Panic! Doom and gloom! The sky, yeah, it’s falling. Oh wait, it’s mid-April and the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees actually aren’t that bad — so we decided to leave the worry behind for a minute and focus on what has gone right — and how high the ceiling still could be — for the AL East rivals.
What’s one thing you’d be excited about so far if you were a Red Sox fan?
Jeff Passan: The back end of the bullpen has actually been really good. For all the hullabaloo over the closer role, Ryan Brasier and Matt Barnes have performed, Brandon Workman has provided a nice bridge and Colten Brewer and his crazy-spin curveball might prove an integral option going forward.
Coley Harvey: Besides the fact the rival Yanks are also struggling right now, Red Sox fans ought to be comforted by the firepower their offense has been showing of late. The Sox have scored five or more runs in four of their past five games, and are getting blistering early production from first baseman Mitch Moreland — who has five homers and 1.048 OPS in his first 15 games.
Joon Lee: The Red Sox might be going through a championship hangover, but imagine how bad things could’ve gotten by throwing in the looming free agencies of Chris Sale and Xander Bogaerts. Locking up two major franchise building blocks atop the rotation and at shortstop ensures some level of stability and franchise direction for the team this year and beyond.
David Schoenfield: Well, the Sox still have 16 games remaining with the Orioles and 17 with the Blue Jays and they haven’t played a single game against the AL Central yet. I’m half joking here. Last year, they went 50-21 against the O’s, Jays and Central.
What’s one thing you’d be excited about so far if you were a Yankees fan?
Passan: There is splendor in Masahiro Tanaka‘s commitment to become the foremost junkballer of this generation. His fastball rests around 91 mph, which means he throws it only about a quarter of the time. That gives his five other pitches the remaining 75 percent, and with them — the slider and splitter mainly, complemented by a curveball, changeup and cutter — Tanaka has ably filled in atop a rotation stung by the absence of ace Luis Severino.
Harvey: Obviously the injured list has been the big story around the Yankees so far this season. But a glass-half-full thought on their IL woes: At the very least, all these injuries have given valuable experience for up-and-comers like Clint Frazier (3 HRs, 10 RBIs in 11 games) and Domingo German (3-0, 1.38 ERA, 14 Ks in 13 IP).
Lee: That they aren’t also on the injured list.
Schoenfield: Even though he’s on what should be a short stint on the injured list with a calf strain, Gary Sanchez‘s hot start suggests a big bounce-back season is in the works after he hit .186 last season and saw his home runs drop from 33 to 18. Everything seemed to snowball for him in 2018 — including a fair share of bad luck on balls in play — but he has too much ability to struggle like that again for six months.
Pick a date: When will the Red Sox and Yankees become the top two teams in the AL East standings?
Passan: They won’t. Tampa Bay is going to remain ahead of at least one for the entire season. And whichever that is may get a push from Seattle — look at the run differential; this sprint at the beginning of the season could actually be real — for the second wild-card spot.
Harvey: It’s very hard to overlook the Rays right now. Tampa Bay looks like it could be the best team in baseball for some time. Still, the Yankees are going to get healthier. Boston’s starting pitching will eventually stabilize. So I’m going out on a limb and saying that by June 19, the old kings of the AL East will return. The Yankees and Rays have a three-game series in the Bronx that week (June 17-19) that could swing the early-season division, with Tampa Bay having also played Boston and Oakland in the two weeks prior. The Sox also enter into that week having had 10 straight games against the likes of Texas, Baltimore and Minnesota.
Lee: The Red Sox need to get more out of their rotation. It’s too early to panic about Sale, given that the lefty threw only nine innings in spring training and, as Pedro Martinez recently told WEEI, World Series hangover is real. The Yankees have too much talent (barring health) to not be in the race by the end of the year, but both Boston and New York cannot treat the Rays with kid gloves or one of them might find itself on the outside looking in come October.
Schoenfield: Hey, I’m the guy who wrote an article a few days into the season calling the Rays the most exciting organization in the majors. I was factoring in the minor league system in that assessment, but the big league team is for real, especially if Tyler Glasnow keeps pitching like this and Austin Meadows keeps hitting like this, Oh, wait … this was a question about the Red Sox and Yankees. Forget them, I’m in the front seat of the Rays’ bandwagon. OK, it’s a long season and I still think we’ll end up with a three-team race, but it may be the All-Star break before the Rays are caught (if they are).
Predict New York’s biggest in-season or trade deadline acquisition.
Passan: Madison Bumgarner. There aren’t many big-ticket items for interested shoppers, and the Yankees’ incredible outfield depth could behoove them here. Would Clint Frazier for a rental be worth it? Perhaps not the typical rental, but Bumgarner is in consideration for best postseason pitcher ever, and he’d fortify the only real question mark the Yankees have at this point.
Harvey: I was actually having this conversation with a colleague over the weekend. You’ve got to believe that after rankling the fan base by not making the big free-agency splash many pinstripers anticipated last offseason, the Yankees will be working to land a rather big fish by the trade deadline. So since pitching will surely be an area of concern by then, and since there is so much in flux regarding the health of the Yankees’ staff, Bumgarner ought to be the man they fixate their gaze upon in July.
Lee: Bumgarner makes a lot of sense for the Yankees. He’s a rental, has handled the big stage, and while he’s not the ace he used to be, he’s someone you can depend on for big innings. The only thing that makes me hesitate is I’m not sure we’re mentally prepared to see a clean-shaven, short-haired MadBum.
Schoenfield: Bumgarner in pinstripes and no beard just makes me sad and it’s too early in the baseball season for tears. So … umm … I’m checking the pending free agents and not seeing anybody who is too interesting. How about Trevor Cahill from the Angels? He could start or provide additional bullpen depth.
Predict Boston’s biggest in-season or trade deadline acquisition.
Passan: Greg Holland. The Red Sox want to do everything possible to stay underneath the $246 million luxury-tax threshold, and a cost-effective player who fills a clear area of need fits. Because he’s on a one-year deal, Holland won’t cost much, either, and Boston can dip into its thin farm system without much concern.
Harvey: Boston’s best chance to succeed this season hinges upon the upgrades it makes to its bullpen. I figure the names will change as we get closer to July, but one name in the early going to keep an eye on is Colorado’s Bryan Shaw. Sure, the 31-year-old righty is having issues with command at the moment (5 BBs in 10 ⅓ innings), but he also has allowed just five hits and boasts a 0.87 ERA. Again, it’s early.
Lee: Will Smith. The Red Sox bullpen doesn’t have a left-handed reliever right now, and while Ryan Brasier and Matt Barnes have stepped into closing situations in the early part of the season, Smith could make sense. The San Francisco Giants closer is a free agent after the season and will be in demand after a strong 2018 campaign (12.1 strikeouts per nine innings, 2.55 ERA, 2.07 FIP) and a strong start in 2019.
Schoenfield: Bullpen depth certainly makes sense, but here’s a wild card: catcher Francisco Cervelli from the Pirates. The only hitches: The Pirates have to fall out of the race, several teams could be in search of a catcher, and Boston’s farm system is near the bottom.
If it’s still too early to panic, when would you start to worry about these two teams?
Passan: I don’t really start worrying about teams until June, so we’ve got a while. That said, with a start like the Red Sox’s in particular, it draws attention to flaws and weaknesses that need remedying. To win, Boston needs Chris Sale to be Chris Sale. And its offense to be offensive. And plenty of other things that have time to work themselves out.
Harvey: The real panic might set in June 28. It certainly will for MLB’s power brokers if the two teams are still scuffling near the bottom of the division on the eve of their trip to London. The international showcase would be best served with the teams in a more competitive battle. In terms of the fans’ panic, that near-halfway point ought to be a better gauge of how good — and healthy — both squads are.
Lee: If Chris Sale isn’t doing typical Chris Sale things by the end of May, I’d be getting worried.
Schoenfield: The quarter mark is a good time to assess things — that’s 40 games. We’ll know about Severino’s status by then, more about Sale’s issues, more about whether J.A. Happ and James Paxton and Nathan Eovaldi and Rick Porcello have figured things out. If those guys are still struggling or hurt … then you can panic.
If offered a mulligan on taking the Yankees and Red Sox to both make the playoffs, would you take it?
Passan: No. Because I’m stubborn. But more because I still think they’re two of the five best teams in the league.
Harvey: Come on, man. We’ve barely made it past Tax Day. Of course I’m still expecting both in the playoffs right now. But ask me again on Bastille Day.
Lee: Gonna throw in the obligatory health disclaimer here, but I’d be extremely surprised if New York and Boston aren’t playing October baseball.
Schoenfield: No, I’ll stick with them. They’ll get things straightened out and will have long stretches of playing a lot of bad American League baseball teams.
What will the headline on the back pages of the NY papers be on Oct. 7?
Passan: UN-SHURMER: Does Pat stick with Eli or finally make it Dwayne’s game?
Harvey: AARON BLEEPIN’ BOONE DOES IT AGAIN. (Now, will that BLEEPIN’ be written in a favorable way for the Yankees, like it was for the 2003 Boone, or a not-so-favorable way, aka Boone’s 2018 bullpen usage? We’ll just have to wait until October to find out.)
Lee: COME BACK ODELL
Schoenfield: SNELL’S LIKE ROTTEN GOOSE EGGS: Tampa’s Snell eliminates Yankees with four-hit shutout
What will the headline on the sports pages of the Boston papers be on Oct. 7?
Passan: DON’T LEAVE, J.D.: Opt-out clause looms large in Red Sox’s uncertain future
Harvey: BETTS ARE IN: Time for Sox to cash-out RF with mega deal
Lee: Can the Red Sox bullpen handle October?
Schoenfield: SWEEP-LESS IN SEATTLE: Mariners’ miracle season continues as Dan Vogelbach‘s two home runs knock Sox from playoffs
If we told you one of these teams is going to win the World Series, which would you take?
Passan: Yankees. Because they’re the team I actually did choose. And when Severino returns — a strained lat is actually about the best-case scenario — and the other 10 Yankees on the injured list come back, they’re the deepest team in the AL and perhaps the most talented. The home runs, the bullpen and a fully baked rotation? That’s the stuff of which championships are made.
Harvey: Gotta go with the Bombers. If New York can somehow keep this patchwork roster afloat the next few months, there’s no telling just how good it will be once the relatively rested and currently missing stars return. Imagine a 100 percent healthy Severino entering the postseason having pitched only 70 innings instead of 200? At a time when most teams will be needing a second or third wind, the presumably much healthier Yankees could just be fully getting into their first one.
Lee: The Yankees. Winning the World Series in back-to-back seasons hasn’t happened in nearly 20 years, when the Core Four-led Bronx Bombers won three in row from 1998 through 2000. The Red Sox have the talent to get back to the Fall Classic, but the competition for another World Series title will be stiff.
Schoenfield: The Astros.