After his team allowed 29 runs to the Yankees in London, Alex Cora told reporters the truth: Boston hasn’t measured up to New York this season.
“Right now, they’re a lot better than us, so we need to get better. We know we can be better. We know we have a great team. But we need to stop talking about it, and we need to do it. It’s 11.5. There’s no hiding. We know where we’re at.”
Funny enough, that resembled quotes from Aaron Boone a year ago when the Yankees were dealt a four-game sweep at Fenway Park in August.
“From the division standpoint, we’re going to have to play a pretty lights-out brand of baseball,” Boone said just before the finale.
“This is a test we’re going through right now, there’s no question. We’re experiencing some adversity with being dinged up a little bit roster-wise, but we’ll also come out on the other side a lot tougher for this.”
Those quotes, 11 months apart, speak to the rise of two juggernauts in the American League East, the 2018 Red Sox and the 2019 Yankees. Both teams had or have exhausting talent on offense that makes up for the papered-over holes in their pitching staff. To play at a 100+ win pace, you don’t need to have perfect pitching if you simply outscore opponents consistently.
In some ways, the Rays are actually the 2018 Yankees equivalent with Boston sitting 11 games off this year’s AL East pace. Tampa Bay has a lot to like — Ace-caliber starting pitching, the makings of a good bullpen, controllable young hitters — but the pieces haven’t come together in full force for more than a few weeks at a time.
Even Tampa is having trouble hanging with the Yankees, going 2-8 thus far in head-to-head contests. That’s closer to the 2-10 mark against New York of this year’s Orioles than anyone in the Rays organization would like. The Tampa Bay Times ran a column Thursday that posited “the Rays are closer to Montreal than they are to the Yankees.” Funny, but also reality.
These Yankees just exhaust any and all pitchers. They blast home runs, sure, but they do much more than that. Get ahead of a Bomber hitter 0-2 and they’ll force you to throw eight more pitches to get them out, if you can even get them out. Tie the game off their best relievers and they’ll just build a lead their worst reliever can’t give up. At least on offense, this has the makings of a special team …
… Except when they run into Justin Verlander.
That was ostensibly the issue for the 2018 Red Sox as well. It seems farfetched now, but after Game 1 of the 2018 ALCS, Boston looked like a 108-win appetizer for the Astros’ second consecutive title. Houston has run out one of the best offenses of all-time in three straight seasons and has the ace pitching to make it stand up, even after losing Charlie Morton to the Rays.
So the 2018 Red Sox aren’t the standard to chase, even though they were eventually World Series winners. They weren’t guaranteed that title at least until they finished off Houston. The Yankees have to measure themselves against potential 2019 foes, namely the Twins, Astros and Dodgers (primarily the latter two). And sure, the Rays and Red Sox, should either emerge as a division/division series competitor in coming weeks.
Around this time last year, the Red Sox saw themselves as the division champions. They still had to finish off the Yankees, but they also had the luxury of looking ahead to the postseason, where the Yankees could reemerge while Houston loomed. Dave Dombrowski looked for relief help but strengthened the rotation instead when Zack Britton went to New York, adding Nathan Eovaldi (and Steve Pearce on offense).
Brian Cashman may find himself in a funhouse mirror version of Boston’s 2018 trade deadline. The Yankees could really use a starter for the postseason — they can get by just fine in the regular season — but the market is thin, particularly with Marcus Stroman dealing with a pectoral injury. He may instead have to bolster an already fortified bullpen after already providing supplementary help to the lineup with Edwin Encarnacion.
If you’re looking in the American League for an equivalent to the Boston champions from last season, the Yankees are it. But that doesn’t guarantee a title. The Bombers have a similarly tough road ahead and reinforcements to make. Still, it’s nice to not be looking up in the division for once.