Here in the northeast corner of America, where the Hub of the Universe and the City That Doesn't Sleep stare at one another from a distance of 200 miles, the popular notion is that the Red Sox and Yankees are among the frontrunners to win the 2011 World Series.
Why not? After all, the Yankees have won it 27 times and have the highest payroll in baseball. And the Red Sox came to spring training with 15 players who had been all-stars.
The Yankees and Red Sox meet in the playoffs every year, right?
Actually, no. They've only met in the playoffs three times, and not once since the 2004 epic ALCS when the Red Sox became the only team in baseball history to come back from a 3-0 deficit in a seven-game series.
But the Sox and Yanks are on a collision course in 2011. Bursting with self-importance, last week they needed four hours and 21 minutes to play a nine-inning game in which six runs were scored. The Sox will be back in New York for the final weekend of the regular season. It'll be Athens-Sparta, Ali-Frazier, Russell-Chamberlain and Brady-Manning. Deep into the night. Every night.
With three weeks left in the regular season, the Sox and Yanks think they're the chosen ones this year ... but there's one little problem. Postseason series are won with dominant pitching (remember the salami-bat Giants of 2010?) and -- for all their double-digit scoring and star-laden offenses -- the Red Sox and Yankees don't have consistent pitching beyond their No. 1 starters. That's why neither team is going to win the World Series this year.
Let's start with Boston. In spring training the Red Sox thought they had too many starters. They had Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Tim Wakefield. We wondered if Wake might end up getting cut from the team before leaving Fort Myers (the 45-year-old Wakefield, the oldest player in the majors, has failed to win his 200th career victory in seven tries).
Instead, Daisuke's shoulder blew out and he's back in Japan after season-ending surgery. Buchholz has a broken bone in his back and is likely done for the season. Lackey has been the most buffeted pitcher in the American League, and on Monday Beckett was sent back to Boston after badly spraining his right ankle in a start in Toronto. Southpaw Erik Bedard was acquired from Seattle at the trading deadline, but he's skipping his next start because of a bum knee. Bedard has never pitched in the playoffs and has been a bust every September of his career.
So, Red Sox Nation, how are you feeling now about your team's chances in October? And is anyone uncomfortable that the Rangers went 6-4 against the Sox in '11, winning all six games by at least four runs?
Let's not forget the Boston bullpen. While the Sox are set with Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon in the eighth and ninth, respectively, GM Theo Epstein never found a solution for the seventh-inning guy. And the Bobby Jenks acquisition represented more money flushed down the toilet.
Folks in Boston have enjoyed mocking the mighty Yankees and their pitching woes all season, but any objective observer would have to say the Yanks are in better shape on the mound that the Sox at this hour. And that's with an unlikely cast of millionaires, kids and reclamation projects.
We are coming into the second week of September, the Yankees have the best record in the American League, and yet Joe Girardi is still auditioning candidates for his playoff rotation. The final four will come from a field of six: CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia, A.J. Burnett and Phil Hughes.
It's a motley crew, but has performed better than expected. In April and May we wondered how a team with such deep pockets could rely on a kid like Nova and a couple of re-treads like Colon and Garcia. Turns out those three have been stronger than the highly-paid Burnett and former All-Star Hughes. Aided by a stem-cell transplant, the rotund, ancient Colon is 8-9 with a 3.72 ERA. Garcia, meanwhile, is 11-7 with a 3.50 ERA. Everybody knows that Sabathia will pitch the first game of the playoff for the Yankees, but homegrown Nova (15-4, 3.89 ERA) is the clubhouse favorite to get the ball in Game 2. Nobody feels good about Burnett (5.25 ERA) and Hughes (6.41), but both have pitched well enough lately to stay in consideration.
The Yankees don't have a reliable lefty in the bullpen, but are better prepared than Boston with Rafael Soriano, David Robertson and ageless Mariano Rivera (39 saves).
All that said, does anybody think the Yankees or Sox can match up with baseball's best rotation: Philadelphia's Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt (or young Vance Worley)? How about the Texas Rangers' top quartet? At this hour, you can make the argument that the Rangers have a better rotation than the Yankees and the Red Sox.
So let's watch the Sox and Yankees knock themselves out for the next three weeks. They think they are headed for a dream matchup in the ALCS. But it might not even get that far. The Yankees and Red Sox are great frontrunning bullies. But neither team is going to win the 2011 World Series.