x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

MLB: New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox still the beasts of the AL East

In a season they both appeared to be vulnerable the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox are again proving to be the top two clubs in the American League East, writes Gregg Patton.

Originally signed as insurance in case Alex Rodriguez was not ready at the season’s start, Kevin Youkilis has been a line-up fixture since opening day with both Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira injured for the Yankees.
Originally signed as insurance in case Alex Rodriguez was not ready at the season’s start, Kevin Youkilis has been a line-up fixture since opening day with both Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira injured for the Yankees.

This figured to be a season in which those two rich East Coast bullies, the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, were humbled by critical voids in their usual high-priced line-ups.

For now, the legions of fans hoping to indulge in some schadenfreude at their expense will have to wait for the demise.

Both teams have filled their considerable roster gaps with journeymen, instead of the expensive talent they often import, and the newcomers have been instrumental in putting each of them back at the top the American League East in the early going.

The Yankees have been plagued by injuries to stars Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira, who provided much of home-run power that keyed their recent successes.

No problem.

New York lead the league in home runs, again, with more than half of them coming from a quartet of castoffs, most of whom were considered stop-gap players, killing time until the return of the stars. Vernon Wells, Travis Hafner, Kevin Youkilis and Lyle Overbay, average age 35, men considered on the back sides of their careers (or beyond), already had 14 homers among them.

Manager Joe Girardi was pleasantly surprised, telling MLB.com, "We have guys who have hit a lot of home runs in the past. But I can't tell you I thought they would put up the home-run numbers they are doing right now."

Meanwhile, a trio of over-30 veteran pitchers - CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte and Hiroki Kuroda - used the support to open the season an aggregate 8-2 record.

Maybe the bigger surprise are Boston, who traded away its expensive players - Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett - last summer and plunged to a shocking 69-93 season, the Red Sox's worst in four decades.

Instead of opening their bank in the off-season for free agents, they courted and signed mid-level players such as the outfielder Shane Victorino, the first baseman Mike Napoli and the pitcher Ryan Dempster.

Napoli and Victorino have already contributed game-ending hits. Dempster offered three solid starts to begin the season, and his 2.65 earned-run average nearly mirrored the team's league-leading 2.69 mark.

Some credited John Farrell, their new manager and former pitching coach, with putting the bite back in the pitches of Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, who appeared dominating in the first three weeks.

But nobody wins on pitching alone.

As Lester noted: "You can't put your finger on one thing. Everybody's doing what they need to do and we're playing good baseball right now."'

For these two teams, for a change, it is Bargain Ball.

 

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