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The Yankees-Red Sox rivalry could (re)gain some steam this year

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The Red Sox are looking better than expected, while the Yankees are below their standards. Are the two on a collision course for a renewed rivalry this season?

MLB: New York Yankees at Boston Red Sox David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

For New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox fans, the drive to win against the other is thrilling and exciting. The rivalry is among the fiercest in American professional sports, and it has helped build (and tarnish) legacies and reputations.

Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Carlton Fisk, Carl Yastrzemski, Reggie Jackson, Jim Rice, Ron Guidry, Roger Clemens, Nomar Garciaparra, Derek Jeter, Pedro Martínez, David Ortiz, Manny Ramírez, Andy Pettitte, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, Mariano Rivera, Mookie Betts, Aaron Judge … so many stars have been linked to this rivalry that naming just a few would be unfair.

Yet, after the Red Sox’s World Series victory in 2018, in which they eliminated the Yankees on their way to the title, Boston wasn’t very good in 2019 and (especially) 2020, while the Bombers remained contenders. Ever since they traded Mookie Betts (and David Price) to the Los Angeles Dodgers, the expectation was that Boston wouldn’t win consistently for a while, perhaps a couple of years or more. Yet here we are, three weeks into the 2021 season, and Boston is the surprising leader in the American League East division with an 12-6 record before Wednesday’s games. They are two games ahead of the second-place Rays and five ahead of the last-place Yankees.

While they could potentially crash in May or June, we can’t ignore the fact that Boston looks good, or at least, better than expected. And, to be fair, the Yankees look kind of lost, or at least slightly worse than anticipated. Is it possible that the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry returns to its glory days ahead of schedule? Can Boston and New York play at a comparable level in 2021?

There is no doubt that Boston’s calling card in 2021 is its offense. So far, the sample size is still small, but after the first couple of weeks of the season the unit ranks second with 4.1 fWAR and first with an impressive 128 wRC+. Heading into Wednesday, the Red Sox’s 5.56 runs per game is second in the league and easily surpasses the Yankees’ 3.62 — which is good for 25th place. Last season was weird and atypical in many senses, and included prolonged slumps by several key contributors, including J.D. Martínez. This year, however, Martínez has been among the AL’s premier sluggers. With a .375/.429/.766 line, six homers, and a 231 wRC+, he is back raking and leading the way for the Sox.

The Red Sox have six regulars with a wRC+ at or above 100: Martínez, Xander Bogaerts (180), Rafael Devers (148), Alex Verdugo (140), Christian Vazquez (115), and Enrique Hernández (100). The Yankees, on the other hand, have several players slumping mightily with the bat.

Pitching-wise, Boston does have some effective and interesting arms, even if it’s not the organization’s strongest area. They are ninth in ERA, with a 3.60 mark before Wednesday’s games. Eduardo Rodríguez (3.60 ERA, 3.59 FIP) and Nate Eovaldi (3.04 ERA, 1.70 FIP) have both looked fantastic, while young righty Tanner Houck seems destined for greatness. Former Yankees farmhand Garrett Whitlock has been outstanding in a multi-inning relief role, and Matt Barnes is running a 53.6 strikeout rate.

They have quietly assembled a respectable team, and if outfielder Franchy Cordero, first baseman Bobby Dalbec, and pitcher Nick Pivetta can take the next step and contribute consistently, they could potentially push for a playoff berth. The X-factor for the Red Sox will be Chris Sale. The ace is working his way back from Tommy John surgery and is looking at a summer return. If he comes back strong (and soon) and Boston is still in the middle of the race, things could get interesting.

Overall, the Yankees still look like the better team on paper, even if Boston is currently five games ahead. But there is no denying that the matchups between the two teams have the potential to be quite entertaining this year, and thanks to the way that the schedule was formed for this year all of the two team’s meetings will be later into the year — they don’t even cross paths until June 4th. The stage is set for all of these games to have significance in the playoff picture.