I haven't had to write one of these posts since April, but it seems like there is some panic washing over Sox Nation yet again. Apparently a 99 win pace, being ½ a game out of first place and all but guaranteed a playoff spot is cause for concern these days? How spoiled we’ve become. What’s worse is these fears are creeping up right as we go to Kansas City to face a team that has had to suffer through listening to Joe Buck and Tim McCarver every post season since 1985 just like the rest of us rather than playing meaningful games. Shame on you. But this post isn’t meant as a tisk tisk for the Fenway Faithful, its purpose is to remind you all of how good things are. As Ricky from Trailer Park Boys would say, “I’m an optometrist.”
The Pezmist: The offense is struggling, it's not the best in the league any more!
The Optometrist: Every offense struggles against Seattle's and Tampa's starters and the offense is still the best in the league.
First the caveats. Yes, over the last 7 games (the two series losses to Seattle and Tampa and last night against Kansas City) the offense has scored fewer runs per game than the Giants have scored on the season. And yes, the Red Sox no longer have the most runs scored in baseball (the Yankees do).
Now, over the two series losses to Seattle and Tampa, the Red Sox faced starting pitching staffs that rank fifth and second, respectively, in the American League in ERA. Over a 162 game season, especially in the "dog days of August", as they say, an offense, no matter how good it is, is likely to put up a few consecutive stinkers against strong pitching (wow that was way too many commas in one sentence, sorry). This is such an easy problem to dispel so let's move on.
As for not having the best offense in baseball anymore, this is also not true. The most runs scored doesn't necessarily mean you have the best offense. The teams who score the most runs typically have the best offenses, but it is more instructive to look at the events that lead to the run scoring because a lot of circumstance is involved. For instance, if Team A hits 9 doubles in one game, but only 1 per inning and all the runners are stranded and Team 2 hits 2 doubles in one game, but they are in the same inning and the first double scores, which team had the better offensive performance? I would hope you all answered Team A. If you did what I hope, then you will understand that Boston's offense is still better than New York's because they have a higher On Base Percentage (.349-.347), Slugging Percentage (.453-.446; Texas is second at .449) and the metric that encompasses both of these and the effects of the respective ball parks, OPS+ (116-111). The offense is humming like a '67 GT Thunderbird Plus XL (that's a good car right?).
The Pezmist: David Ortiz and Kevin Youkilis are injured!
The Optometrist: We get a chance to watch Ryan Lavarnway!
Youk is now on the DL with a sore back that sent him into a pretty rough slump (.209 average in August). Ortiz is sitting out a few games with bursitis in his foot, which for an overweight older slugger could be problematic. You know what though? We are getting our September call-ups two weeks early!
I've touched on Lavarnway before, but I'll remind you all of how good he has been this year. The catcher/DH had a strong performance in AA with a triple slash line of .284/.360/.510 before earning a promotion to AAA after 55 games. In the 55 games since, he's IMPROVED to a line of .301/.385/.610 and has 21 total homers on the year. The Red Sox haven't developed a true power hitter* since Mo Vaughn nearly 20 years ago and a right handed power hitter since probably Jim Rice almost 40 years ago. If Lavarnway develops into a consistent 30 home run a year hitter, and at 6'4" and 225 lbs he has the body for it, he could be a very unique player in Red Sox history.
*I don't include Youk as a "true power hitter" because he's never hit 30 homers and with his injury history and the fact that he is already 32 I don't see him hitting 30 homers ever.
The Pezmist: We are in trouble if we don't win the East!
The Optometrist: It doesn't matter who or where we play in the first round.
There's this growing sentiment that the Red Sox need to win the Division because if they win the Wild Card they will have to play in Texas for 3 of 5 instead of Detroit for 2 of 5. While Texas is better than Detroit and it is always preferable to play more home games than road games, I'm not concerned about this at all.
Since 1995 (16 years) when the Wild Card was implemented, there have been 4 Wild Card teams to win the World Series (including the Red Sox in '04), meaning 1 out of every 4 World Series winners has been a Wild Card in that time. And seeing as how 1 out of every 4 playoff participants is a Wild Card, this shows me that Wild Card's have an equal chance to win it all as any other team despite sometimes being a worse team and playing two or three series on the road. If you include the Wild Cards that lost the World Series (5 of them) you have 9 out of the 32 participants, which is better than 1 out of 4.
When you add in the fact that the Red Sox are a really good road team this year (best in the AL) and that they are better than Texas and I do not see a reason to panic.
The Pezmist: We have to rely on John Lackey and Erik Bedard for multiple playoff starts!
The Optometrist: Comparatively that may not be such a bad thing.
Ok, so this one is the hardest to be an optometrist about. Lackey has been somewhere south of horrible this year and Bedard is always one handshake away from Tommy John surgery. Meanwhile, the Yankees and Rangers have had two of the deeper staffs in baseball this year (all 5 Rangers starters and 4 of 5 Yankees starters have an ERA better than average).
However, Lackey and Bedard have both been decent to good lately. Since coming off the DL in June, Lackey has a strikeout to walk ratio of 3.5, which would place him in the top 10 over a full season in the American League. Bedard has had a strikeout to walk ratio of 4.25 in three starts and an ERA of 3.38. They are not perfect options, but I think each of them can keep this team competitive in a playoff start or two. With Jon Lester and Josh Beckett leading the way, I think "competitive" is all this team will need.
Hopefully this post gives all of you a serious jolt of optometrism. Life is good with this baseball team and it should be good in October as well. I think some people are falling victim to the length of the season. In 162 games it is easy to find flaws, just like if you stared at Olivia Wilde long enough I'm sure you could find a flaw with her (no you can't!). Theo Epstein has put together an absolute machine of a baseball team. Enjoy it.