Don’t mess with success.
There can’t be any more straightforward a rule than that one, yet some people seem to ignore it. Like this year’s Boston Red Sox.
They’ve won two World Series, sold out hundreds of consecutive home games and rekindled memories of the glory days of the Sox thanks to one weapon: offense. Sure, they’ve pitched well, but the trademark of the Red Sox teams of the last few years are Big Papi’s shots past Pesky Pole and Manny Ramirez’s moonballs over the Green Monster.
Then Manny left. Then Jason Bay walked over the offseason and Big Papi went into another predictable deep slump. The major question with this year’s Red Sox, Big Papi aside, remains: where is the power going to come from?
With the offseason signings of John Lackey, Mike Cameron, Marco Scutaro and Adrian Beltre, the Red Sox signaled a clear shift in philosophy. They were going to emphasize defense and pitching at the expense of power and offensive prowess. In other words, they were saying bye-bye to Jay Bay Bay and hello to 1–0 games.
They messed with success.
There seems to be one fundamental truism about the American League East, the division in which the Red Sox play almost half their schedule — these teams can hit.
The Yankees can hit homers like no other team in the league … when Mark Teixeira isn’t slumping, A-Rod isn’t being moody or staying up late with Madonna, and Jeter looks 23 not 53, as he occasionally does. Tampa Bay has a lineup full of players nearing or at the peak of their careers ranging from Carl Crawford to Ben Zobrist, while the Orioles have always hit the ball well, despite forgetting there is another side to baseball. And the Blue Jays have a lot of question marks, but seem to have drawn enough power from big bats like Vernon Wells, Travis Snider and Adam Lind to get off to a hot start.
Meanwhile, the Red Sox are off to a terrible start, and have scored only 50 runs through 13 games, good for fifth worst in the major leagues. Their much vaunted defensive improvements haven’t even worked, as the Red Sox’s 10 errors in 13 games ranks seventh worst in the league. And let’s not talk about the number of unearned runs they have allowed.
So much for pitching and defense.
Some low-budget teams have built themselves around pitching and defense with great success. It’s very possible to be a decent team without spending tons of money on guys who hit homers and do little else. But it seems difficult to be a championship-caliber team without real offensive weapons up and down the lineup. Kevin Youkilis is a phenomenal player and Dustin Pedroia is looking like he could be in line for another MVP-type year, but from top to bottom this Red Sox lineup simply has too many offensive liabilities to look like a team that can slug with the best in the league.
The Red Sox play in a division of heavy hitters. They play in one of, if not the, smallest ballparks in the league. No matter how many Gold Glovers patrol the field, they cannot stop a ball from bouncing high off the monster or from banking off Pesky Pole. A team that plays half its games in Fenway Park needs the ability to outscore opponents.
The Red Sox need to realize they are a big market team with a big budget payroll, and stop attempting to get by on pitching, defense and banking on young prospects. They need to deal Clay Buchholz or Michael Bowden with a couple other prospects for San Diego’s superstar first baseman Adrian Gonzalez (and move Kevin Youkilis to the hot corner and Adrian Beltre and Mike Lowell to the scrap heap).
They also need to find a power-hitting left fielder, because there is no sense in having the super-speedy Jacoby Ellsbury patrol a miniscule left field backed by the Green Monster.
Unless Yale alum Theo Epstein ’95 brings his team back to its offensive roots, the Red Sox are in for a long season. But there is good news for Boston sports fans: I just saved 15 percent on my post-graduation car insurance by switching to Geico.
Collin Gutman is a senior in Pierson College.