The Bronx is Burning

Anyone living outside the rivalry would be forgiven for assuming that Monday’s season opener in the Bronx is destined to be a lackluster sort of affair, a mild initial exchange between two former AL East giants, both destined to scrap it out over the next six months for the dubious honor of 4th place in the division.

A battle of potential AL East cellar-dwellers, doomed to be crushed under the wheels of the Toronto Blue Jays juggernaut, eaten alive by the hungry young Baltimore Orioles, or simply worn down by the strangely persistent Tampa Bay Rays.

The Yankees spent most of the offseason assuming the unfamiliar role of pleading poverty, and citing the need to respect the luxury tax threshold. It was a stance maintained right up until they blew the business end of $14 million to secure the services of Vernon Wells for the next two years. You can bet that a grinning Arte Moreno was only too happy to fire up the Thunderbird and drive Wells to Sky Harbor International himself. From an accounting point of view the acquisition of Wells is alleged to have a positive impact on the Yankees attempts to dodge luxury tax, but from a playing perspective it is a move that stinks of rank desperation on the part of the Bombers, and illustrates the dire situation they find themselves in as they assemble their opening day roster.

One look at the Yankees casualty list gives you the impression that their spring training warm-up schedule included a kung fu tournament on Mr. Han’s island.

The loss of Teixeira and Grandison during the spring has dealt a serious blow to the heart of the Yankees order, and when viewed alongside the long-term exclusion of A-Rod, it’s a power outage that may prove to be difficult to overcome. The news that Derek Jeter will start the season on the DL only compounds matters for the Yanks, and puts the load firmly on the shoulders of Robinson Cano and ex Sox favorite Kevin Youkilis.

While the AL East is bound to be an extremely competitive division this year, it would be foolish for anyone to write off either the Red Sox or the Yankees as simply being there to make up the numbers. The Yankees have made the postseason in 16 of their last 17 attempts, and it sometimes seems like it would take a silver bullet or a stake through the heart to stop them, while the Red Sox have to get back on track after a sustained period of instability and serious underperformance, and both sides should be going into the new season with a very large chip on their respective shoulders.

Many have stated that the heat has gone from the Sox-Yanks rivalry, and the fiery encounters of the past are no more, but the flames may be stoked somewhat by the fact that both teams enter the season with something to prove.

When both teams take the field on Monday afternoon, it will not be to fight for the scraps discarded by the Jays or the O’s or the Rays, it will be for joint top of the AL East, and to inflict an early season wound to their greatest rivals in the game, and if the Yankees are hurting due to injury, then the Red Sox are duly obliged to put the boot in as hard as they possibly can.

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