So here it is, sprung a little early perhaps, but offering the season its unavoidable, if equivocal, touchstone nonetheless.
No doubt, their rosters still will evolve, if not undergo major renovation, by the time these two arch rivals next do battle during three days in August. Nonetheless, this the third confrontation in as many months with Primeval Nation should allow the Yankees' front-office a revealing glimpse of its team's flaws, an accurate estimation of its strengths, and a reliable index of its fate.
At present, one can't help but see in the 2011 Yankees a paler incarnation of those mid-decade Torre teams less assembled than improvised-- a haphazard patchwork stitched together with threadbare arms; graying vets; and erratic lineups dependent on the home-run ball but that through their pluck, moxie, canniness and heroics from unlikely sources nonetheless manage to brave the dog's days and to transcend their irremediable flaws to reach October, only to expend themselves in the process and to fall in the first-round when younger, faster, more prolific teams feast on debilitated bodies, withered bats, and creaking arms.
2011's team recalls its doomed predecessors' infirmities perhaps because so much of its success stems from the mystifying eclat of two fallen aces chronic injuries seemingly had reduced to ragged journeymen but to which the Yankees-- through their own improvidence, impatience, myopia, and a chronic ineptitude at cultivating their own-- had to resort to fortify the weakest rotation $50 million could buy.
Call it luck. Call it Mystique and Magic. Call them 2011's version of Aaron Small and Shawn Chacon. But there they are-- straight out of Hollywood Central Casting. Barty and Fred, confounding age, shaking off injury, defying expectations and lifting their team ERA to the rank of 4th in the AL. Freddy, through deceit and guile, evoking the last gasps of Mike Mussina. Bartolo, through renascent velocity and incorrigible heft, inviting comparisons to Roger Clemens in his twilight, on the one hand, and to David Wells at his pugnacious best on the other. (During post-game interviews, you half expect to see Carrie Fisher materialize chained to Colon's waist)
Indeed with their 123 ERA+ and 121 ERA+ respectively, Garcia and Colon, together, account for the Yankees' rotation surpassing even the most optimistic expectations and in large part, for the marginal distance currently separating New York and Boston.
Only the certain knowledge that fortune like this can't last; that wizardry of Garcia's and Colon's kind only casts its spell as long as one declines to peer behind the curtain; that eventually an Aaron Small will reveal himself to be Aaron Small and a Shawn Chacon will return to being Shawn Chacon; and that to expect either Garcia or Colon, let alone both, to continue to perform this well through the summer-- or just to stay healthy for as long-- demands a blindness of faith few Yankee fans can muster.
Indeed, closer scrutiny of the Yankees' and Red Sox' rosters and the uneasiness only mounts. Apart from the Yankees bullpen and their late inning corps of Chamberlain-Robertson-Rivera, the Red Sox are at least the Yankees' equal and subtract Colon's and Garcia's aberrant success and Boston is far and away their superior. Although the runs scored totals roughly mirror each other, the Red Sox own a younger, quicker, more disciplined lineup that excels the Yankees in Runs Created (321 to 291), team batting average (.270 to .251), on-base percentage (.341 to .334), pitches per plate appearance (3.96 to 3.90), RISP with 2 outs (.262. to .242) and the gap between them widening as Adrian Gonzales, Carl Crawford, and Kevin Youklis all shake off their early season doldrums and reach their career averages.
Sure the two most prominent under-performers in the Yankees' lineup Jeter (80 OPS+) and Posada (82 OPS+) could rebound as well but their advanced ages suggest less aberrations than the erosion in skill that in our amphetamine-free game that now bedevils players over 35. And, above all, in comparing the two team's starting rotations, the Yankees' current advantage appears fleeting. Upon which prospect are you more likely to stake your faith: on Buchholz, Lester, and Lackey improving (108, 103, and 54 ERA+ respectively) to match their career averages (121, 127, 111) or on Colon and Garcia continuing to confound theirs.
The Red Sox already have beaten the Yankees in six of their last seven meetings this years. True, the mound pairings have favored Boston but more importantly, on the field, they've demonstrated themselves the superior team.