Technically speaking, the Boston Red Sox should be the best team in baseball. I say “technically,” because right now they aren’t. The Tampa Bay Rays claimed the AL East last night, and show no sign of letting up on their push for glory.
Both of these teams have suffered setbacks, losing streaks, key injured players and more. Indeed, their paths to where they are now are rather similar.
Now, comparing the Red Sox (the defending World Champions) and the Rays (this is their first postseason berth ever) might seem a bit odd, or even a bit ridiculous. However, it isn’t entirely if you think about it.
When the Rays lost Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria to the DL, most people—myself included—believed that the Rays were effectively out of the pennant race. The loss of two men who could be considered two of their strongest and best players was a crippling blow, but the Rays persevered. Other members of the team stepped up to bat, literally, and carried the team while Longoria and Crawford worked their way back from the DL.
This is not unlike what the Red Sox are currently dealing with. Mike Lowell is out on the DL with injured quads. JD Drew has a back that just won’t get better and in August, was placed on the DL retroactive to August 18th.
This could have been a crippling blow to the Red Sox, but they pulled themselves together, and combined with timely hitting from Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia and other players, managed not to fall far back from the Rays.
The pitching staff on both teams should be equally matched, as should the fielders. Why then are the Rays ahead of the Sox in the AL East? This can be summed up in one word: consistency.
Throughout the season, the Rays have consistently proven themselves, playing games efficiently and with few stumbles. They have consistently hit well, pitched well, fielded well and overall kept their team in first place in the AL East for most of the season.
The Sox, however, have been struggling with consistency, whether or not it is with their hitting or pitching. In 2007, Josh Beckett was considered the Sox’ ace, but he was having trouble right out of Spring Training in ’08. His starts weren’t as consistently solid as they were last year, and when he did throw well, the offense wasn’t there to back him up.
The Red Sox’ offense has been hot and cold throughout the season. As a team, they need to focus on hitting well at the same time as the others. It doesn’t do much when one or two players are hitting hot when the rest of the lineup isn’t doing anything. A hot-hitting lead-off hitter will get nowhere if the batter in the two-hole isn’t backing him up.
However, the Sox’ bullpen has perhaps been the most perplexing and, at times, aggravating part of the ’08 team. For the first half of the season, they were highly unreliable and oftentimes worrisome. Hideki Okajima, who had been so solid in the 2007 season, struggled early on and the Red Sox management was forced to look elsewhere for bullpen support.
That support came in the form of Justin Masterson, a call-up from AA Portland, a Red Sox minor league system. Masterson rocketed through the system, starting several games for the Sox before being converted into a reliever. This proved to be a wise move, for Masterson provided strong, consistently good relief. One man cannot change an entire season however.
To become World Champions for the second year in a row, the Sox will have to start hitting and pitching consistently. They have the depth, the strength and the capability to pull off a repeat. What they need now is one thing: consistency. So let’s tip our hats to the defending World Champions and hope that they can pull it together.
Keep the faith.