Mar 25, 2014; Tampa, FL, USA; New York Yankees relief pitcher David Robertson (30) throws a pitch during the fourth inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

American League East Comparison: Boston Red Sox

Mar 24, 2014; Sarasota, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox dh David Ortiz (34) jogs off the field before the start of the spring training exhibition game against the Baltimore Orioles at Ed Smith Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

The finale of a four-part series of comparisons between the New York Yankees and their foes in the American League East, arguably the toughest division in baseball concludes with the expected rival. It ends with the Yankees’ arch nemeses and the reigning world champions, the Boston Red Sox. While nearly everything went completely wrong in 2013 for the Yankees, nearly everything went right for the Sawx. Even still, they may not be as good as they were last year, and they were extremely quiet in the off-season while the Yankees were the story. They lost Jacoby Ellsbury to the Evil Empire, and they have some other question marks. The gap between the teams is closer than you or the mainstream media think. How close?

All projections are from RotoChamp.com

STARTING LINEUP

Catcher:

BOS- A.J. Pierzynski: .268/.302/.424/.726, 13 HR, 54 RBI, 39

NYY- Brian McCann: .259/.338/.449/.787, 24 HR, 77 RBI, 61 R

Advantage, Yankees. It is debatable as to whether Pierzynski is better than Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who left Boston for Miami this off-season. But neither come even close to McCann, arguably the best catcher in baseball for the past nine seasons. He may end up going off at Yankee Stadium, while Pierzynski, still a solid veteran behind the dish, won’t be able to come close to him offensive production.

Mar 14, 2014; Tampa, FL, USA; New York Yankees catcher Brian McCann (34) checks with the first base umpire on a check swing during the fourth inning against the Minnesota Twins at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

First Base:

BOS- Mike Napoli: .237/.343/.466/.809, 24 HR, 76 RBI, 72 R

NYY- Mark Teixeira: .245/.337/.461/.798, 26 HR, 86 RBI, 70 R

Advantage, Red Sox. Teixeira is trying to get his groove back after being limited to 15 games last year after a wrist injury, and his numbers were already in a steep decline even before that. Napoli has had problems with his hip that have forced him to give up catching, but he seems fine and healthy at first, as well as very productive. It might be closer if Teixeira is fine and healthy, but Napoli is currently a much safer bet.

Second Base:

BOS- Dustin Pedroia: .304/.379/.431/.810, 10 HR, 84 RBI, 82 R, 16 SB

NYY- Brian Roberts: .247/.310/.364/.674, 5 HR, 28 RBI

Advantage, Red Sox. It used to be very close with the Yankees arguably having the upper hand when Robinson Cano was in New York. Now, it’s not even close. It’s laughable to compare. Pedroia is the face of the Red Sox, with all due respect to David Ortiz.

Third Base:

BOS- Will Middlebrooks: .259/.304/.469/.773, 25 HR, 73 RBI, 58 R

NYY- Kelly Johnson: .232/.311/.395/.706, 14 HR, 46 RBI, 8 SB

Advantage, Red Sox. After a brief display of excellence in his rookie year (121 OPS+ in 75 games before getting hurt), Middlebrooks was awful last year, putting up and OPS+ of just 88 and losing his job in the playoffs. If he’s healthy he could have a nice bounce-back season and fill a key hole for the team. Kelly Johnson, a second baseman by trade, has played just 16 games at the hot corner, all last year under Joe Maddon. He does provide a good amount of power and could crack 20 homers at Yankee Stadium, but he’s unspectacular overall. He’s no A-Rod, but he’s probably better than the garbage the Yankees put out at that position last year.

Shortstop:

BOS- Xander Bogaerts: .276/.356/.420/.776, 16 HR, 72 HR, 77 R, 8 SB

NYY- Derek Jeter: .275/.334/.369/.713, 6 HR, 36 RBI, 6 SB, 53 R

Advantage, Red Sox. As the greatest shortstop of the era bows out in his final season, the next great one enters the fray. Bogaerts seems very much like he is the real deal. Arguably the top prospect in baseball, he has a chance to provide some stability at short, something the Red Sox have been dying to find ever since they trade Nomar Garciaparra ten years ago.

Mar 19, 2014; Fort Myers, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts (2) singles and drives in a run during the fourth inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at JetBlue Park. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Left Field:

BOS- Daniel Nava/Jonny Gomes

NYY- Brett Gardner: .263/.340/.388/.728, 8 HR, 55 RBI, 29 SB, 82 R

Advantage, Yankees. While Nava and Gomes provide a very effective platoon in left, Gardner is easily the more valuable player, as he’s been worth over four wins in his last four full seasons. Left field is actually tougher to play at Yankee Stadium than you would expect, so Gardner still provides plenty of value with his brilliance as a defender, even in a corner position.

Center Field:

BOS- Grady Sizemore: .241/.305/.413/.718, 9 HR, 32 RBI, 39 R, 4 SB

NYY- Jacoby Ellsbury: .285/.340/.433/.773, 14 HR, 60 RBI, 38 SB, 89 R

Advantage, Yankees. Come on, did you really think the Red Sox would be better after Ellsbury went to join the Evil Empire? They’re singing the songs of praises of Sizemore’s apparent resurgence now in spring training, but is he going to last after missing the last two and a half seasons with 51-year-old knees? Doubt it. If you thought Ellsbury was injury-prone, what does that make Sizemore? It is surprising that Sizemore beat out Jackie Bradley, Jr., one of their top prospects.

Right Field:

BOS- Shane Victorino: .281/.342/.435/.777, 13 HR, 67 RBI, 73 R, 24 SB

NYY- Carlos Beltran: .276/.339/.474/.813, 23 HR, 80 RBI, 72 R

Advantage, Yankees. Victorino has had seasons where he’s played like a potential MVP candidate, but has also had seasons where he has been pretty mediocre. He’s also been banged up this spring, but he should be ready to go, unless it’s an oblique problem.

Beltran has had knee problems in the past, but has managed to survive three straight years in the National League (no DH) as an everyday player and has been incredible, posting an .860 OPS and three-straight All-Star appearances. With the short-porch in Yankee Stadium and the DH option, he should be able to beat the age curve as much as possible.

Designated Hitter:

BOS- David Ortiz: .283/.378/.530/.908, 25 HR, 90 RBI, 75 R

NYY- Alfonso Soriano: .247/.297/.462/.759, 26 HR, 82 RBI, 10 SB, 64 R

Advantage, Red Sox. Ortiz looked like he was on the decline four or five years ago, as he hit just .238 with a 102 OPS+ in 2009 and looked like a mess in early 2010. However, he has been anything but, and has been as good as ever. Since 2010, he’s hit .300/.392/.560/.952 with a 154 OPS+, 114 HR, and 361 RBI. After an Achilles injury in 2012, he returned again and carried the Red Sox to another World Series crown, and shows no signs of stopping even at age 38.

Soriano, also 38, has also been terrific in what should have been his twilight years, hitting 66 homers and putting up a 115 OPS+ in the last two seasons. The only question is if he can adjust to being a full-time DH, which has, for some reason, been a topic of discussion in this town lately (Posada).

BENCH:

BOS- Jackie Bradley, Jr./Jonny Gomes/David Ross/Mike Carp/Jonathan Herrera

NYY- Francisco Cervelli/Eduardo Nunez/Brendan Ryan/Dean Anna/Ichiro Suzuki

Advantage, Red Sox. Bradley hasn’t lived up to the hype just yet, but the 23-year-old remains a terrific young talent. Gomes, one of the ringleaders of this generation’s version of the Idiots, forms a good platoon with Daniel Nava. The Yankees don’t have nearly enough reliable pieces that the Red Sox have.

STARTING ROTATION:

Ace:. 

BOS- Jon Lester: 205 IP, 3.73 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 2.58 K/BB

NYY- CC Sabathia: 196 IP, 3.90 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 3.11 K/BB

Advantage, Red Sox. Lester enjoyed a nice bounce-back season after putting up an 82 ERA+ in 2012, and he’s pitching for a contract unless the Red Sox get an extension deal done with him before the season is over. He’s still a bit wild, but he keeps the ball in the park for the most part. Sabathia is looking for a bounce-back season of his own, but his age and loss of velocity provide an uphill climb for him. Even still, he’s reinventing himself, he’s lost weight, fixed his arm angle, and has been taught the cutter by Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera.

Number Two:

Mar 9, 2014; Bradenton, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Clay Buchholz (11) pitches during the first inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at McKechnie Field. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

BOS- Clay Buchholz: 185 IP, 3.55 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 2.40 K/BB

NYY- Hiroki Kuroda: 184 IP, 3.77 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 3.14 K/BB

Advantage, Red Sox. When healthy, Buchholz is sensational, but he’s been plagued by injuries in his career. Boston is actually slotting him as their fifth starter to start the season off to try to keep his workload low and to keep him fresh. But at the end of the day, he’s still probably the most important starter for the reigning champions. As long as no freak injury happens to him this season, he should be fine and as good as any #2 starter in the AL. Kuroda has also been a great #2 (probably really the Yankees’ ace) for the previous two seasons in New York. But can the 39-year-old avoid the September flame-out that has bitten him in those years?

Number Three: 

BOS- John Lackey: 170 IP, 3.81 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 3.5 K/BB

NYY- Ivan Nova: 184 IP, 3.96 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 2.42 K/BB

Advantage, Yankees. Can Lackey really be a reliable starter again or was 2013 just a fluke? When you consider he was probably the worst pitcher in baseball his first two years in Boston, and he had Tommy John surgery in 2012, it’s certainly possible. (He’s also given up 13 runs in 12.1 innings this spring). “Super Nova” has been an enigma for the Yankees in his brief career, showing signs of brilliance in 2011 and 2013, but also struggling with his command and confidence in 2010 and 2012. He’s been given the opportunity to be New York’s third starter out of the gate, so it seems he’s going to have more pressure on him this season.

Number Four:

BOS- Jake Peavy: 170 IP, 3.92 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 3.54 K/BB

NYY- Masahiro Tanaka: 196 IP, 3.63 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 4.23 K/BB

Advantage, Yankees. Long ago, Jake Peavy was arguably the best pitcher in the game, winning the NL Triple Crown and Cy Young Award in 2007 for the Padres. He hasn’t been the same after a series of injuries in Chicago, but he can still be a solid pitcher. He still strikes out batters at a good rate (7.8 per nine in 2012 and 2013), so he hasn’t completely lost his stuff. All eyes of course will be on Tanaka, but the Yankees are tempering expectations, probably just to not put all the pressure on him. It may take a bit to adjust to pitching in the states, but the Yankees certainly are putting him in a position to do so.

Back-end:

BOS- Felix Doubront/Chris Capuano

NYY- Michael Pineda/David Phelps/Adam Warren

Advantage, Yankees. If he can stay healthy and strong, Pineda is easily better than any of these pitchers and it isn’t even close. Doubront is not good at all (career 90 ERA+ and 15 runs allowed in 14 spring innings), and Capuano could have a hard time in this division after spending his whole career in the Senior Circuit. With Buchholz being eased into the season, their roles may increase, but that’s not a good thing. Phelps could play a Ramiro Mendoza-like role for the Yankees and do it well.

BULLPEN

Closer:

BOS- Koji Uehara: 55 IP, 2.13 ERA, 35 SV, 0.87 WHIP, 8.22 K/BB

NYY- David Robertson: 62 IP, 2.76 ERA, 30 SV, 1.13 WHIP, 3.62 K/BB

Advantage, Red Sox. Robertson should have no problem adjusting to the closer’s role, as he is already an elite reliever. Uehara was simply historical last season, allowing just nine earned in 74.1 innings (376 ERA+!!!!!!). The ALCS MVP’s K/BB rate was a ridiculous 11.22 as well. Can he do it again, even at age 39? Maybe, certainly.

Set-up:

BOS- Edward Mujica: 55 IP, 3.60 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 7.50 K/BB

NYY- Shawn Kelley: 62 IP, 3.77 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 2.84 K/BB

Advantage, Red Sox. Mujica lost his job to Trevor Rosenthal last October, but he remains a reliable reliever. If something happens to Uehara, he has proved he can step in and close. Kelley gives up a lot of homers (1.3 per nine in his career), but he struck out a whopping 71 batters in just 53.1 innings, so he could be the next Robertson for the Yankees.

LOOGY:

BOS- Craig Breslow: 60 IP, 3.90 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 2.11 K/BB

NYY- Matt Thornton: 58 IP, 3.57 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 2.63 K/BB

Advantage, Red Sox. Breslow has actually been able to get both lefties and righties out the last couple of seasons, while Thornton has declined and has been mashed by righties in recent years.

Others:

BOS- Junichi Tazawa/Brandon Workman/Andrew Miller/Burke Badenhop

NYY- Dellin Betances/David Phelps/Adam Warren/Cesar Cabral

Advantage, Red Sox. Boston’s pen overall looks much better than the Yankees, especially with Mariano Rivera gone. However, the Yankees could get some help later in the year from kids like Mark Montgomery, Jose Ramirez, and Dellin Betances, all potential studs.

VERDICT: You may hear from outlets like ESPN that the Red Sox are simply in another league compared to the Yankees, but it’s actually much closer than you may think. When healthy, the Yankees’ lineup looks solid, even if not as good as Boston’s. The Red Sox have no total guarantees this year at third, short, or center (neither do the Yankees at third, short, or second). Boston’s front end of the rotation and back-end of the bullpen are better, but the Yankees counter with a potentially dynamite back-end of the rotation and eventual help in the ‘pen from their minor league system. These teams should, and will, battle it out for American League East supremacy this year, just the way it was meant to be.

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