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April 16, 2004

The Rivalry
by Larry Mahnken

Lately, it's become fashionable to say that the Yankees and Red Sox aren't really rivals, because of Boston's failure to win a title for 85 years, or really do much to prevent the Yankees from winning their 26 titles during that time. It's not so much a rivalry as a Greek Tragedy.

Well, bullshit. It's a rivalry. It's not a rivalry in the sense that Lakers/Celtics or 49ers/Cowboys were, where two great teams develop an animosity because they've met each other with titles on the line repeatedly. Those rivalries tend to fade away--at least for the more casual fans of their teams--as one or both teams decline. The animosity between the Yankees and Red Sox runs deeper than that, and is eternal. When the Red Sox eventually win a title, the rivalry may seem less compelling to outsiders, but the hatred between Yankees fans and Red Sox fans will be every bit as intense--perhaps even more so.

It's not one-sided, either. Sure, the Red Sox and their fans are more obsessed with the Yankees than the Yankees and their fans are with the Sox, but New Yorkers still delight in seeing the Red Sox come up short of a title each year, and take a certain amount of pride in their decades-long futility, knowing that their team is responsible for a large part of it. Last year's ALCS victory was so much sweeter for coming against the Red Sox, and the trade for Alex Rodriguez was that much bigger because Boston had pursued him so diligently. Losing the Red Sox isn't a disaster, but it hurts more than other losses. Don't ever think that Yankees fans don't care about these games.

This weekend's series sets up very nicely for the Yankees. Tonight's matchup between Vazquez and Wakefield is clearly advantageous for the Yankees, though Wakefield's recent track record against the Yankees, particularly in last year's ALCS (except for that one pitch), gives Boston a good chance to win. Tomorrow is a rematch of Game 1 of the 2001 World Series, with hopefully better results. I think Moose will come around tomorrow, and we'll see one of the great games of the season. Sunday definitely leans towards Boston, as Derek Lowe faces Jose Contreras. Then again, the Yankees have usually done well against Lowe, and Contreras looked dominating out of the bullpen until Game 6 of the ALCS. Monday is a huge advantage for the Yankees, as Kevin Brown matches up with Bronson Arroyo. It's Brown's first quality opponent, but it's not like he's an unknown rookie, he's Kevin Freaking Brown, and the question isn't whether he'll be great, but whether he'll be healthy. And Arroyo's not as bad as he seemed last night, but he's no Kevin Brown on his best days, either.

The injuries to Garciaparra and Nixon probably balance out the fact that the Yankees' lineup is slumping--except that we know that Boston's not getting those two players back in the series, and the Yankees may very well start hitting this weekend. These bats will wake up eventually, and it doesn't matter that they're facing the Red Sox pitching this weekend--when they start hitting, they'll start hitting everybody.

The Yankees also caught something of a break with the rainouts this week, allowing them to pitching their top three starters in the series, and missing out on Pedro, too. Sure, considering how he pitched last night, one could wonder how much of a break that is, but he's still Pedro. I do think that there has to be some cause for concern, and it can't just be dismissed. I'll go after Ben on that this weekend in RiE.

But even if Pedro's pitching in the mid 90's, if he still has the same movement and location as he did when he threw 95, then he's still one of the top 20 pitchers in the game.

But for this weekend, I expect at least a split for the Yankees, a solid shot at winning 3 of 4, and a longshot--but still a shot--at sweeping. Last season, Boston failed to capitalize on the breaks they got when the Yankees were hurting in mid-season, and it cost them the division. The Yankees need to capitalize on the breaks they're getting this weekend, and win at least two. A sweep by either team won't be much of a blow to the other's division title chances, but it would set a tone for the rest of the season: that the team that did the sweeping is the team to beat, and that the other is the one that has to do the chasing.

But a sweep is highly unlikely this weekend, and the most important product of this series will be four great baseball games between two of the best teams in baseball. And the fact that it's the Yankees and Red Sox makes it all the better.

* * *

Working on these DIPS Reports has made me a lot more adept at using Microsoft Excel, and what a few days ago took me several hours a night to produce now only takes about an hour of my time. All I have to do is enter the data from the Box Scores, and the rest is automatic. Vinay Kumar also has given me access to THT's stats feed (which we're using to set up our statistical database soon), so I might be able to make the process easier soon. Whereas before these reports were so time-consuming that I was considering only doing them once a week, I now don't see why I won't have them updated daily, unless I'm too busy to enter the data. Ultimately, these reports might move to THT, which would basically take them totally out of my hands.

Not that most of you would care, you don't come here for stats, you come here to read. But this is something that for now I'm very much enjoying. You also get to see all sorts of interesting things--take a look at Randy Choate's DIPS (first pitcher on the Diamondbacks' list) and then look at his ERA.