John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
A week into the season, the Yankees are decimated by injuries, not hitting much, and their intimidating closer doesn't look quite so intimidating.
Yet, compared to the Red Sox, they're having the March/April of their dreams.
After all, it's not that the Sox are just 2-7. No, what has to have all of New England in a panic is the way they're pitching, losing by slow-pitch softball scores. This from a team that started the 2018 season at 17-2, and in some ways, rode that momentum all the way to a championship.
So the Yankees at 3-4 are missing a chance to capitalize early, but what matters most is trying to determine how significant the problems are on each side, and which team will be most affected by them in the long run.
On that count, I'd say it's easy: Advantage, Yankees.
Most notably, their starting pitchers have a combined 2.97 ERA, which is something of a best-case scenario for GM Brian Cashman, especially considering Luis Severino is on the shelf as he works his way back from shoulder inflammation.
However, the Yankees' mighty offense has been derailed by injuries that have seemingly created a panic mentality among the survivors, leading to even more swinging for the fences than usual.
Still, if you think the Yankees aren't going to get the bats going and score runs by the boatload over the course of the long season, injuries and all, you must be reading this from somewhere up the Connecticut Turnpike, north of New Haven.
On the other hand, Sox fans can make a similar argument about their starting pitching, which has been shockingly inept so far. It was the heartbeat of their title team in 2018, to the point where manager Alex Cora leaned on the starters to handle some of the key late-inning relief work as well in the postseason.
With that in mind, it's easy enough to dismiss the early results as something of a hangover from a long season. But if this is a hangover, well, it's a doozy.
Consider that through nine games the Sox starting rotation has an unfathomable 9.60 ERA. None of the five starters have pitched well, to the point where the only ERA under 8.00 belongs to David Price, at 6.00.
All of which led a long-time AL scout to tell me this on Friday: "It might be the worst week of pitching I've ever seen from a staff of good starters. They looked like they weren't ready to start the season."
To that point, the Red Sox took precautions to give their starters as much recovery time as possible from late October, keeping them out of Spring Training games for the first couple of weeks. But now questions have been raised by the local Boston media about whether the starters were prepared for the season, based on how little game action they saw.
Beyond that, there's a bigger scare relating to ace Chris Sale, whose fastball was in the 89-90 mph range in his most recent start, on Wednesday against the A's. Sale is ordinarily in the 95-96 mph range with his fastball, but he has had shoulder and elbow problems in each of the last two seasons.
Meanwhile, the Sox just signed Sale to a five-year, $145 million contract extension, so you think they're not a little nervous up there in the executive offices on Yawkey Way?
Remarkably, after getting pounded in his first start, Sale actually finessed his way brilliantly through six innings against the A's in his second one, allowing only one run. It was one of only two games in which the Sox have allowed fewer than six runs this season.
"He was masterful using his slider and change-up," the AL scout said. "Even with his fastball at 89, he can give you a professional effort, but if the velocity doesn't come back, teams will adjust and he won't be able to pitch with that kind of success all season."
All of this matters even more to the Red Sox because their bullpen is considered their weak link, after GM Dave Dombrowski did nothing to address the departures of Craig Kimbrel and Joe Kelly.
Add it all up and the Sox staff has given up 23 home runs, the most in the majors.
By comparison, then, the Yankees' problems seem much more likely to pass. Other than Miguel Andujar, none of their injuries should be long-term, and they have the return of Didi Gregorius from Tommy John surgery to look forward to at some point during the season.
The bottom line is that even if their home run-oriented offense is always going to be vulnerable to slumps, everybody in baseball believes they'll mash over the course of the season.
"If you're the Yankees you'd like to have a little more contact up and down your lineup," a rival executive said on Friday. "That could bite them again in the postseason, but offense isn't going to be a problem during the regular season."
Theoretically, you can say much the same about the Red Sox starting pitching, that the problems will iron themselves out. But it has been so stunningly awful that you have to wonder if those problems could linger long enough to make the season one long, uphill climb in the AL East.
So, yes, it's advantage Yankees. But they really need to take advantage, the sooner the better.