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Silverman: Baseball Is Better When Red Sox Can Challenge Yankees

Ichiro Suzuki (Photo by Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images)

Ichiro Suzuki (Photo by Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images)

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By Steve Silverman
» More Columns

A hated rival should not evoke the emotion of sympathy.

The Red Sox struggles have made life easier this season for the New York Yankees, but they have not made life better.

Baseball fans have long been used to the Titanic struggles between these two teams, but it has been a while since both teams were at their best at the same time and baseball fans could look forward to their confrontations.

The Yankees seem to understand exactly what it takes to stay on top of the A.L. East. You may not love Brian Cashman or Joe Girardi, but they are experienced pros who know their team is talented and they give their players the best chance to win, even when they face obstacles like losing the best closer in baseball history or their world-class third baseman breaks his hand.

But the Red Sox have been thrown for a loop by a couple of pieces of fried chicken and a few beers. This team has not recovered from last September’s collapse and they are struggling to reach the .500 mark. It looked like the Red Sox might be in a position to make a move in the second half of the season when Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford returned to the lineup, but the team has continued to struggle.

The biggest problem in Boston is a lack of starting pitching. More specifically, the team’s highest profile starting pitchers, Jon Lester and Josh Beckett, have continued to string disappointing performances together since the start of the season.

There was no new beginning under Bobby Valentine. The former Mets manager seemed like a long shot to turn this team around when they parted company with Terry Francona, and it’s been one misstep after another for Bobby V. this season.

It started with an ill-advised criticism of Kevin Youkilis as Valentine didn’t think that Youk was “physically or mentally prepared” for the start of the season.

Youkilis may have been slowed by injuries, but few players can match his mental preparation. Dustin Pedroia, Boston’s best player, came to his teammate’s defense and questioned Valentine’s understanding of the team.

Youkilis was eventually traded to the White Sox in a move that could give Chicago the A.L. Central title. Valentine has yet to show that the game hasn’t passed him by.

The Red Sox are an unhappy bunch and David Ortiz could be the first one to leave at the end of the season when his contract is up. Nobody in team history has had more clutch hits for the Red Sox, and it seems like he has grown weary of his time at Fenway.

Ortiz is still bombing home runs and after a couple of less-than-stellar seasons, he has regained his form. Does anyone know of a team that can use a power-hitting, left-handed DH? If Luis Tiant could go from the Red Sox to the Yankees, so could Ortiz.

There’s no one solution to get the Red Sox back on track. The loss of Francona and Theo Epstein (to the beleaguered Chicago Cubs) has hurt this team from a management point of view. Francona may have run a loose ship, but his players liked him and played hard for him. Epstein’s plan seemed more decisive than the one current GM Ben Cherington is using to run his team.

It may be too early to judge Cherington, but he has done nothing to distinguish himself in his first year at the helm.

The Yankees, of course, are dominating the A.L. East and they have a double-digit lead on the Red Sox. Boston has many problems, and one of them is at manager. Valentine has quickly worn out his welcome and he has almost no chance of turning this team around.

The rivalry won’t become a RIVALRY again until the Red Sox regain their own swagger. That won’t happen with Valentine as manager. There’s a lot more that the Red Sox have to do to challenge they Yankees once again, but finding an effective manager should be first on their list.

It would be nice if those Red Sox-Yankees games had that championship feeling once again.

Do you miss the old Red Sox-Yankees rivalry? Be heard in the comments section below…