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The AL East Race: Is It Over?

When we parachuted into Yankee Stadium on Thursday night to check the pulse of the storied Yankees-Red Sox rivalry, all the talk was of Boston's 8-0 advantage in the season series, which had some folks questioning whether the Yankees, despite the 2 1/2-game advantage they held in the division entering the four-game series, possessed some sort of fatal shortcoming that prevented them from overcoming their arch-nemeses.

Well, that pretty much answers that. A four-game sweep later, the Yankees' lead is 6 1/2 games, and the team facing questions about potential fatal flaws is the Red Sox.

So, is the race over? Technically, no. There are still eight weeks left in the season, and the Yankees face six more games against the Red Sox (including three at Fenway Park). And let's also not forget there's another dangerous team, the Tampa Bay Rays, on the outer edge (eight games back) of the division race. It's also fair to question whether a team like the Yankees that relies so heavily on players in their mid-30s (Jeter, Rodriguez, Posada, Pettitte, Matsui, Damon), can hold up physically down the stretch.

But at this point, it's hard to envision a scenario in which the Red Sox surge past the Yankees to claim the division crown. Boston's problems are many: a starting rotation that once seemed criminally overstocked but which now goes only two deep (Beckett and Lester) in terms of reliable performers; a black hole in their lineup at designated hitter; and a career utillity guy holding down shortstop.

Let's remember that the Red Sox's problems didn't begin Thursday night at Yankee Stadium. They were 7-10 in the 17 games that preceded the Yankees series. We're now talking about a three-week stretch of bad baseball. They're still good enough to win the wild card (they're presently tied with the Rangers for the lead), owing to the fact they have two brilliant starting pitchers (Beckett and Lester), with Clay Buchholz an occasional third. But I don't know that I'd count them as the wild card favorites anymore. (OK, just barely.)

"I don't know. I'm not a magic person," Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia said, when asked how Boston can get turned around. "I just play second base."

Meantime, the Yankees are 31-10 since June 23 -- that's six weeks of exceptional baseball -- and appear virtually flawless. Sure, they have some issues in middle relief, but the way their starting pitchers are throwing, they rarely have a need for any relievers besides ace set-up man Phil Hughes and incomparable closer Mariano Rivera.

Maybe the Red Sox will pull themselves together. Maybe David Ortiz will start catching up to those fastballs again. Maybe they will solve their shortstop problem by working out a deal for Cristian Guzman. Maybe some combination of Buchholz, Brad Penny, Junichi Tazawa and -- dear heavens! -- Paul Byrd will solve their rotation issues.

I'm not a magic person. I just write about baseball. But I think the Red Sox are in big trouble.

By Dave Sheinin  |  August 10, 2009; 8:44 AM ET
Categories:  Red Sox , Yankees  
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Comments

If all is to once again be right in this world, the Yankees will win the division, the pennant and the WS. That's as it should be. As go the Bronx Bombers, so goes the nation. Witness:

Mid-1960's to mid-1970's: Yankees are cellar-dwellars; U.S. embroiled in Viet Nam war, political scandals lead to disgraced president.

1980's: Yankees fail to achieve; Reaganomics, AIDS and recession demoralize the people.

2001-2008: Yanks lose or fail to reach WS; U.S. divided by controversial war and worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

The greatest franchise in baseball history must once again claim its manifest destiny, then all shall be well again.

Posted by: MikeH0714 | August 10, 2009 1:00 PM | Report abuse

I am a ResSox fan but I am also a realists... they are in serious trouble. The one thing that is killing them is thier ultimate strength... hitting. They can't hit to save their life right now and injuries are slowly taking it's toll. their pitching has always been suspect after Beckett and Lester (I mean did we really think Penny and Smotlzy were the answer??? ). buckholz and Masterson might be their future BUT they break under pressure (they are not ready for the next level). Unless we pick up our hitting, we will be home in October. I am just going to be happy when the yanks trip up and lose to the Angels in the first round!

Posted by: rvanags | August 10, 2009 1:09 PM | Report abuse

2009 not the Year of the Sox. It is the Year of the Swine Flu, Joe Girardi and and the New York Yankees atop the AL East... But. It is Right and Just that waiting for the pennant-winning Bronx Bombers (does Homeland Security still allow that nickname?) is none other than the Ghost of Yankee Glory Past... Joe Torre. Dodgers over the Yanks in 5 games.

Posted by: eyestreet | August 10, 2009 2:48 PM | Report abuse

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