2:32 pm Jul. 27, 2012
With the Yankees and Red Sox set to square off in a three-game series beginning Friday night at Yankee Stadium, their famous rivalry is ... a bit under the weather.
The Yankees have made the playoffs in three consecutive seasons, won the World Series in 2009, and currently hold the American League's best record. The Red Sox haven't made the playoffs since 2009, currently sit in last place in the American League East, and their general manager, Ben Cherington, cannot figure out whether he wants to add talent in 2012 or begin planning for 2013.
His indecisiveness is understandable, with the non-waiver trading deadline, July 31, just a few days away. Yes, the Red Sox are in last place in the AL East, but at 49-50, they are still just four games behind Detroit for the second wild card. And the Red Sox are arguably more talented than their record would indicate, and almost certainly talented enough to give teams like Baltimore, Toronto, and even the Tigers and Rays a run for their money.
A strong weekend showing against the Yankees could almost compel them to make an all-out playoff push; a Yankees sweep could make the math implausible, and set Cherington on a selling path.
So it's going to be a meaningful series for the Red Sox, even if they're nowhere near the Yankees.
For all the drama that the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry provided for the past decade, the current posture--Yankees safely ahead, Red Sox at arm's length--is the far more typical one, historically.
From 1978 through 1996, the period that serves as the longest drought between World Series victories in Yankee history, the Red Sox managed just one American League pennant and four playoff appearances. That 1978 World Series championship for the Yankees came following an epic Boston collapse (why you've heard the name Bucky Dent so much), but the two teams didn't battle for playoff position often in that period. When the Yankees won the AL East in 1980 and 1981, the Red Sox were fifth both seasons. When the Red Sox won the AL East in 1988 and 1990, the Yankees finished fifth and seventh.
Nor was there much of a battle in 1986, though the Red Sox finished first, the Yankees second. Boston took control of the division with a three-game sweep of the Yankees in The Bronx in June; the four-game sweep the Yankees gave the already-clinched Red Sox at the end of the regular season merely made the final margin closer.
Prior to 1978, the Red Sox had a period of relative ascendancy from 1967-1975, winning a pair of American League pennants; the Yankees spent most of that time in fourth place or worse. And from 1947 through 1964, as the Yankees collected fifteen A.L. pennants and 10 World Series championships, the Red Sox spent most of that time out of the running as well, with 1949's one-game playoff against the Yankees, and a three-team race including New York and Boston that ultimately went to Cleveland in 1948, the two exceptions.
The Red Sox aren't done yet this season, and they may well have a big run in them. But for now the rivalry is reverting to the old norm, with the Yankees ahead, and the Sox one of many teams chasing them.