Red Sox-Yankees breakdown shows two teams going in different directions

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Tomase: Red Sox, Yankees are two teams going in different directions originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Weeks after the Red Sox won the 2013 World Series, a rival executive took stock of the AL East.

"It'll be five years before the Yankees are as good as the Red Sox," he said. "Maybe more."

New York dismissed that timeline. The arrival of the Baby Bombers in 2016 heralded a new era post-Jeter, A-Rod, and Teixeira, with New York reaching Game 7 of the 2017 ALCS before recording back-to-back 100-win seasons in 2018 and 2019.

The Red Sox, of course, claimed the ultimate prize, winning another World Series in 2018, but by the start of this season, that five-year script had seemingly flipped. The Yankees were loaded for bear, and the Red Sox were hunting squirrels.

Funny how quickly perceptions can change. Just as the 2013 Yankees weren't as far from contention as we thought, the 2021 already Red Sox look like a better all-around team than the division favorites.

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They'll get to prove it on Friday when they open a three-game set in New York in second place with a 2.5-game lead on their long-time rivals. By the end of the weekend, the Red Sox could either be in first place or third.

"I don't think too many people thought going into New York we were going to be in this position, but here we are," said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. "Now we have to be ready for a fun weekend. It should be loud, it should be fun. Yankees-Red Sox, and people are going to be watching."

This matchup is about more than jockeying for position in the standings. It also highlights the different directions the two franchises appear to be headed in, with Chaim Bloom and a young Red Sox front office building a more dynamic team than the Yankees, who have been far less willing to spend on Hal Steinbrenner's watch than they were under his legendarily mercurial father, and thus are springing leaks across the roster.

Let's break down each club in a modified Tale of the Tape.

1. Offensive approach

In a year of depressed offense, the Red Sox have adapted to the new normal far better than their counterparts. Even including a recent slump, the Red Sox rank fifth in runs per game (4.93) and third in batting average (.257) and OPS (.755).

The Yankees, meanwhile, rank 27th in runs (3.74) and 26th in batting average (.227). This would be palatable if they were still hitting home runs, but two years after launching 306 long balls, they're a middling seventh in the AL with 67, three behind the fourth-place Red Sox.

"It's not 2019 gorilla baseball anymore," Cora noted. "It's not."

Outside of MVP candidate Aaron Judge, the Yankees offense is brutal to watch, a plodding, impotent slog of hitters with stats out of the Dead Ball Era. Three starters are hitting below .200 and a fourth is batting .205.There's no dynamism to their attack. Second baseman D.J. LeMahieu, typically one of the best practitioners of the all-fields approach in the game, is hitting .255. All-Star shortstop Gleyber Torres has only two home runs. The Yankees rank second in double plays and have run into more outs on the bases than anyone.

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With slugger Giancarlo Stanton once again injured, the only hitter that scares anyone is Judge.The Red Sox, meanwhile, boast three of the top hitters in the game in J.D. Martinez, Xander Bogaerts, and Rafael Devers, with Alex Verdugo doing a pretty reasonable LeMahieu impersonation and using the entire field. When they're going well, the Red Sox put the ball in play and make the defense react. They're second in the AL in hits but 14th in walks, so they're not a team like the Rays that can manufacture rallies even when they're not really hitting.

2. Pitching

Here's what has kept the Yankees afloat, even if the individual pieces beyond ace Gerrit Cole don't necessarily wow you.

New York ranks second in the AL in team ERA (3.25), just slightly behind the White Sox, and four spots ahead of the Red Sox (3.90).

The Yankees broke the bank for Cole and he hasn't disappointed, going 6-3 with a 2.26 ERA and 104 strikeouts in just 75.2 innings. The Red Sox will catch a break and miss the ace right-hander this weekend.The rest of New York's rotation isn't much on paper, between Jordan Montgomery, Domingo German, and the disappointing Jameson Taillon, a key offseason acquisition who's just 1-4 with a 5.10 ERA.

The Yankees cheaped out on their rotation for some reason this winter, adding Taillon and two-time Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber on low-risk deals. The latter was just finding his groove after throwing a no-hitter last month when he suffered a shoulder injury that is expected to sideline him for at least two months.

Fortunately for New York, the bullpen has been lights out. As good as the Red Sox feel about closer Matt Barnes, he's no better than the second best reliever in the AL, because Aroldis Chapman is turning back the clock. The 33-year-old left-hander has allowed just one earned run in 22 innings (0.41 ERA) while striking out 42 of the 81 batters he has faced. Yankees relievers own a 2.82 ERA overall.

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The Red Sox, by contrast, lack a dominant starter and stable setup crew, but they've gotten consistent production from every starter not named Eduardo Rodriguez. The average Red Sox start is about five innings and two runs, and it's understandable if fans remain skeptical that Garrett Richards, Nick Pivetta, and Martin Perez can continue pitching so effectively.

It also doesn't help that depth options like Tanner Houck, Connor Seabold, and Thaddeus Ward are all currently on the shelf, with Ward undergoing Tommy John surgery.

3. Leadership

The return of Alex Cora has provided the Red Sox with a jolt, whereas Yankees counterpart Aaron Boone has found himself on the hot seat. Similarly, while Bloom is experiencing an extended honeymoon, Yankees boss Brian Cashman has had his team-building approach called into question, particularly from an athleticism standpoint.

Neither club is blessed with an abundance of high-ceiling prospects, though outfielder Jarren Duran and first baseman Triston Casas have made a leap forward for the Red Sox, and switch-hitting 18-year-old outfielder Jasson Dominguez looks like the next Yankees star.

Neither club's ownership has shown much of a willingness to spend during the pandemic or with the looming CBA negotiations creating uncertainty over the game's future economic system. How they finish in 2021 could come down to which team does more to improve itself at next month's trading deadline.In the meantime, we will sit back and enjoy the first of these back-loaded 19 meetings between traditional rivals headed in different directions.

"Obviously, being in the middle of the whole thing, people are going to be watching," Cora said. "National TV games, slow games. This is where we're at. They had a good week, I think. They are where they are in the standings. We are where we are in the standings. They have a good team. We have a good team. . . . Hopefully, they stay the same over the weekend and we can get hot and have a good weekend in New York and move forward."