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MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Yanks, Sox show early signs they'll survive

GMs Cashman, Cherington intelligently retool their teams to address problems

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The Red Sox and Yankees are again at the top of the American League East, and it's looking like the world may not end after all. It's silly drawing conclusions this early in a season, but even these first few days have offered glimpses of what the two teams can be.

Both of their general managers followed a similar blueprint to put these teams together. That is, they spent modestly and avoided long-term commitments. They also went for a certain type of player.

Consummate professionals would be one description. They all take the game seriously, pay attention to details and understand that both franchises are only about the bottom line.

Both teams had significant holes to fill, and when the Yankees kept losing bodies to injuries, general manager Brian Cashman scrambled for help. Two things were striking about his approach.

First, Cashman never panicked. At least he never let any of us see him sweat. Cashman needed help, but he never wavered from wanting a certain kind of player. He wasn't going to sacrifice his team's clubhouse environment -- there isn't a better one in baseball -- for a quick fix.

Cashman also never changed his expectations for 2013. George Steinbrenner's spirit lives in ways large and small.

"The Boss taught me there are no excuses," Cashman said.

"We've just got to find a way," manager Joe Girardi said.

If the Yanks somehow get back to the postseason, this will be Cashman's finest hour as general manager.

Avoiding the big-ticket free agents, losing core guys like Nick Swisher and Russell Martin and then having to go without Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira left the Bombers with more new faces than they'd had in a century.

But it is impossible to look at a lineup with Ichiro Suzuki, Kevin Youkilis, Travis Hafner and Vernon Wells and write off the Yankees. Every one of those players has been an elite player at one time, and if they can all stay healthy, there's a good chance they'll all be productive.

The Yankees began Wednesday leading the AL in runs. They're also tied with the A's for the AL lead in home runs. So far, so good. If there's a worry, it's the pitching, which is supposed to keep the Yanks in contention. Every starter except Andy Pettitte has struggled.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about the Yankees is that no one in the game wrote them off. Not even when A-Rod went down, when Jeter went down, on and on.

The Yankees have no idea when any of their injured players will return, and even more worrisome, they have no idea what they're still capable of. But the Yanks are held in such high regard that baseball people believe they'll find solutions, either in the trade market or from some of the impressive talent they've gathered at Double-A.

While Cashman has done an impressive job, no one in baseball has had a better six months than Red Sox GM Ben Cherington. When he began picking up the pieces of a 93-loss season, it wasn't the pitching or the hitting that was his No. 1 priority. It was the environment.

Cherington had plenty of problems with the hitting and pitching, but that stuff wasn't going to matter if he didn't get the clubhouse right.

Enter John Farrell.

Nothing else Cherington did was as important as bringing back a guy with instant credibility, someone his players both like and respect. Everything changed with Farrell's hiring.

And then all Cherington had to do was fill holes at first base, catcher, shortstop, left field, right field and in the starting rotation. He did great work, not only in getting players for relatively modest prices, but in getting players who provided the energy and professionalism Boston lacked at times the past couple of years.

The Red Sox are Dustin Pedroia's and David Ortiz's team. And now, they've put guys around them who have similar mindsets: Jonny Gomes, Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, David Ross, Stephen Drew and Joel Hanrahan.

Boston's 5-2 start probably is the most important 5-2 start in the game, because it removes the pressure and allows the players to settle into a comfort zone, or something close to one.

Both the Red Sox and Yankees have concerns. Both teams are counting on some older players. Boston needs Ortiz to come back and be productive. The Sox have to hope that John Lackey's injury isn't serious and that rookie Jackie Bradley Jr. will figure things out.

But as opening weeks go, both teams have passed their first smell tests, and who would have thought that would be important with these two clubs? These first games will be forgotten quickly, but the right tone has been set. Confidence builds a day at a time. Both clubs likely will evolve during the season, but that's part of the process, too. If you were counting on the Red Sox and Yanks to fade away, you might be disappointed.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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