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CHAD FINN

There has to be a good Yankees-Red Sox playoff series coming

The Red Sox went 8-11 against the Yankees this season but won the AL East. barry chin/globe staff file

Saw a few scattered national stories during the Yankees’ postseason run that carried a headline suggesting that the franchise of Mickey Rivers’s sucker punches, Derek Jeter’s smirks, and Alex Rodriguez’s annoying all-around A-Rodness had somehow become likable.

I couldn’t tell you how this specious case was made below the headline, because I did not click to read further. You could tell me Aaron Judge spends his off days taking puppies to visit orphans and then adopting all of the puppies and orphans at the end of that day, and it still would not persuade me to alter the golden rule of New England baseball fandom:

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The New York Yankees can never be likable, on account of them being the New York Yankees.

Again, this is a rule, and it is unassailable no matter the particulars of the current circumstances. Heck, there is just one time when the Yankees have even approached likability that I can recall, and it was a single Yankee rather than the whole smug gaggle of them.

It was gracious of the incomparable Mariano Rivera to blow a couple of games in the 2004 American League Championship Series, and even more gracious of him to laugh along with Red Sox fans’ mock cheers during the ring ceremony on Opening Day 2005.

That’s it. That’s how you become a semi-likable Yankee. You blow it in a moment that redefines the history of your rival, and you own it.

If there were any self-proclaimed Red Sox fans who found the Yankees even remotely rootable during their seven-game defeat to the Astros in the ALCS, it must be assumed that you are a Ramiro Mendoza-caliber embedded Yankee, someone who is in concussion protocol in your chosen line of work, or wanted to see the Yankees win just to allow Dave Roberts to steal their dreams once more in the World Series.

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Likable? C’mon now. The Yankees have one obvious and real-life villain: closer Aroldis Chapman, who has a background of alleged domestic violence. His presence alone was almost enough to root against the Cubs in their pursuit of history last year. He’s certainly reason enough to pull against these Yankees.

In the more trivial sense, the Yankees have other villains — baseball villains. They just haven’t revealed themselves yet, for a couple of reasons. The rivalry with the Red Sox has barely been at a simmer lately. Amazingly, the Red Sox and Yankees have not met in the postseason since everything changed in October 2004. The Red Sox have won two World Series since then (2007, 2013) and the Yankees one (2009), but they accomplished those feats without encountering their longest-running enemy along the way.

What this rivalry needs is a tense and tight playoff series. And it’s coming. Both franchises have rebuilt or reloaded with young talent. The Red Sox were supposed to be well ahead of the Yankees in that regard with the emergence in recent seasons of farm-system jewels Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., and most recently, Andrew Benintendi.

But the Yankees caught up in a hurry, and it’s as impressive as it is annoying. Judge suddenly turned into ’87 Mark McGwire, minus the surliness. Didi Gregorius outplayed his countryman Bogaerts this season. Gary Sanchez already is building a reputation as a Red Sox killer, though as a catcher he looks like a born designated hitter.

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And general manager Brian Cashman has proven savvy time and time again, most notably when he traded Chapman to the Cubs in the summer of 2016, getting top prospect Gleyber Torres in return . . . and then re-signed Chapman as a free agent after that season. That’s what the Red Sox should have done with Andrew Miller post-2014.

Don’t look now, but the Yankees are only going to get better. They’ll have between $70 million and $100 million coming off the books this season, including the final $21 million of A-Rod’s absurd contract. They are rich with prospects, Torres being the best among them, and are positioned as well as any franchise to trade for Miami’s Giancarlo Stanton if they so desire.

How high are their hopes and dreams? Consider what Billy Witz wrote in his season wrapup article in the New York Times Monday:

“It does not take pinstriped glasses to envision World Series title No. 28 in the near future — with 29 and 30 not that far behind.”

Hey, at least they still owe Jacoby Ellsbury $66 million.

This is not to suggest that the Red Sox should cower and cede the AL East to the Yankees for 2018 and beyond. They are the reigning division champions, winners of 93 games, and they should be better next year for a couple of reasons. Dave Dombrowski will find some way to acquire the slugger that was so glaringly absent from their post-David Ortiz lineup in ’17.

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And it’s highly unlikely that there will be continued regression from every established young player in the lineup again. The relative struggles of Betts, Bogaerts, and Benintendi reflected on manager John Farrell, whose stoicism didn’t always serve them well.

As colleague Alex Speier wrote in the aftermath of Farrell’s firing two days after the Sox’ season ended: “Betts, Bogaerts, and Andrew Benintendi tend to be unrelentingly hard on themselves when struggling. Failure gnaws at them. They had a coaching staff that was willing to work with them through their struggles, but not necessarily one that struck the right chords of reassurance — at least not often enough — that permitted them to regain their footing.”

The Red Sox have since replaced Farrell with Alex Cora, a bright, optimistic sort with a reputation for connecting with and mentoring young players. Time will tell whether he’s a tactical upgrade on Farrell, but it’s almost certain he will be in terms of culture.

Plus, he has this going for him: As the Astros bench coach, he already has been part of dealing those unlikable Yankees a disappointing blow.


Chad Finn can be reached at finn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeChadFinn.