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End of an era?


Mothers' Day is ludicrously early to be proclaiming anything definitive about the baseball season let alone where teams will finish and how they'll get there. Yet being no stranger to ridiculous premises or ill-advised ventures into the unfathomable, your host will gleefully take the plunge.

Be it declared that in only six weeks such doubt that may have lingered is dissolved. This will decidedly be the year that the too long favored, too much deferred to, and endlessly fawned over Red Sox and Yankees come back to the pack. No longer will they be the pampered pets of the television networks with their drifts from tedium to redundancy absurdly indulged, as if some holy rite. The axis is snapped. The spell is ended. See how you like being out of the money by Labor Day, lads.

Well, maybe it won't quite come to that degree of finality this season. One or the other and maybe even both could still be rumbling -- at least cursedly in the wings -- come September. One hardly expects them to expire without a whimper, even if the Red Sox came close to doing so just last September. There may be gasps left. But the inevitability of a change in the tide governing the AL East so dominated by these ageless dreadnoughts for a full baseball generation is beyond dispute.

For sure, it was fun while it lasted -- at least in the Back Bay and Bronx -- beginning with the retooling of the Yankees in the early '90s, cresting with the Red Sox transcendental moment in 2004, and only gradually ebbing the last couple of years. But as something largely bought, it was never as grand or vital as the deeply spoiled legions of these two highly aggrandizing outfits kept insisting as their boundless pretensions were being compounded by the raves of the glitterati who variously rode both bandwagons. To the rest of the Republic all of that became a bore. Few west of the Appalachians or south of the Poconos will now weep.

It's not merely how they have been performing these first six weeks that drives this issue. Despite a number of moments bordering on the pathetic the Red Sox on Mothers' Day sit only six and a half games out and four games under .500; a condition that hardly qualifies as terminal so early in the season. Moreover, their start last season was even more woeful, although given how last season ended that notion won't console the beloved Nation this season.

As for the Yankees -- now four games over .500 and two off the top -- they're actually ahead of their pace of a year ago when they were but 20-19 in the middle of May and still struggling to paste together a starting rotation while also contending with internal disorder. A 77-46 burst the rest of the way allowed them to coast into the playoffs where they, of course, swiftly expired which has been a too familiar scenario in recent years. Yankee teams of the Torre-Girardi epoch have been consistently slow starters. In 2009, their only championship year in the last decade, they were merely 38-32 approaching July.

All of which gives rise to the notion that these two eternal adversaries -- especially New York -- can turn it on at will once they snap from a lethargy largely deriving from an acute sense of their own sheer inevitability. That may have been annoyingly so in the past. But it's no longer possible. And that's precisely the point.

Neither team is as strong as it has been. Neither is as deep. Both are older, frayed, and blighted by injury. Both are out of step with the new-wave game increasingly in vogue that emphasizes a lighter, swifter, more athletic offense specializing in manufacturing runs rather than relying on the almighty long-ball while also glorifying pitching, especially relief-pitching. Both have front-office problems. Both have grievously blundered recently with mistakes that will be hard to rectify. Both have ownerships that have lost tenacity or, if you will, squandered their precious "edge." Both no longer have the enormous advantage of a near unlimited budget and uncapped payroll. In the end, that last issue will be the croaker; especially in New York. Both are increasingly stifled by the subtle influences of "parity," which Major League Baseball belatedly seeks to intensify in the pursuit of the competitive balance other games have happily discovered is so very good for business.

Times have suddenly changed, lads. It is really rather quite that simple. The Age of the Dynasties is over!

It's more a matter of the decline of the behemoths than the rise of the upstarts but the fact that the three other teams in the division have at last arisen is also huge. The uppity Rays with their appalling financial circumstances being trumped by brilliant leadership have been nipping at the heels of the Big-shots the last four years. Now suddenly the Orioles and Blue Jays are in the hunt too. And if it's unlikely either has yet attained championship caliber it's even clearer they are no longer doormats, let alone willing to play that dubious role. There is anger in their acts and who can blame them.

A snapshot of each:

Baltimore

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