2017-06-06 20:54:04
On Baseball: Just Like Old Times for Yankees and Red Sox, but With New Players

20:54, June 06 269 0

On the final weekend of the 2006 season, as the Yankees were planning for the playoffs after having clinched a runaway title in the American League East, the Boston Red Sox slipped behind the Toronto Blue Jays by a game in the final standings. It was the only time in a span of 10 seasons — from 1998 through 2007 — that the Yankees and the Red Sox did not finish first and second, in some order, in baseball’s power division.

The last decade has been much more equitable. Every A.L. East team has made multiple trips to the playoffs, and the old rivals have held the top two spots just once, in 2009. Yet there they were on Tuesday, as the Red Sox made their first appearance of the season in the Bronx, atop the standings again.

Hello, old friend, it’s really good to see you once again.

“The fact that the standings are what they are now, with a major change to the names on each roster, this should be a fun series — teams that are now being impacted greatly by young players,” Red Sox Manager John Farrell said. “We’ve gone through that a couple of years ago as we’ve transitioned, and it’s happened quick here in New York.”

The old standbys are almost all gone; Tuesday was the first time the Red Sox played at the new Yankee Stadium without David Ortiz on the team. Ortiz is happily retired now, and the Red Sox will raise his No. 34 to the right-field awning at Fenway Park this month.

That ceremony was planned. The retirement of their overall power was not. The Red Sox ranked last in the A.L. in homers before Tuesday’s game, with 53. The Yankees were second with 84, behind Houston’s 92. Mookie Betts led Boston with nine homers, while the Yankees’ Aaron Judge led the majors with 18.

At C. C. Sabathia’s charity event on Monday, Ortiz told reporters that Xander Bogaerts (two homers) and Hanley Ramirez (seven) would start hitting home runs again.

“It’s going to happen at some point,” Ortiz said. “Hopefully, soon.”

Scrapping for every run is a hard way to win, but the Red Sox are managing. They trail only the Astros and the Yankees in the A.L. standings, and they were the only team in the majors averaging four pitches per plate appearance entering Tuesday’s games.

In other words, they know what they do well, and stick with it. While so many hitters across baseball are trying to raise the launch angle of their swings — to drive balls hard over the infield shift and into gaps and bleachers — the Red Sox are different.

“I tell you the one thing that we don’t preach,” Farrell said. “I hear about creating this kind of loft — I think what we try to do is take what is the natural swing of a given hitter and say, ‘How does he put his best swing on the baseball?’ Our approach to developing hitters has always been understanding the strike zone, having an all-field approach, being a more complete hitter versus one that’s going to look to put the ball in the air.”

The Red Sox led the league in doubles (105), trailed only Houston and the Yankees in on-base percentage (.340), and trailed only those teams and Detroit in runs per game (4.84) entering Tuesday. They have nobody who is likely to match Ortiz’s 38-homer goodbye of last season, but they are deep enough, as an offense and a team, to challenge or overtake the Yankees.

Dave Dombrowski, Boston’s president for baseball operations, said in a text message that three-run homers were always welcome. But he said they were not the priority.

“I do not believe we need to hit more home runs,” Dombrowski said. “Have never emphasized having to hit a home run. Need to get more doubles and hits with men on base. We have been doing that more often lately.”

That should worry the Yankees. They approached this season as a transition year, trying to get younger while still fielding a respectable roster without harming their long-term chances. The Red Sox, meanwhile, have invested heavily in this team, pouring overwhelming resources — dollars and prospects — into their pitching largely because Betts, Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Andrew Benintendi are such low-cost, high-impact everyday players.

Consider the makeup of their rotation. David Price is in the second year of a seven-year, $217 million contract. Trading for Chris Sale cost them infielder Yoan Moncada — in whom they invested $63 million — and other prospects. Rick Porcello arrived in a trade for Yoenis Cespedes, whom the Red Sox had gotten in a deal for Jon Lester. In last summer’s trade for Drew Pomeranz, the Red Sox surrendered pitcher Anderson Espinoza, now the San Diego Padres’ top prospect.

The Yankees have withstood injuries to their lineup, but their rotation depth has not been challenged; they still have used only five starters. Their farm system is strong — one scout who tracks it said it was clearly the best in baseball — and if they stay at or near the top of the division, their will may soon be tested.

General Manager Brian Cashman has focused on deepening the Yankees’ pool of talent, not siphoning from it in an effort to win today. If the Red Sox stay close, or creep ahead, the Yankees may have to be more aggressive than they had planned to hang with their rivals at the top of the standings.