Yankees Vs. Red Sox: Who Is the Team to Beat?

In 2009, the Yankees and Red Sox reached the playoffs for the 9th and 6th time, respectively, since 2000. This year is shaping up to be very similar, leaving the Rays, Blue Jays, and Orioles on the outside looking in. While both teams will likely end up in the playoffs, it still begs the question: who is better?

The Yankees started the offseason off by trading for Curtis Granderson and signing Nick Johnson, letting Hideki Mastui and Johnny Damon walk in an effort to get younger. With those departures goes quite a bit of offensive production (Matsui: .274/.367/.509; Damon: .282/.365/.489), which likely won’t be matched by Granderson and Johnson. Their offense will still be fantastic, but not quite as potent as it was in 2009. They also traded Melky Cabrera to Atlanta, leaving the center field job to Brett Gardner, who will likely help the team defensively, but not much offensively. The Yankees outfield will likely be a better defensive unit in 2010.

The Red Sox let Alex Gonzales walk and signed Marco Scutaro, who should add some value offensively despite being a lesser defensive SS. They also signed Mike Cameron, who is a defensive wizard in center field, which allows the Red Sox to move Ellsbury to left field where he is likely better suited after a poor defensive year in center. Cameron brings some pop and a little bit of on base skill, but it’s a far cry from the offensive production Jason Bay had in 2009. Luckily, Bay’s defense was terrible which leaves the very real possibility that the defensive boost of Cameron in CF offsets the lack of offense. Another move (that I love, by the way) was to sign Adrian Beltre to a one year deal and move Mike Lowell and his expensive contract to the bench. Beltre is a top flight defensive 3B and just might have a heck of a year beating balls off the Green Monster in an effort to get paid next year.

Now for the pitching.

The Yankees traded Melky Cabrera for Javier Vazquez from the Braves and immediately improved their starting rotation by a good amount. Vazquez likely won’t be as good as he was last year, moving to the AL East, but do not let his first stint in New York fool you: the guy can pitch. He’ll likely end up being the second best starter in the rotation behind Sabathia and will make for a deadly rotation in the playoffs. He’s also good insurance for the very fragile A.J. Burnett. There is a battle for the 5th spot still ongoing, but I think Joba Chamberlain is going to end up in the bullpen with Hughes starting. A rotation of Sabathia, Vazquez, Burnett, Pettitte, and Hughes is about as good as it comes for a starting 5.

The Red Sox added the biggest free agent pitcher this season in John Lackey. Coming from the pitcher friendly AL West, his numbers are a bit inflated, but he’s still a very good starting pitcher. A rotation of Beckett, Lackey, Lester, Dice-K, Bucholtz, and Wakefield has the potential to be pretty nasty with a good balance of experience and youth. This lineup has the potential to outproduce the one in New York, and I think it will.

The final verdict:

I think the Yankees have a slight edge, still, offensively, but that edge got smaller over the offseason. I think the Red Sox starting pitching is better, but the bullpens are very tight. Rivera is the best in the biz, but Papelbon is no slouch. I’m going to give the edge to the Yankees, as of now. Then, the final piece that, in my opinion, decides the division: defense. I have to give the defensive edge to the Red Sox. Both teams have improved on this front, but the Red Sox more so. Cameron and Beltre put them over the top.

My prediction:

Red Sox: 99-63

Yankees: 97-65

Yankees fans: feel free to send me your hate.

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