The Week In Sox: Apologetics For The 2017 Red Sox




I get it.

You can’t look at the 2017 Boston Red Sox and see many, if any comparisons to the 2013 World Championship Club on the surface.

The chemistry just isn’t the same. The leadership isn’t the same. The veteran experience isn’t the same.

There isn’t as much facial hair …

There are a lot of factors seeming to point toward an early postseason exit.

Factors pointing toward possibly no trip to the postseason at all.

There’s a perceived lack of power in the lineup, little depth off the bench (Guys like Jonny Gomes/Daniel Nava and Mike Carp are often unjust afterthoughts when we think about the ’13 club), an awkward (and growing) battle with the media and — very simply — there’s no David Ortiz.

This year just doesn’t feel like 2013.

But here’s the thing.

I’m on board.

The 2017 Red Sox can win the World Series if they can solve a couple of “if” propositions.

Which, at this point of the season, is not terribly different from where the club was in 2013.

But we just felt better about the 2013 club, right?

They felt like a team that could win any game, against any odds, despite any deficit. They won five remarkable games after trailing in the ninth inning during the regular season.

The Aug. 1 six-runs-in-the-ninth-inning comeback win over the Mariners was in fact the moment I knew without a doubt they’d go on to win it all.

This year’s club, frankly, doesn’t feel that way at all.

More so, it would seem, after a clunker of a series in Anaheim over the weekend and the lack of any signature series since the All-Star break.

But when you hold 2013 and 2017 up against each other, there are important — and striking — similarities.

The are even some areas — crucial areas — where the 2017 club is markedly better.

We feel like the 2013 club was better in come-from-behind situations …

Punctuated, I might add, by David Ortiz with one of the greatest grand slams of all time in Game 2 of the ALCS. 

Consider:

                                                    2013    2017   2017 pace

Wins after trailing in the 7th        11           9           14.6

Wins after trailing in the 8th        7            6           9.7

Wins after trailing in the 9th        5            1          1.62

Comeback wins                                36         22        35.6

 

The 2017 club is on pace to out-perform or match the 2013 in late-game wins in every category except for the (fairly important) trailing-in-the-ninth category.

We feel like 2013 had better power & better run-scoring ability …

                                             2013        2017        2017 pace

Home Runs                            178            99             160

Runs                                        853            470           761

Baserunners scored             15%            15%          —

 

The 2017 Red Sox leave a ton of runners on base. There’s no arguing it, and there’s no getting past the frustration — especially in a close ballgame … and even more so in a close loss.

We forget, though, that the 2013 club left a ton of runners on base too.

It was in that season that I began viewing runners left on base less as a negative and more as a sign of a lineup able to get at a pitching staff and wear it down over the course of a game.

The idea that a higher OBP will naturally leave for a higher LOB. A byproduct of a positive more than a symptom of a problem.

In both that season and this, Boston brought 15 percent of its baserunners around to score.

No better, no worse.

No argument, though, that 2013 club could score runs. And, if the current pacing holds, it’ll have scored nearly 100 more runs than this year’s club will — though, spread over a season, that amounts to a difference 0.62 runs per game.

It’ll also have hit 18 more home runs than this year’s club will (again, if the current pacing holds).

That’s one home run over every 10 games more than this year’s club.

That is, of course, not considering that some of Boston’s traditional late bloomers might hit their late season hot streaks again — Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., even Hanley Ramirez would be candidates there.

What’s interesting is that this year’s club is on pace to have five guys (Betts, Ramirez, Bradley Jr., Mitch Moreland and Andrew Benintendi) eclipse the 20-home run mark.

That’s more than half of the starting lineup, and it doesn’t include the currently struggling Xander Bogaerts.

Betts and Ramirez are both on pace to eclipse 25 home runs.

The 2013 club had just two players (David Ortiz with 30 and Mike Napoli with 23) top the 20 home run mark.

What does that tell us?

Boston got more consistent power further down its lineup in 2013, but it has more power in the top half of its lineup in 2017.

The callup of hard-swinging Rafael Devers (he’s due to start vs. Seattle Tuesday evening) could certainly broaden the power depth. He won’t hit 20 home runs (and maybe not the equivalent of 8 through the remaining 62 games).

But he could provide some fireworks.

We feel like the 2017 club isn’t built for the playoffs …

Largely due to the points referenced above.

But here’s the thing — Power largely goes away in the postseason (why is this always overlooked?). Doesn’t matter how good the team is.

Weather, better pitching, heightened tensions — we just don’t see home runs at the same rate that we do during the regular season.

Pitching, not power, is what championship teams of the Moneyball era are built on.

Teams built largely on power (cough … Yankees … cough) traditionally don’t pass muster in the postseason.

Last year’s Cubs were something of an anomaly in that respect — In my opinion thanks in large part to two unseasonably warm nights in Cleveland for games 6 and 7 (they hit only two home runs in three chilly games in Chicago before exploding for six in the final two games of the series).

The 2013 Red Sox, for example, who hit 1.09 home runs for every regular season game they played, only hit 10 in 14 postseason games — or one every 0.71 games.

Last year’s Cubs were second in the National League in runs and fifth in the league in home runs during the regular season. Their 1.23 home runs per game through the regular season dwindled only slightly in the postseason to 1.18 (though it would’ve dropped to somewhere around 0.94 if not for the closing games in Cleveland).

But they also had elite-level starting pitching and an elite-level bullpen (top staff ERA in the National League bullpen, third in strikeouts).

And that, it would seem, can carry just about any type of offense.

Cleveland, for example, won the AL last year ranked 10th in the league in home runs. Kansas City was 14th out of 15 AL teams in home runs and sixth in runs scored during its 2015 World Championship season. San Francisco was seventh in the National League in home runs and fifth in runs scored during the regular season for its 2014 World Championship campaign.

But each team could pitch.

Cleveland was tops in the American League in strikeouts, second in ERA in 2016. KC was third in ERA in 2015 and the Giants, well, they had Madison Bumgarner.

Teams that win in the postseason are built around stellar pitching rotations and stellar bullpens — two things in which the 2017 Red Sox hold in elite status.

As a collective staff, they have the best ERA in the American League. They are also third in strikeouts.

Statistically, they are pitching better than the 2013 staff almost across the board. Their ace is better. Their rotation depth is better. The bullpen is, well, comparable.

They’re looking at a potential postseason rotation of Chris Sale (2.48 ERA, 200K in 141 IP), David Price (3.82 ERA, 63K in 66 IP), Drew Pomeranz (3.51 ERA, 108K in 102 IP) and either Rick Porcello or Eduardo Rodriguez with whoever doesn’t start moving into a long relief role.

Craig Kimbrel is entrenched as the top closer in the game this season and the addition of a veteran arm to the bullpen during trade season would bolster Matt Barnes, Heath Hembree, Joe Kelly and Robby Scott. And there is the possibility that Carson Smith could return and be a factor late in the season.

This team has what you see in recent World Series contenders: pitching, defense, speed on the basepaths.

The power is inconsistent — but the same will be true for everyone else come the postseason.

Take a deep breath, Sox fans.

The team is scuffling through a marathon 14-game stretch in 13 days which included a cross-country flight from about as far east as you can be to about as far west as you can be AND a flight from about as far south as you can be to about as far north as you can be.

They’ve played 16-inning and 15-inning tilts within this stretch, not to mention a doubleheader. And they’ve gone 5-6 through it.

They’re feeling their way toward the postseason without David Ortiz for the first time in 15 years. And none of know what that is supposed to look like.

But they’re in first place.

They have the best starting pitcher in the league.

The best defensive outfield in the league.

The most exciting young core in the league.

Five guys statistically more likely to hit a home run than all but two players on the 2013 roster.

They’ll add depth and experience before the trade deadline passes.

And they just called up one of the best prospects in the game.

It’s all there.

We’ll just have to wait and see what happens.