The Red Sox are the reigning World Champions, and Jacoby Ellsbury will return to Fenway Park tonight in a Yankee uniform. There's enough drama and narrative to play-up this next series, but the rivalry just doesn't feel the same. Both teams are outfitted with almost entirely new lineups, and the bad blood hasn't developed yet.
This series comes only one week after the Yankees nearly swept the Red Sox in the Bronx. After a year where the Yankees missed the playoffs and the Red Sox conquered them, the perspective of both clubs has changed fairly dramatically in just three weeks. While small sample size needs to be taken into account, the Red Sox just don't look as good as they did in 2013.
Most believed that after such an easy run to their World Series victory, the team didn't need to make many moves this offseason. Indeed, the strength of their farm system allowed them to replace key players with younger and cheaper ones while they said goodbye to Jacoby Ellsbury, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Stephen Drew, and Ryan Dempster. Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr are those young pieces, while A.J. Pierzynski and Grady Sizemore are the cheaper ones. The Red Sox cut corners, hoping that some of these new players would stand out, and 2013 career performances by John Lackey, Shane Victorino, and Clay Buchholz would continue.
Thus far, they have not. The Red Sox rotation has a 4.53 ERA due to poor performances by Clay Buchholz (7.71 ERA), Felix Doubront (5.48 ERA), and John Lackey (5.25 ERA). Their offense is also far below average, owning a 92 wRC+, the 4th lowest in the American League. Only Mike Napoli has stood out as an above average everyday offensive player thus far, while Xander Bogaerts has looked promising but struggled to hit for power, and David Ortiz has been exactly average from the DH position. Guys like Jackie Bradley Jr, Grady Sizemore, A.J. Pierzynski, and Daniel Nava have played regularly, but none of them have shown outstanding power or plate discipline, and none are batting more than .235.
As I said earlier, we are just three weeks into the season, and things can change quickly, but the Red Sox have not performed. Most of the expectations surrounding the Red Sox, even a month ago, had them as the AL East favorites. As they continue to struggle, and the Yankees continue to both hit and pitch, the confidence in Boston is starting to plummet. The Red Sox will have a shot to regain some of this ground over the next couple of days, but with the Yankees sending out Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, and CC Sabathia against Jon Lester, John Lackey, and Felix Doubront, the series is certainly in the Yankees' favor.
While the Steinbrenners and Brian Cashman have maintained their image of spending to win championships, the Red Sox are starting to move in a different direction under Ben Cherington. The organization still needs to prove that this strategy is more than fluke success on the backs of career-years in 2013. So far, it looks like the Red Sox are struggling to prove that in 2014, but they still have 142 games left to prove these assumptions wrong.