Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Red Sox rivals have some catching up to do

The Yankees' off-season prize? A 36-year old Jeter. Check it out at BST&N
In a recent column, the Boston Herald's Steve Buckley writes that the Boston - New York rivalry is alive and well between the two cities. It's just between two different teams now. The Red Sox and Yankees, says Buckley, have simply been replaced by the Patriots and Jets.

While the Patriots and Jets don't have a feud that spans all the way back to 1919, Buckley's got a point. The same tension and hatred doesn't exist anymore between the Yankees and the Red Sox. When Boston miraculously rallied back from a 3-0 series deficit against the Yankees in 2004, they'd handed New York fans a loss so painful it almost made the two franchises even. In fact, the two teams have not even met in the playoffs since that historical series.

Now, the Sox have pulled off possibly their greatest off-season in franchise history while their rivals have just sat back and watched. It begs the question, in 2011 what rivalries will be left?

The team that's given the Red Sox the most fits recently has been the Tampa Bay Rays. When the young team emerged from the AL East in 2008 they shocked the world -- beating out both the Sox and Yankees and making it all the way to the World Series, where they lost to the Philadelphia Phillies. Since 2008, the Rays hold a 30-24 advantage over Boston.

In the Rays' quest to reach the World Series back in '08, they had to go through Boston in the ALCS. After the Sox fell behind in the series, 3-1, they started to mount one of their famous rallies -- reminiscent of their championship years of 2004 and 2007 -- forcing Tampa to a game seven. The past two times the Sox forced game sevens they had ended up winning the ALCS and sweeping the World Series. However, this ending wasn't quite the same. Rays' pitcher Matt Garza staved off the Sox come-back in game seven, pitching into the eight inning -- allowing only one run and two hits. The Rays went on to win the game 3-1.

Matt Garza has been a Red Sox killer in his time in Tampa Bay. He wasn't just responsible for crushing Sox fans' hopes in that game seven, he seemed to always have Boston's number.

"Garza is 9-4 with a 3.58 ERA against the Red Sox for his career," writes ESPNBoston's Jeremy Lundblad. "In all, the Rays are 15-5 in Garza’s starts against the Red Sox...Garza’s record of success against Boston puts him in elite company. Among active pitchers with at least 10 starts against Boston, Garza has the third lowest career ERA behind only Johan Santana and Ted Lilly."

However, Boston won't have to deal with Garza much anymore. Last week he was traded out of the division and out of the american league to the Chicago Cubs. Despite their past success, heading into 2011 the Rays don't look to be quite the threat they once were.

Garza's not the only Tampa Bay Ray the Sox can rest at ease about in 2011. The Rays have also lost Carl Crawford...to the Red Sox. Crawford was almost as much a Red Sox killer as Garza was, batting .324 with 9 RBIs and 2 HRs against Boston. Crawford's 8 stolen bases against the Sox were his second highest total against any team in the american league. The only team he stole on more? The New York Yankees.

In an off-season where the Sox have bolstered their roster with the likes of Adrian Gonzalez, Bobby Jenks, Carl Crawford and Dan Wheeler the Yankees have essentially stood idly by.

They failed to sign left-handed pitcher Cliff Lee to counter the Red Sox lefty heavy lineup and bolster a rotation that needs some help. Their biggest off-season moves have been the re-signing of a 36 year-old shortstop and the free-agent pickup of catcher Russell Martin.

Compared to the Red Sox moves, it's not very impressive.

The Sox may have missed the post-season last year but they've made up for it in the off-season. Since the season's end, Boston's only gotten better while Tampa and New York have arguably gotten worse. This isn't to say that the Red Sox will be running away with the division. The Rays and Yankees still have plenty left to compete with. Players like David Price, Evan Longoria, Alex Rodriguez and C.C. Sabathia haven't gone anywhere. However, at least on paper, it looks like Boston holds a big advantage over their AL East rivals...what's left of them anyway.

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