanced Red Sox, who possess better all-around starting pitching and provide a more fluid bridge to its less talented bullpen.
Right now. And in Steinbrenner's world, right now means by the hour. It will be different tonight.
And you'd darned better well believe it will be recalibrated by August.