It’s been 10 years since I walked out of Yankee Stadium following Sunday Night Baseball in early August and a four-game sweep of the Red Sox, which propelled the Yankees to a division title and eventually a championship. This past weekend’s four-game series had the same result with a much different meaning.
The Yankees aren’t fighting the Red Sox for the division in August 2019 the way they were in August 2009. They haven’t had to fight the Red Sox for the division this entire season. The only obstacle the Yankees have had to face in the division was the Rays for the first two months of the season, but the Yankees cleared that hurdle and cleared it for good nearly three months ago.
We didn’t learn anything from the weekend series. We already knew the Yankees were the class of the American League, even though they haven’t played a single game this season at full strength, and we already knew the Red Sox suck, as they are now only four games over .500 in an era of baseball where the majority of the league is tanking and wins are easy to come by. We saw a true championship contender embarrass a mediocre team and only because it’s Yankees-Red Sox does it feel like something more.
The Red Sox got swept by a Yankees team, which in the final game of the series, put out a lineup without Gary Sanchez, DJ LeMahieu, Luke Voit, Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Hicks and Edwin Encarnacion. A Yankees lineup without six of its expected nine starters for the upcoming postseason raced out to a 7-0 lead and when J.A. Happ, who won’t be part of the postseason rotation, needed to be pulled, the team turned to Luis Cessa, the 25th man on the roster, who is barely hanging on to his Yankees career. With their season on the line and facing a sweep and potential eighth straight loss, the Red Sox lost to the Yankees JV lineup (and giving them JV status is generous), worst starter and worst reliever.
The series, and this season as a whole, has served as a painful reminder of how ridiculously fortunate the 2018 Red Sox were. They needed every below-average- and average player playing well, every good player playing great and every great player playing at an MVP level for their 2018 season to happen. They got it all in what was one ridiculously improbable parlay which couldn’t be stopped. Screw the 1967 Red Sox. The 2018 Red Sox were the Impossible Dream.
There won’t be any dream this season. The Red Sox are more than finished in the division, trailing the Yankees by 16 games in the loss column, and on the brink of eliminating themselves from any postseason berth, as they are now 10 games back for the first wild card and seven games back for the second wild card.
The last eight days couldn’t have gone better as the Yankees lost enough in Boston to prevent the Red Sox from dealing any tradeable assets, impending free agents or opt-out clause contracts. The Yankees kept the Red Sox alive long enough to then completely destroy their season a week later, after the only trade deadline of the season. It’s rare when things go exactly how you want in baseball, and this is one of those rare times.
Back on April 19, I wrote Yankees Fans Should Be Worried About the Rays This Season, Not the Red Sox and said the following:
Eventually, we are going to need other teams to beat the Rays. The Red Sox? They’ll beat themselves. The Rays are the team I’m worried about in the division this season, not the Red Sox. If the Yankees are to end their division-winning drought and avoid the wild-card game for the fourth time in five years, they are going to have to beat the Rays to do so.
The Red Sox aren’t the Yankees’ biggest threat in 2019. They are who I believed them to be in 2018 before they put together an improbable season, winning 108 games and easily handling the Yankees, Astros and Dodgers in the postseason. The Red Sox have a built-in excuse for this season after winning the World Series last year and they are playing like it. There’s no 17-2 start, no weekly magical six-run, ninth-inning comebacks and there’s running away and hiding with the division.
The Yankees are the ones running way and hiding with the division this season. It was a four-game sweep in the first days of August in New York that ended the Red Sox’ division chances for good, like the four-game sweep in Boston the Yankees suffered in the first days of August last year, which ended their division chances.
It’s going to take a lot for the Yankees to regain the upper hand in the rivalry after the way the division played out in the regular season and the division series played out in the postseason last year. But the Yankees putting the Red Sox’ season in peril and pushing them to the brink of elimination for even the second wild card was a good start.
The Yankees don’t have to worry about the Rays, and they certainly don’t have to worry about the Red Sox. They don’t have to worry about the division at all. All the Yankees have to worry about between now and the end of the regular season is getting healthy and securing home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
My book The Next Yankees Era: My Transition from the Core Four to the Baby Bombers is available!