By Steve Silverman
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The Yankees close out the first half of the season with what is normally a high-intensity and red-letter series with the Red Sox.
No matter how any season starts, it seems that neither team can accomplish its goals without beating the other.
However, that long-standing tradition is changing this season.
The Red Sox still have all the elements to be a good team because they still have a number of outstanding players, and they are capable of putting together hot streaks from time to time. But the Red Sox are no longer a championship-caliber team.
They don't mesh together anymore, and when they face the better teams in baseball they just don't have enough to compete.
That means that teams like the Yankees, Rays, Rangers and Angels are just too much for them. When they played the first-place Washington Nationals of the woeful National League (I'm just telling it like it is), they were beaten three straight times.
The Red Sox have been playing handicapped this season. Jacoby Ellsbury was the best position player in the American League last year and would have been the MVP if it weren't for Justin Verlander's stellar performance on the mound in Detroit. Ellsbury has been out since early April because of a shoulder injury suffered against the Yankees. He is in the midst of a rehab assignment now and will be back shortly after the All-Star break.
Former Tampa Bay star outfielder Carl Crawford has not played all year. Crawford injured his wrist last year and is close to returning as well.
Bringing back Ellsbury and Crawford will make the Red Sox much stronger, but it won't be enough. They still have Josh Beckett languishing on the mound. He's been just another pitcher for just about two seasons, and he was also the ringleader of last year's "chicken-gate," which played a key role in Boston's September collapse.
Jon Lester has also been just another pitcher since the second half of last year. The Red Sox appeared to have a pitching staff worthy of a championship contender when they had Beckett, Lester, Clay Buchholz and John Lackey at the top of the rotation. All four have disappointed, and only Buchholz shows signs of bouncing back and becoming the pitcher that the Red Sox thought he would be.
First-year Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine has to try to keep the team together, and as Mets fans can tell you, Valentine makes many of the right in-game moves. He is especially good at working his bullpen late in the game, and that's no small feat.
But he is not exactly a genius when it comes to repairing clubhouse chemistry. The ill feelings in the Red Sox clubhouse are not his fault, but Valentine is not going to fix things or keep a bad situation from getting worse.
Early in the year, he questioned Kevin Youkilis's mental and physical preparation because he started the season slowly. If he was trying to rev up the Red Sox, he failed. Youkilis was among the hardest working of the Red Sox and Dustin Pedroia's best friend. The Red Sox fired back at Valentine for attacking Youkilis, who was merely off to a bad start.
The Red Sox are not without some positives as well. Will Middlebrooks looks like a solid third baseman for years to come, and catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia continues to improve as a power hitter and knows how to handle pitchers.
David Ortiz can still hit. He mashed the 400th home run of his career in Oakland on Wednesday and then used that occasion to tell USA Today's Jorge Ortiz that he felt "humiliated" because the team did not offer him a contract extension in the offseason.
The Red Sox may offer some token opposition in this four-game series. They may play well and act like contenders.
But that would be an illusion. There are too many issues that will keep this team on the outside looking in by the end of the season.
Yankees fans, do you agree that the Red Sox pose no threat to the Bombers? Or could they be dangerous in the second half once Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford return to the field? Sound off with your thoughts and comments below...
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