The Yankees are good again, and when the Yankees are good, it usually means they’re ready to beat up on the Red Sox or, at the very least, go down slapping. Before the season, the general consensus seemed to be that the Yankees were a year away from World Series contention, but a solid first month-plus has them pegged, as of Baseball Prospectus’ projected standings at the time of this writing, to finish in first place with a 86.6-75.4 record -- exactly the same as the Red Sox.
It’s not just a wild coincidence (also, it changed overnight). It’s an alarm. The sabbatical from potential Yankees dominance cycle is officially over, the franchise having been successfully rebooted with a team of veterans and rookies and misfits. They are a team that thrives despite the lack of a defined core but possibly because of it. They’re basically are the Indians from Major League except, you know, they’re the Yankees. When they spend a billion dollars offseason to fill that core, they won’t seem so cute anymore.
Right now, though, the Yankees are an still afterthought to Red Sox fans eager for some intra-divisional shenanigans. The Baltimore Orioles have done such a great job of inciting the Red Sox into doing dumb things that the Sox have supplied them in bulk at no extra cost. If Manny Machado’s slide into Dustin Pedroia was the spark that began the recent brush fire between the teams, it was O’s manager Buck Showalter who had been conspicuously leaking the gasoline while John Farrell has mostly sat back and watched.
On one hand, I give Farrell credit for largely not indulging Showalter’s nonsense, because punching down is never a good look. Punching up, as Buck has done, is just part of the game, and these Orioles are particularly fiesty about it. On the other hand, if Farrell is not set to take on Showalter in public, perhaps he could manage his players behind the scenes, to prevent his team from taking the bait? It’s a thought.
It’s not just Showalter and Farrell in the oil-and-water relationship, of course, with former Red Sox General Manager Dan Duquette running the Orioles and, most importantly, Machado emerging as Boston’s best singular antagonist in years. Say what you want about the man -- and lord knows we have -- but he backs his talk, and then some. He is a marvel, and the best player on either team. The Yankees simply don’t have anyone like him… yet.
The main problem for the Sox, long term, isn’t that the Yankees might just get someone like him; they might sign him, and then sign Bryce Harper, too. For our purposes, though, the point is that Machado likely isn’t going anywhere, as far as Boston’s concerned, even if his uniform changes next year. We’re stuck with him.
So who’s a bigger threat to Boston right now? The team with their arch-nemesis, or their historical arch-nemeses?
Sadly, I think the answer is New York, and that’s both without Machado and accounting for some 2017 regression. Luis Severino is quite good, having dramatically increased his K rate decreased his walk rate, but his BABIP is .232. Michael Pineda has done the same, and he’s at .268, and as good as Aaron Judge has been, he’s not going to have a .455 ISO forever. All that, and I’m still terrified, not just for the future, but for right now. Gary Sanchez is coming back this season, and the quartet of Yankees in this paragraph look frighteningly like another potential Core Four.
The Orioles, on the other hand, feel like they’re pushing their way to success. It’s admirable, and it’s a credit to them that it has lasted this long. Even with a 21-10 record, Baseball Prospectus projects them to finish 60-71 over their remaining games, worst in the American League East. They have a habit of outperforming their projections, but I can’t help but feel if the math is going to catch up with them this year, if only because the Yankees are so much better. The Yankees sure as heck aren’t going to serially own us like they did before 2004, so their wins will have to come from somewhere. Baltimore’s as good a place as any.
All of which conflicts me when the O’s and Yankees play. Who do I want to win, outside of the purely hypothetical meteor? I can’t bear to say New York, so I won’t. I’ll embrace my contradictions, and root for Showalter’s angry pranksters even as I shout against them. I won’t take my eyes off the gathering storm in the Bronx, and if all I can do is punch up, flailing away at the Airborne Toxic Event a resurgent New York team represents… well, I’ll do it.