Thursday, September 5, 2013
Best team in baseball? Maybe it's Boston
By David Schoenfield
The Boston Red Sox put together all kinds of fun factoids in their 20-4 mauling of the Detroit Tigers at Fenway Park: Their first 20-run game since 2003 when they scored 25 against the Marlins, eight home runs to tie a club record set in 1977 against the Blue Jays, and as many runs in one game as they've scored for John Lackey in his past nine starts.
Here's another fun fact to consider: The Red Sox are the best team in baseball.
OK, that's more opinion than verifiable truth, but it seems the consensus thoughts is the Dodgers are the best team right now, based on their amazing 52-13 record since June 22 and their dynamic one-two starting pitching duo of Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. Or maybe it's the Braves, owners of the best record in baseball and the fewest runs allowed in the majors. Current odds to win the World Series from Bovada.lv also list the Tigers ahead of the Red Sox.
David Ortiz had the power to reach the seats two more times, but will it carry him to Cooperstown?
The common theme here: Those three teams are perceived to have better pitching than the Red Sox, and maybe that's the case. But offense is half the game and that's where the Red Sox trump every other team in baseball.
The full force of the Boston lineup was in display on Wednesday, a lineup that goes nine deep with Will Middlebrooks hitting ninth and producing since his return from the minor leagues. You saw what happened when Jim Leyland took the risk of intentionally walking Stephen Drew to load the bases with no outs in the sixth inning, the Red Sox up 5-4 at the time. Leyland made the move to set up a double play; Rick Porcello, a ground-ball pitcher, was on the mound. But intentional walks also set you up for a big inning and that's what happened. Mike Carp pinch-hit for David Ross and walked, knocking out Porcello, and Middlebrooks drove a middle-in fastball from Al Alburquerque over the Green Monster for a grand slam. After David Ortiz doubled in a run and Daniel Nava hit a two-run homer it was an eight-run inning and game over.
The focal point of the Red Sox's offense remains the 37-year-old Ortiz, who homered in the fourth and then hit his 26th home run in the seventh. The three-hit night gave Ortiz 2,001 hits in his career and improved his season line to .313/.396/.567, solidifying his case as a viable down-ballot MVP choice. He's having one of the best offensive seasons ever for a 37-year-old, with an OPS+ of 153 entering the game, 11th-best since 1901 (the top 10: Barry Bonds, Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Ted Williams, Tris Speaker, Edgar Martinez, Andres Galarraga, Tony Gwynn, Willie Mays and Honus Wagner).
So the Red Sox lead the majors in runs scored. The Dodgers, meanwhile, were hitting Michael Young cleanup on Wednesday. OK, they were resting a couple guys, but it's a lineup that regularly includes Mark Ellis, Juan Uribe and A.J. Ellis. Solid contributors, yes, but they wouldn't be starting for Boston. The Tigers have scored 13 fewer runs than the Red Sox -- thank you, Miguel Cabrera -- but have a couple holes at the bottom of their order. The Braves have two regulars hitting under .200 and another with an OBP under .300.
And don't overlook Boston's pitching. Jon Lester has looked his best in two years, Lackey has been solid all season and trade deadline acquisition Jake Peavy provides an excellent third man with underrated Felix Doubront probably lining up as the fourth guy in a playoff series. There's no Kershaw or Max Scherzer, but you can win it all with that rotation and a bullpen that has been as good as anybody of let, led by nearly unhittable closer Koji Uehara.
People like to say that pitching wins in October. "Just look at the Giants!" they say. True, the Giants' starters got hot at the right time -- they allowed seven runs total in winning the final three games of the NLCS and sweeping the World Series -- but they also averaged more than five per game in those seven victories. You need pitching and hitting. And the Red Sox have both.