Today marks the two-week anniversary of me declaring the Red Sox season over, and just as I hoped, my words alone have lit a fire a underneath the team and caused them to play their best baseball of the year. I understand if you want to write me a check or “give yourself to me,” but just knowing that you appreciate my role in the team’s turnaround is thanks enough.
If you say you predicted the Red Sox winning 10 of their last 14 games, you’re lying. They had lost seven of eight just before that. There was nothing the team was doing prior to this stretch that should have given anybody any confidence, and with injuries to Clay Buchholz and Josh Beckett, there was even very little during the past two weeks that indicated they could continue to play well.
But they’re sitting pretty, at 40-36, only 1.5 games out of a Wild Card spot. They have 10 games left before the All-Star break, which means they have a legitimate chance at holding a playoff spot heading into the second half the season. That’s amazing, but what’s more amazing is the lack of star power that has gotten the team to this point.
When you think of all the Red Sox teams that have been successful, especially over the last eight years or so, there have always been stars. From Pedro to Schilling to Manny to Ortiz to Nomar to Pedroia, there have been absolutely standouts that have separated them from the majority of the league. They could afford the best players, they had a lot of the best players and they won on the strength of the best players.
Now? They still have the money, as evidence by the second-biggest payroll in the majors, but they don’t have the stars. Or, at the very least, their stars aren’t having star years. Adrian Gonzalez has been bad and Dustin Pedroia has been his equal, even if they both have picked it up a little bit over the tail end of this stretch. There is not a single starting pitcher who is having a high-caliber season, unless you want to count Franklin “Sandy Koufax” Morales, who has somehow become the best pitcher on the team.
It’s just Ortiz. The only player on the team that anyone could say is performing like a star – or even remotely like a star – is David Ortiz. Papi is hitting .308 with 21 home runs, 53 RBI and an OPS of 1.020. He’s been a monster. His stats, projected at this pace over a full season, would give him 45 home runs and 113 RBI. He leads the team in virtually every single statistical category. That’s absurd for a 36-year-old who very well might actually be closer 46.
He’s been historically great. Read this story on ESPN.com about how his number compare to players his age. He’s having one of the greatest statistical seasons a player over 33 years old has ever had, and that includes the likes of Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, Barry Bonds, whoever. Papi has been that good.
That’s it though. I mentioned Pedroia and Gonzalez before, but the lack of star production extends to others, namely Jon Lester, Beckett, Buchholz and Jacoby Ellsbury. All of those guys have been all-stars in the past, and are expected to play at a level that is close to all-star-caliber basically night-in and night-out. Those are the team’s stars.
Right now, the Sox are a team devoid of stars, and it’s reflected in the all-star voting and how the actual all-star team is going to shake out. Ortiz is the leading vote-getter at DH, and he should be. He’ll start in the game, and nobody could ever complain about that selection. He’s the best DH in baseball, and he’s playing like it.
At every other position, though, they’re nowhere near the top. They have only one player in the top-3 in the fan voting, and it’s Pedroia, who sits in third-place in the second base voting only because of reputation. Robinson Cano has twice as many votes as he does.
Beyond that, there isn’t a single Red Sox player in the top 5 at any position. Even Gonzalez, who you would think would be in the mix just based on his reputation, is no where to be found. Among outfielders, Ellsbury is the closest to the top in 15th place.
It’s been that type of year, from start to where we are now – there has been nobody who has played at a star-like level other than Ortiz. Think about it. Pedroia is hitting .267 and is on pace for 60 RBI. Gonzalez is hitting .268 and is on pace for 12 home runs.
I’ll take it a step further. When the team is chosen, there may not be a single Red Sox player on it besides Ortiz. There is a case to be made for Jarrod Saltalamacchia, but there’s also a surprisingly strong catching crop in the American League this year, and I highly doubt that Joe Mauer is going to be left off the team. Will Middlebrooks may have an outside shot at being selected because he’s kind of the hot new thing right now, and his the ball well, but he really hasn’t played enough games to warrant a selection.
And that’s it. There’s no one else even in the conversation. Not a single pitcher will even get a sniff, and none of them should. Lester’s ERA is 4.53, and Beckett and Buchholz are both on the DL after being nothing more than shaky for the first three months and the team’s closer, Alfredo Aceves, has an ERA well over 4.
To somehow be in the position the Red Sox are in without any player doing more than the league average is impressive, I think. Maybe impressive is the wrong word. It’s….outside the box? Outside the norm? It’s just not how the Red Sox usually operate.
It’s more like how the Tampa Bay Rays operate. They’ll win 95 games and you’ll look at their roster and have no idea how. They’ll have David Price and Evan Longoria in the all-star game and that’s it. The rest of the group just kind of fits in. That’s the 2012 Boston Red Sox, except you can replace both Price and Longoria with only Ortiz and nobody else. Cody Ross and Mike Aviles are Reid Brignac and Sean Rodriguez.
At least five Yankees will make the all-star team this year. Four players from the Red Sox made the 2011 all-star game. Six players made the 2010 game.
The Sox will be out-all-stared (brand new word) by the Orioles, the Blue Jays, the A’s, maybe the Royals, maybe the Mariners, hell – maybe the entire American League. I always used to laugh when I was younger and I would watch the all-stars get announced on TV, and some strange guy I had never heard of would run out of the dugout as the lone representative for some shitty team, like the Royals. Papi won’t be selected just because the Sox need somebody to meet the one person from each team quota, but it kind of feels like that.
I know for sure that I don’t like it better this way. I love having an all-star at nearly every position, just feeling superior because there are superior players on the diamond.
Unfortunately, the only thing most of the Red Sox players are superior to right now is the PawSox players, but the wins are still rolling in. There’s something to be said for winning this way, for feeling a little bit like an underdog (despite having a massive payroll, I know). Life as the Rays is weird, and it’s an adjustment, but if it keeps the Sox in the hunt then I will get on board. It’s not exactly like the Red Sox have won all that much the last couple years – what’s the harm in a different approach?
It may change after the break, with the likely returns of Ellsbury and Carl Crawford, but even that is no guarantee. Ellsbury has proven he can’t stay healthy, and Crawford has proven that he has the ability to be a terrible player for an entire season. There are two potential stars who should make a star-impact, yet if the rest of the season has been any indication, they just might not.
So really, let’s appreciate Papi, because in a season like this, he really does stand above everyone else. Plus, for some reason, everyone seems to conveniently forget that he tested positive for PED’s a few years back, while everybody else gets criticized. He’s got a semi-free pass, and he’s decided to make the most of it.
And when he runs out on to the field in a few weeks as the lone guy rocking the B on his hat, I’ll feel a little bit like a Royals fan, or a Rays fan.
But my team might be in the hunt, and that’s the goal, after all.