Now that our long Nation-al nightmare is over, the Boston Red Sox appear to be who we thought they would be before the season started: an offensive juggernaut with solid pitching and defense. The team is firing on all cylinders at this moment as their top heavy offense (Ellsbury, Pedroia, Gonzalez, Youkilis, Ortiz) carries the team through the temporary loss of key players (Crawford, Lowrie, Buchholz) and anti-contributions of a few role players (McDonald, Cameron). On June 22, we rightfully sit in first place in the East with the most runs scored in baseball and second best run differential in the game. So why do Sox fans still stress?
The beginning of the season seemed almost euphoric for Boston fans. The team sucked. Theo's moves were failing. Big ticket guys looked like bums. Fans thrived. Now that the team is dominating, people seem restless like they don't know what to do with themselves. The search for a new catcher has been put on hold. The disastrous back of the rotation has been fortified by a rested John Lackey and a revolving door of effective fifth starters. The shortstop controversy is all but over with Jed Lowrie on the shelf for a while. The panicky reports of Dustin Pedroia's "serious" injury turned out to be off base. The bullpen is coming together. The only thing that people can really complain about is J.D. Drew's poor performance, but after 5 years of the same complaints, which are only now reasonably true, you people just come off petty.
This is how we arrive at the latest non-crisis dominating the New England airwaves: what to do with David Ortiz and Adrian Gonzalez during the nine game interleague road trip? First, let me channel Dr. Evil, "You can't decide which All-Star to start each game? Boo-frickity-hoo!" Ok, bald cap off, pinkie down, lazy eye straight and....ok I'm back.
For those who haven't heard, Gonzalez recently approached Terry Francona to let him know he would be willing to play right field during the NL road trip so that both he and Ortiz could stay in the lineup (when AL teams play in NL parks during interleague play they play by NL rules, which means no DH, Ortiz's "position").
In between dragging on and on about the Bruins (please just let the season die!!!), this is all that Boston sports radio can talk about. Some think it's a good idea and some do not. Some think that those two bats are too valuable to the team to keep either of them out. Some think that it would increase Gonzalez's chance of injury. Some think he's too slow to defend right field. Some think that sitting Ortiz for nine games would throw off his timing. I think everyone needs to take a deep breath and imagine you were a fan of the Houston Astros.
The Astros are the final opponent on our NL roadshow. They currently boast (anti-boast?) the worst record in all the land (27-48). When the Red Sox come to town about a week from now do you know what the Astros will be worrying about? Do we start Angel Sanchez or Clint Barmes at short stop? Do we keep running 300 pound Carlos Lee out to left field every game? Should J.R. Towles and his .198 average or Carlos Corporan and his .133 average start at catcher? How long should we let J.A. Happ, the centerpiece to the Roy Oswalt trade, stay in the rotation before demoting him to AAA?
You see, these are real problems. Trying to decide which of your All Star first basemen to start over the course of 9 games is not a problem, it's a minor inconvenience. Sox fans sound like Dave Chapelle in Half Baked going to rehab for being addicted to weed, while Astros fans are looking at us like Bob Saget from the same movie, "I used to suck dick for Carlos Lee. You ever sucked dick for Adrian Gonzalez?"
Now that we've gotten that out of the way, I'll quickly address what the Sox should do in this situation, but I will say that whatever they do won't matter much one way or another. If Gonzalez and Ortiz were the only two good hitters in the lineup, then I could maybe see an argument for keeping them both in during interleague, but we all know this lineup is stacked. I would not play Gonzalez in the outfield for one single inning and I think it is completely acceptable to sit him for 2, 3 or even 4 games during this 9 game trip to get Ortiz some starts. These are my reasons:
- Increased risk of injury if Gonzalez plays right.
- Gonzalez cannot play right and would probably give up some outs and extra bases that a normal right fielder would not.
- Those lost outs and extra bases are more valuable than the outs and extra bases that the Sox could possibly lose on offense by sitting Gonzalez.
- This is because of the different probabilities: Gonzalez is much more likely to give up more bases and baserunners than his replacement is to not get on base or hit with power.
- This is because his "replacement" would be either Drew, Cameron, Reddick or McDonald. None of these guys are superstars, but in 2-4 games can easily hit as well as Gonzalez would while playing far superior defense. We aren't exactly talking about starting Tanner Boyle over Gonzo.
- Not only would Gonzalez be a disaster in right, but he'd be playing behind Ortiz who is way below average at first. This is called a cascade of problems.
- Ortiz and Gonzo wouldn't be sitting the entirety of these games either. If you weren't aware, with the pitcher hitting in games, teams are forced to use a lot of pinch hitters. Luckily for the Sox, whoever they start, they'll have a pinch hitter with one of the top 5 OPS in the American League.
- Finally, in 4 games the difference between two players, even if they are the worst and best in the league, is so small that it would have very little outcome in the results.
Hopefully this calms everybody down. There is no need to get worked up about any of these personnel decisions. It's 9 games, 6 of which are against crappy teams. Gonzalez will play some, Ortiz will play a little less, but the Sox offense will still dominate. Just be happy that you don't root for the Houston Astros.