By Steve Salhany
Note: Steve Salhany is a longtime friend of BSMW, a messageboard staple and baseball nut. He’s a mod at Sons of Sam Horn, but we don’t hold that against him.
It was with interest and an increasing sense of disbelief that I read George Cain’s guest column this morning. To say that I believe Mr. Cain’s column to be wrongheaded would be a massive understatement. I’ll address some of his points here.
To complain that the Red Sox are only 10-9 over their last 19 games is the height of overreaction. The 2004 World Champions had a 41-41 stretch during the course of that season. That’s right, the team widely regarded as the best in Red Sox history, the team that slew the mighty Yankees and the 105-win Cardinals in stirring fashion went fully half the season playing at a .500 pace. (May 1-Aug.1). The 2007 Red Sox, winners of the division title that Mr. Cain so preciously values, went only 28-26 over June and July of that season. There’s a reason that the cliché of it’s a marathon, not a sprint is so aptly applied to baseball: because it’s true. It’s a very long, very grueling season, and even the best teams are going to have down periods. The line between winning and losing is much finer in baseball than it is in other sports. Even the best teams lose around 35% of their games. It happens.
As for the misplaced anger directed towards a team roughly 30 games over .500 in August, that strikes me as just a wee tad over the top. Accusing Theo Epstein and Terry Francona of inadequately preparing for the rigors of the season, despite a track record of success unrivaled since they began working together in 2004, is completely preposterous and insulting to two of the finest baseball men in the game today. To think that any fan would know more about the state of preparedness of the team after spring training than the guys in charge of said team is patently absurd. I take particular issue with this statement by Mr. Cain:
“Of course, a team often takes on the temperament of its manager and front office. The Red Sox came out of Spring Training thoroughly unprepared for the start of the season. That led them to a 2-10 record and probably led to them being 8-1 against the Yankees to start the season. They had to start playing with a sense of urgency in May and June because they were on the outside looking in.”
So their supposed “unpreparedness” led to them going 2-10 to start the year AND to kicking the ever-loving hell out of the Yankees later on? Oh wait, it’s because suddenly they started trying to win? What? It wasn’t because they started the year in a slump and then broke out of it because of all the talent on the team? Um, OK.
The venting by Mr. Cain directed towards the 24th and 25th players on the roster (McDonald and Morales) misses, I would submit, the entire point of roster construction. McDonald’s had all of 12 plate appearances this month, Morales has pitched 5.2 innings. These guys simply don’t play enough to make any huge contributions, positive or negative, to the fortunes of the team, and focusing on them blinds one to the bigger worries the team has. Worry about Lackey’s inability to get his season ERA under 6 (although he’s been pitching much better over the last month or so), worry about Gonzalez’ lack of power since the Home Run Derby if you must, worry about Crawford’s inability to hold up on pitches in the dirt. Don’t worry about the last two guys on the roster. They don’t make enough of a difference to do so.
As for home field advantage in the playoffs, of course it’s always nice to have. But looking at the team’s playoff appearances in the Epstein era, I’m not sure it’s made all that much of a difference. In 2003 the Sox won the ALDS against Oakland without home field advantage, and would have won the ALCS against the Yankees without it had they had a manager with the intelligence God gave a deer tick. The Sox won it all in 2004 without home field against the Angels and Yankees. In 2007 of course they had home field for all three rounds. In 2008 they didn’t have it against the Angels and won, and lost in 7 against Tampa without it. Of course the Rays won 2 out of the three games played at Fenway in that series while the teams split the four games played in Tampa, so it’s tough to say how much home field might have made a difference. A healthy Josh Beckett for that series would have made a bigger difference. What Mr. Cain seems to forget is that the 2007 Red Sox, division winners, rested some of their key players in September because they were worried about overwork, despite the fact that the Yankees had cut the divisional lead from 11.5 games all the way down to 1.5 on Sept. 19. In particular Okajima got two weeks off to rest up for the playoffs. How did that work out again?
There’s no question that the Red Sox are currently facing some concerning issues. Buchholz is likely out for the season, Ortiz is on the shelf, Youkilis is very banged up, and right now Andrew Miller, John Lackey and Tim Wakefield round out the rotation, and they aren’t exactly Palmer, Cueller, McNally and Dobson. But it remains a baseball truism that all teams have issues. The Yankees are betting that Ivan Nova, Bartolo Colon and Freddie Garcia don’t all implode simultaneously, while praying that AJ Burnett contracts hepatitis from his latest tattoo application. The Rangers, who Mr. Cain apparently is terrified of, are a very, very good team, but they’ve been outscored by the Red Sox despite playing in a hitter’s heaven of a ballpark. They are also relying on Endy “Spent all of 2010 in the minors” Chavez to be their everyday center fielder, which strikes me as a gamble.
In short, Mr. Cain, you’re not hearing a lot of current outrage from the media (and it bears noting we heard a ton of that during the 2-10 start) about the state of the Red Sox because they’re not deserving of said outrage. It’s the middle of August and the team has recovered from its bad start to be solidly locked into a playoff spot. While nothing’s settled yet, why should there be outrage over that?