The Yankees and Red Sox meet this weekend in the Bronx in a virtual dead heat, meaning this is just the beginning of what should develop into a wild summer.
Each squad is surely primed for another long run of success, though they both may well slow down as the dog days of summer hit full stride. I.e., the games they play against each other matter that much more. Cue the heated rivalry talk, which finally has some backbone behind it.
Indeed, the intensity level is once again palpable when the Yankees and Sox face each other, as evidenced by their early season bench-clearing brawl at Fenway Park. The teams may not hate each other as was seemingly the case in years past, yet the fire on both sides is evident.
Neither club wants to lose to the other because both teams understand that the clearer path to the World Series requires winning the division title, not coming in second place and being forced to play a one-game playoff to reach the division series. As it stands Friday morning, if the Yankees and Sox continue on their current pace they'll respectively finish with 108 and 109 wins, so victories in head-to-head matchups are tantamount to winning the division crown.
Last season, the Yankees and Red Sox both made the playoffs for the first time since 2009. The Red Sox were expected to gain a postseason berth at the outset of the season, while the Yankees were believed to be a year or even two away from serious contention. But it was New York, which reached Game 7 of the ALCS, that advanced further than the Red Sox, who were bounced in the ALDS, also to the Astros.
Both clubs entered 2018 with loftier expectations, and the Red Sox got off to an amazingly hot start (17-2) while the Yankees trudged through the first 19 games of the season (10-9). Since, the Yankees have been MLB's best team, having led the division for 24 collective days until recently losing grip on first place.
Both clubs are stacked with star power from grizzled veterans to upstart youngsters, and that likely won't change for several seasons. The Yankees and Red Sox matchups of the late '90s and all of the '00s were much the same as they battled year in and year out for division supremacy. As a fan, it is exciting to now watch both teams build from a stable farm system, trade and free agency vs. relying mostly on veterans. The current roster development methodology indicates an extended run of tough competition between New York and Boston well beyond 2018.
Despite each team already boasting a talented roster, the Yankees and Red Sox possess the ability to swing trades to bolster any weaknesses they perceive could block their path. The Yankees are sure to add pitching -- potentially both a starter and reliever -- as the Red Sox might have already indicated they want some more bench thump in the lineup after Thursday's addition of Yankee killer Steve Pearce. The Yankees may have a deeper organization with which to pull off a large trade, however Red Sox general manager Dave Dombrowski's willingness to make high impact moves at the deadline cannot be underestimated.
So, when CC Sabathia takes the hill Friday evening for the Yankees, it might as well be the first day of the season, because nothing that has developed in the last 78 games has separated them. The road to the division title begins Friday, and thankfully, this could be the start of a lengthy period of seasonal battles between baseball's best rivalry.