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The Yankees and Red Sox don't need the rivalry to be compelling

On Wednesday night, the New York Yankees stormed back with a rally in the eighth inning, and took down the Boston Red Sox 9-6. The win put the Yankees into first place in the American League East, and gave them the best record in baseball, taking down the Red Sox in both cases. The two teams have already brawled once, and their match-ups have been among the most entertaining in baseball. If you’re looking for reasons, there are plenty — and you can skip the most obvious.

It’s not about the rivalry

While the famous Yankees-Red Sox rivalry is entertaining, that’s not what’s making their match-ups so good this season. It’s that both teams are at their best, simultaneously, for the first time in years. The Yankees are on an otherworldly roll right now. They’ve won 17 of their last 18 games, and during that time, their starting rotation has a 2.19 ERA, and the offense has scored an average of six runs per game. Overall, Didi Gregorius and Gleyber Torres have been standout stars (Torres is batting .333 and Gregorius leads the team in home runs), and Aaron Judge has continued to deliver top notch production. On the mound, C.C. Sabathia (yes, him!) and Luis Severino have been more than dependable — they’ve been superb, each with ERAs under 2.00.

The Red Sox had their own winning streak, coming out on top in 17 of their first 19 games. They have a quartet of players who are batting over .350: Mitch Moreland, J.D. Martinez, Xander Bogaerts, and Mookie Betts. Bogaerts and Betts had disappointing 2017 campaigns, and their play so far has shown that it was just a blip on the radar. They’re back to being their highlight-reel selves. Chris Sale has a 2.02 ERA and looks almost untouchable, Rick Porcello is still more than dependable, and despite two blown saves, Craig Kimbrel is still one of the game’s best closers.

The rivalry certainly adds another layer to their games, but the Yankees and Red Sox are evenly matched, and both teams are full of young, exciting stars. Every game feels like either team could win, and that’s what compelling baseball is all about.

Boston Red Sox catcher Christian Vazquez (7) waits for the throw as New York Yankees’ Gleyber Torres, right, heads home to score on Brett Gardner’s two-run triple during the eighth inning of a baseball game in New York, Wednesday, May 9, 2018. (AP)

Neither team is perfect

If neither the Yankees or Red Sox had any weaknesses or places to improve, the games would be boring. They could be played on a computer. The human element is what makes them interesting. Craig Kimbrel is one of baseball’s best and most reliable closers, and on Wednesday night he was asked to nail down a five-out save for the Red Sox. But he couldn’t do it. He blew the save, and the game. Even the game’s best closer isn’t foolproof. The Red Sox are having problems with their catchers, in that they’re not hitting. Both Christian Vazquez and Sandy Leon are hitting below the Mendoza line. As for their rotation, anyone not named Chris Sale or Rick Porcello is having issues with not allowing runs.

Despite winning 17 of 18 games, the Yankees aren’t perfect, either. Sonny Gray, their 2017 trade deadline acquisition, looks like an entirely different pitcher, and not in a good way. His ERA is currently 6.00, and that’s an improvement over where it was three weeks ago (it topped out at 8.27). And the Yankees might have more offensive issues than the Red Sox. Giancarlo Stanton has yet to get hot and is hitting just .237. Gary Sanchez is at .205. Neil Walker, one of the more reliable bats in baseball, is hitting .200. Both teams have room to improve, which is what makes their early success so scary — for other teams, at least.

They could meet in the playoffs … but not for long

The Yankees and Red Sox are clearly the best two teams in the AL East. Winning the division means a guaranteed trip to the first round of the playoffs, and the runner-up gets no guarantees. And even though the playoffs are four and a half months away, thinking about a Yankees-Red Sox playoff match-up is way too tempting to ignore.

The most obvious way for these two teams to meet up is for the winner of the AL East crown to have the best record in the AL, and for the runner-up to win one of the wild-card spots and emerge victorious. Since the winner of the wild-card game faces the team with the best record, that’s how you get your Yankees-Red Sox playoff series. This might be the most likely scenario, but it’s also a little disappointing. The division series is only five games instead of seven, which seems too short for a playoff series with these two teams. But on the bright side, the Yankees and Red Sox play each other 13 more times after Thursday’s game. There’s a lot of compelling baseball still to come.

lizroscher@yahoo.com or follow her on twitter! Follow @lizroscher

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