Friday, April 8, 2011

Yanks have date with rival drowning in sea of expectations

With apologies to Tsuyoshi Nishioka's fibula, Thursday was a great day to be a baseball fan.

Well a Yankee fan, anyway.

The (possibly) revitalized A.J. Burnett picked up his second win in as many starts. The Three Amigos — Joba Chamberlain, Rafael Soriano, and Mariano Rivera — made it another six-inning game. I came up with bullpen nickname The Three Amigos. The Yankees and MTA reached a fragile accord, restoring the The Great City Subway Race to its roots.

Best of all, New York's two biggest rivals each fell to 0-6 on the season.

The plight of the Rays is understandable. They essentially cashed in their chips in the offseason, dismantled a legitimate contender then sold the fanbase on the whole, "We'll be fine, our farm system is loaded!" angle.

The bad news is that for every David Price there are 10 Delmon Youngs. Prospects typically need time to acclimate themselves at the big-league level. It's a process that can take seasons, not days.

I'm not saying the Rays are dead, but when you remove your best all-around player, your best right-handed starter, your biggest home run threat, and blow up your entire bullpen, you can't just hand out a bunch of new uniforms and expect the kids to save the day.

Sure, the financial limitations of the franchise played a big part in this, but that doesn't make it any better. The Rays built themselves into a bonafide powerhouse in the ultra-competitive AL East and now they're starting from scratch. You have to wonder if Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon understood what they were signing up for.

(Assuming Ramirez and Damon understand anything at all.)

As for the Red Sox ... wow. Back in January, I wrote a reaction piece to an article by senior editor Eric Ortiz titled: "2011 Red Sox Will Challenge 1927 Yankees for Title of Greatest Team in Major League History."

The headline says it all, but it's well worth the read anyway, if only for the part where Branch Rickey looks down on Theo Epstein from heaven with proud, watery eyes. It was a shameless piece of work, even for a fanboy posting on a team's regional network. And while the content of that story was (and is) ridiculous, it did provide an accurate snapshot of the level of expectations this Red Sox team is dealing with.

After signing Carl Crawford and trading for Adrian Gonzalez, Boston is facing a World Series-or bust campaign. The Yankees dealt with the same expectations after bringing aboard Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia in 2009. That they backed up those expectations with a 103-win season and World Series title is admirable. Some may even be able to picture Casey Stengel looking down on Brian Cashman with ... well, you get the picture.

It's easy to be the underdog. Being the favorite is an extra helping of grind piled on a season that has plenty to start with.

The Red Sox are learning that now. Over a 162-game schedule, six losses in April won't make-or-break a season. But dropping a six-pack out of the gate is different. It's a bad-vibe monster that can infect a club.

That's what makes this weekend's Yankees-Red Sox series the most compelling early-season meeting between the rivals since 2005. The Red Sox aren't playing for their season, but if they were to lose two of three, or gasp, get swept and drop to 0-9, it will become a national story.

I don't see that happening. Boston gets the soft underbelly of the Yankees' rotation the next two days in the potentially-injured Phil Hughes and unproven Ivan Nova. Playing at home will surely boost their confidence level, too ... unless they get booed out of the building during player introductions. The fact that we're even discussing this is pretty remarkable.

Being the favorite is a good thing. But with great hype comes great responsibility. I don't think I'm alone in hoping the Saux will need at least three more days to sort it all out.

Dan Hanzus writes three columns a week on his New York Yankees site, River & Sunset. He can be reached at Follow Dan on Twitter @danhanzus.

1 comment:

Andy said...

more than a 162-game schedule, 6 losses in April won't make-or-break a season. But dropping a six-pack out with the gate is different.
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