Rivals in Exile: Slow Starts

Ben Jacobs: Well, Larry, it seems things have reversed themselves a little bit since the last time we talked. A week ago, both the Red Sox and Yankees were struggling, but Red Sox fans seemed to have more to worry about than Yankees fans. Now, both teams are still struggling a bit, but Yankees fans seem to have more to worry about.

Curt Schilling did give up five runs in his debut for Boston, but he was excellent early in the game before tiring. He probably could have used another rehab start or two to build up arm strength, but the injury doesn’t seem to be an issue. I expect him to be back to the Schilling of last year by the end of the month at the latest.

Also, the offense has started to come to life a bit, including Edgar Renteria. Since starting the season 0-for-10, Renteria is 11 for his last 30 with two doubles, a triple and a homer. For the season, he’s already up to .275/.275/.450. He’s going to be just fine.

And I know it was just the Devil Rays, but David Wells was excellent Friday night. Since allowing back-to-back-to-back homers against the Blue Jays, he’s allowed just one run in 10 2/3 innings. I fully expect him to be at least a league average pitcher this year.

Hopefully, Matt Clement will be able to follow Wells’ lead and get on track against the Devil Rays. And the nice thing is that the Red Sox starter I was most worried about coming into the season, Tim Wakefield, has only allowed two earned runs on eight hits in 13 2/3 innings.

As for the Yankees, they’ve only won one game against a team other than Boston as of Saturday morning. They’re 1-3 against the Orioles so far, a team they went 14-5 against last year. And the Yankees haven’t just been losing; they’ve been losing big as they’ve been outscored by 19 runs so far this season.

The pitching has been the main problem thus far, as only Tanyon Sturtze and Paul Quantrill have ERAs below 3.80. Randy Johnson and Mike Mussina haven’t been the two aces they’re supposed to be, and Jaret Wright has simply been awful.

And since his impressive debut against the Red Sox, Carl Pavano has gotten knocked around a bit by the Orioles.

All in all, there’s not much, other than Hideki Matsui and Sturtze, to be real pleased about so far for the Yankees this year.

Of course, if I know you, you’re not worried at all. Even though you’re one of the most pessimistic people I know, you seem to be at your most optimistic when all the other Yankees fans are worried.

Larry Mahnken: But oddly enough, I’m worried. Well, not exactly worried, but exasperated, and a little angry.

The Yankees aren’t this bad. The Yankees aren’t bad, at all. An analyst who is both more detached and knowledgeable than me e-mailed me last week to remind me that the Yankees are still quite possibly the best team in baseball. I know all these things, and yet I’m still bitter.

This team was horribly built. They are quite possibly unbeatable when things are going right for the right players, but when things start going wrong with those players, the second-tier players aren’t nearly good enough to pick up the slack.

Too many of those key players have started out slowly, and the team has gotten off to an awful, awful start. They’re hardly buried (Last year they made up a larger deficit in just over a week), nor do I expect them to be, but turning on the TV every night and watching a baseball team play terribly is no fun for anyone.

It angers me to see Bernie Williams in centerfield, displaying even worse range than he has in the past, and thinking back to Brian Cashman’s quote in the spring, “We didn’t have a need for a centerfielder.” I look at Tony Womack posting a .631 OPS and playing poor defense, and grit my teeth knowing that he’s not in a slump.

Jaret Wright gets hammered in his first start and barely survives for the win against Boston, and I look to Philadelphia and see Jon Lieber’s 3-0 start with a 2.49 ERA, and I go Kevin Brown on my wall. At least Kevin Brown looked okay after getting hammered in the first two innings today.

Without a doubt the team will hit better and pitch better, they’ll win games, they’ll contend for the playoffs. But this team had an opportunity over the last two offseasons to build a monster, a team that was younger, better, and with hardly any holes. Instead of rebuilding their core, they continued to build around it as they have for most of the past decade — failing to notice that their core is starting to fall apart.

April has been the cruelest month for the Yankees, but there’s over five months left in this race. I’m not having any fun right now, but come and see me again in October.

BJ: I think it’s quite an exaggeration to say that the Yankees are unbeatable when certain players are on their game, but I get your point. The Yankees are constructed in such a way that they need their stars to make up for their complete lack of depth.

Right now, the stars aren’t holding up their end of the bargain. It’s probably not going to continue, but it’s nice to see the Yankees get off to a slow start, since I expected them to be Boston’s main competition for the AL East title.

I know the Yankees are still perfectly capable of winning the AL East — as you said, they overcame a larger early deficit last year — but continually spotting a team that has a similar talent level as you a few games in April will eventually catch up to you.

Plus, while I don’t particularly want to see you or any of my other friends who are Yankees fans suffer, I do think it might be a good thing for the Yankees’ fan base in general if the Yankees were to miss the playoffs. Between the history and the payroll, a lot of Yankees fans have gotten a sense of entitlement about winning, and that’s not the way it should be.

I still expect the Yankees to make the playoffs, but the longer they stay in their slump, the more likely it is that they could miss out. Fortunately for them, they get the Devil Rays for two games next, and Tampa Bay just did a great job of helping Boston break out of its slow start.

After starting off 3-5, the Red Sox won the final game of their second series against the Yankees and then took care of the Devil Rays by outscoring them 19-3 in a nifty sweep.

Manny Ramirez got on track a bit, Renteria continued to rebound from his early-season slump, Wells and Clement both made their first quality start and Wakefield continued to impress.

At the moment, nothing about the Red Sox is really bothering me and everything about the Yankees is making me feel good about the chances of Boston finish ahead in the standings. Everything could obviously change in a week, but it’s nice to be feeling this way right now when I thought I might still be miserable after the way things went last weekend.

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