What a difference a year makes. This time last season the Yankees were dubbed “The Baby Bombers” as young players were expected to kick off a rebuilding campaign in New York.
Aaron Judge, who looked awful in a 2016 call-up assignment, was slated to start the season in Triple-A. There were question marks in the infield and the outfield as established veterans mostly failed to fend off the youth movement. There was conjecture about whether coach Joe Girardi would survive the last season of his contract.
It was unfamiliar territory for Yankee fans. New York’s American League team normally equated rebuilding with a few free agent signings and trades. Were they really about to endure the growing pains of a youth movement like common teams?
Baseball’s prognosticators seemed to think so. Not only did they expect the Yankees to slide down the rankings, there was speculation that Toronto, Baltimore, and Tampa Bay would finish ahead of the Pride of the Bronx. An overwhelming majority predicted New York would miss the playoffs with 75-82 wins.
Meanwhile, Boston started life without Big Papi. The jury was out on whether Hanley Ramirez could fill David Ortiz’ big shoes in the lineup and the locker room. A solid percentage of preseason polls put Toronto or Baltimore ahead of the Red Sox.
They all should have known better.
Same as the old bosses…
No one needed to worry about the Yankees. Aaron Judge stayed with the big club and flat-out exploded onto the MLB scene. His record-setting home run bat pushed New York to the top of the division right out of the gate.
Boston struggled early due to injuries before climbing back into contention. By August, the most important games on the schedule were the Yankee-Red Sox match-ups.
The young team in New York suffered through a mid-season swoon but bounced back to win 91 games while leading the league in home runs.
Boston was one of three teams without a single batter launching 25 homers. The other two were the last-place Phillies and Giants, but somehow the Sox wound up with the tenth-most runs scored and managed to take the division title with 93 victories.
Once again, the familiar logos of the Red Sox and Yankees graced the playoff schedule. Toronto, Baltimore, and Tampa Bay fell back into their customary positions.
Let’s not hear any silly talk this season
If the Yankees were satisfied with their surprise showing of 2017, they had a funny way of showing it. After watching the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Francisco Giants spend weeks fighting to convince Florida Marlins’ superstar, Giancarlo Stanton, to head west, the Yankees swooped in. Stanton jumped at the opportunity to play for the team with the most World Series appearances in history.
Stanton hit 59 home runs in 2017 playing in a larger stadium than that in the Bronx. There are already over-under bets for how many games Judge and Stanton both go yard and how many back-to-back homers and total combined dingers they will register. Their first batting practice did nothing to slow down expectations, with balls flying over the outfield walls left and right.
Meanwhile, the Red Sox and JD Martinez got together, giving Boston their own home run threat to help Ramirez. Martinez’ 45 home runs (in only 459 at-bats) should serve as his baseline in the friendly confines of Fenway Park.
The Red Sox hired a new manager in Alex Cora and a new hitting coach in Tim Hyers. They are absolutely giddy about their team’s offensive potential. Cora and Hyers bring a different hitting philosophy to Boston. Expect the Red Sox to attack pitchers early this season after being the most patient hitters in baseball in 2017.
Kicking up the rivalry
The Yankees have a new manager, too. And if the thought of two of the best-hitting and best-pitching rosters in baseball going at it 19 times isn’t enough to keep the rivalry heated, the Yankees provided a little extra flair for the fans.
Aaron Boone, or Aaron (expletive deleted) Boone as he is known in Boston, takes the helm of the Yankees in 2018. Boone, of course, hit the infamous Game 7 walk-off home run against the Red Sox while playing for the Yankees in the 2003 American League Championship Series. At the time, Boston had not won a World Series since 1918 and were still trying to eradicate the nightmares of their 1986 collapse against the New York Mets.
Boston fans will boo every time Boone comes out of the dugout in 2018. It should add an electrifying component to what is already one of the sport’s greatest rivalries.
Which one makes the World Series?
Fans of the Yankees and Red Sox tend to think baseball revolves around the American League East. But despite their strong showings in 2017, neither club made it to the World Series.
Both teams were defeated by the Houston Astros in the playoffs. Houston went on to become World Series Champs. Just like the Yankees, they went to work in the offseason to get even better. Their signing of pitcher Gerrit Cole and a full season of work from Jason Verlander has many predicting a repeat World Series appearance in 2018.
We’re sure the powerful Yankees and spirited Red Sox will have something to say about that.