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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Yankees, Red Sox... how far the mighty have fallen

Yankees third baseman Kevin Youkilis, left, throws a

Yankees third baseman Kevin Youkilis, left, throws a ball as he talks with Boston Red Sox catcher David Ross before a spring training baseball game in Tampa, Fla. (March 20, 2013) Credit: AP

The question was asked Sunday in a field-level conference room at Yankee Stadium. It was directed not at Joe Girardi but someone who is in a similar situation, a kindred soul from just up the road. Let's say about 200 miles north of the Bronx.

"Do you think the Red Sox will win more games than they will lose this year?'' a reporter asked Sox manager John Farrell.

Sheesh. Talk about your low expectations.

Farrell, still 24 hours from his first Opening Day in his new job, grinned slightly. Knowing that the Red Sox imploded last season en route to a staggering 93 losses, what followed from Farrell qualified as a bold prediction. "Yes,'' he said. "I do believe we'll win more than we lose.''

So here we are, Red Sox at Yankees, Opening Day at the Stadium, a showdown between two historical rivals whom many people figure will slug it out for fourth place in the AL East.

That's right. Coming in second now very well could mean finishing last.

It doesn't seem all that long ago that the 162-game season was basically used for playoff seeding between the Yankees and Red Sox. The two franchises spent the offseason throwing cash at free agents, and whoever did the worse job wound up with a wild-card berth as a consolation prize.

Everyone had fun watching Derek, Mo, Manny and Big Papi whack each other around 18 times a year, the TV networks gladly aired their four-plus hours of programming on those days/nights, and then we got to do it all over again in the ALCS.

Not anymore. Not this year.

This season is all about the Tigers, Angels and Blue Jays, with the Rangers, Rays, Orioles, Athletics and Indians closing fast on their heels. The Yankees are supposed to be too old and too hurt to make much noise in the AL East, never mind October. And the Red Sox? Nobody seems too impressed by a reload that included Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli and Ryan Dempster.

It also doesn't help that David Ortiz will begin the season on the DL. But that's a scratch compared with what the Yankees are likely to be dealing with through mid-May. Most of their A-list talent is on the D-list, with last-second fill-ins such as Vernon Wells and Lyle Overbay hoping to pick up some of that slack.

Even so, Farrell -- who watched his Blue Jays disintegrate from key injuries a year ago -- refuses to look past the uniform.

"Personally, from my vantage point, when you talk about these two teams, you don't take anything for granted,'' he said. "There's an expectation that exists in both places that is very high and players will play to that, to the best of their abilities.''

We can't really blame Farrell for being diplomatic, and he has plenty on his own plate. Remember, his predecessor, Bobby Valentine, barely made it to the end of his first and only season in Boston before being mercifully fired the day after the final game.

All the talk around the Red Sox is about forgetting last year. Not learning from it, or analyzing it, but flushing it. Pretending it never happened.

As far as the different dynamic that seems to exist between the Yankees and Red Sox heading into this Opening Day, the Boston half of the rivalry isn't buying it.

Although both teams have more issues than usual at this time of year, the only concession the Red Sox are willing to make is that the AL East should be more wide-open than any other year in recent memory.

"You could flip a coin and put any team at the top and any team at the bottom,'' said Jon Lester, who will start against CC Sabathia on Monday. "I think it's going to be a rat race and we're going to have to play 162 to figure it all out.''

That's the beauty of Opening Day, of course. We're six months away from feeling smart or looking dumb.

The Red Sox, after winning the World Series in 2004 and 2007, have missed the playoffs the last three years. The Yankees' win totals the past four years? In order: 103, 95, 97, 95.

It doesn't guarantee any of that will happen again. But rest easy, Joe and John. It's a safe bet that both the Red Sox and Yankees indeed will win more than they lose. Problem is, in these parts, that's not close to enough.

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