When two teams have a great rivalry going, fans will tell you records or standings don't matter when the teams play each other.
Those fans lie.
Of course we worry about records and standings. That’s what makes this week’s set between Red Sox (25-9) and Yankees (24-10) so wonderful.
The teams have the best two records in Major League Baseball. That’s the first time that’s happened in this rivalry since 2002.
Their combined winning percentage of .721 is the highest they have shared since 1946.
Boston holds a one-game lead as they enter the series, but it is the Yankees who are on fire, winning 15 of their last 16 games.
The Yankees vaunted home run hitters are coming around, but it is the Red Sox’ Mookie Betts who leads the league with 13 round-trippers.
Both teams worry about their pitching even though they have the second and third-best team ERAs in the American league.
Each team has an early Cy Young candidate in New York’s Luis Severino (5-1, 2.11 ERA) and Boston’s Rick Porcello (5-0, 2.14). Chris Sale (3-1, 2.02) seems to be rounding into shape, too.
Does anyone really think this week’s series would be as exciting if either one of these teams was floundering around at .500 or rebuilding from scratch?
Exhibit “A” is the first series between these perpetual rivals early in April. The Red Sox were cruising along at a league-best 9-1, while the Yankees were treading water at 5-5.
Fans were concerned about Giancarlo Stanton’s lack of production and the Yankees pitching in general. To make matters worse, the cross-town Mets were in first place in the NL East at 8-2.
For the Yankees, it was as close to a “must win” series as you can have in April. The Yankees dropped two of three.
The Yankees scuffled with the Red Sox during that series, indicating the rivalry meant something even under those circumstances.
But fans weren’t energized like they are going into tonight’s game.
The Yankees next series saw three of four games get postponed by weather. Whatever the Yankees did during that extended time off, they should remember for future use.
New York traveled to Miami the next day to take on the Marlins in distinctly warmer and drier weather. It was the first time all season they played in higher-than 45 degrees Fahrenheit (7-Celsius) temperatures. Their bats finally warmed up in the Florida sunshine to the tune of a 14-1 romp.
Behind a dominant offense, the Yankees are 17-3 since their first Florida game. They outscored their opponents 123-53 in that stretch. They came from behind in games, enjoyed routs, and even had a couple of walk-offs.
Most importantly, their pitching didn’t just not hurt them; they turned into another strength.
New York wasn’t picking on weaker teams during their streak. Their hurlers held the likes of Minnesota, Houston, Toronto, California, and Cleveland to less than three runs per game.
At one point, Boston was 17-2. In effect, they matched the Yankees’ current stretch out of the gait. But their third loss knocked them silly.
Oakland’s Sean Manaea came out of nowhere to throw a no-hitter at Boston in game 20. The Sox staggered, losing five of their next seven games before righting the ship with a pair of series wins heading into New York.
Coming into 2018, Boston sports writers cautioned that at least one Red Sox starter would have to improve significantly upon their 2017 seasons if their team was to keep up with the Yankees.
Porcello and Sale answered the call, but the entire staff appears solid as we move toward the summer. Closer Craig Kimbrel converted nine of ten save opportunities and the set-up men are credited with 20 holds.
Overall, the team allowed the third fewest walks and struck out the third-most batters heading into the Yankees series.
If the excitement of a pennant race playing out amid the rivalry isn’t enough, look at the players who are making it happen.
The majority of the stars in this affair from the Yankees’ Stanton (28), Aaron Judge (26), Gary Sanchez (25), Miguel Andujar (23), and Gleyber Torres (21) to the Red Sox’ Mookie Betts (25), Xander Bogaerts (25), Andrew Benintendi (23) and Rafael Devers (21) could be around for a long time.
Last season, the Yankees’ kids surprised everyone and finished just behind the Red Sox. Years from now, we might recognize 2017 as the beginning of a dual-dynasty in the AL East.
But just in case it doesn’t work out that way, I plan on sitting back and enjoying these three games for all they are worth. It just doesn’t get any better than this.