Roughly a month and a half into baseball season, it already feels like so much has happened in the American League East: The Yankees’ new stadium was discovered to be a homer haven, Alex Rodriguez overcame scandal and injuries, Chien-Ming Wang turned terrible, David Ortiz lost his mojo, the Blue Jays became light years better than anyone predicted, phenom David Price returned to the Rays, and Mariano Rivera finally exhibited signs of aging. In many ways, it feels like the world has been turned upside down.
But then, most fundamentally, nothing seems to have changed at all: For all the talk of a new day, the American League East exits Memorial Day weekend with … the Red Sox and Yankees atop the division. As usual.
The Red Sox have been terrified that Big Papi’s home-run swing has floated away to that great Green Monster in the sky, but they’re still in first place and are tied with the Milwaukee Brewers for the second-best record in baseball. And just one game behind them are the Yankees, who have won eleven of their last thirteen and are finally looking like the team they were intended to be in the offseason. (If the season ended today, they’d be in the playoffs, which is a far cry from the night sweats they were causing two weeks ago.) The Blue Jays have lost seven in a row and have dropped to third place, and you have to think it’s only a matter of time until the Rays catch up to them. By then, it’s possible the Sox and Yanks may be too far away to be caught.
Much has been made of the Yanks’ resurgence since A-Rod came back, but, as Pete Abraham of the Journal News points out, the team has actually scored just as many runs per game since he returned as they did when he was gone. The clutch hitting has improved, but mostly, it’s the pitching; the vaunted rotation the team thought it had coming into the season is starting to click into place. Putting aside the series loss to the defending-world-champion Philadelphia Phillies this weekend, everything is coming together for the Yankees, finally. And for the Red Sox, too, who have shaken off their superstar Ortiz’s atrophy to stubbornly, methodically win games with little fanfare. For all the drama involving both franchises, they just keep on winning.
The Yankees’ schedule over the next two weeks is easier than the Red Sox’s, so if the Yanks are hot, they might even be able to sneak ahead in the short term. But it’s clear that this division, and the American League itself, will continue to be dominated by the arms race between the two old rivals. Sorry, baseball: The Red Sox and the Yankees are the story, and will remain so.