By Andre Khatchaturian
BU News Service
Koji Uehara once again made it look very easy when he recorded his first save of 2014 as the Boston Red Sox wrapped up their first series win. The team also pounded out 14 hits. The way they won made it seem like the party from 2013 was carrying over to this year.
Sure, there are still 159 long games left in the marathon season. However, the series showed that the Sox may have been hammered after winning it all last year, but they took their hangover pills and are ready to play the same way they did in 2013.
No team has repeated as champions since the Yankees did so in 2000. Since then, six of the 13 champions failed to even make the playoffs. The 2005 Red Sox and the 2002 Diamondbacks made the playoffs but both were swept in their respective League Division Series. Just two – the 2001 Yankees and the 2009 Phillies were able to make it to the playoffs. These teams were established powers at the time and had the firepower to get that far.
The Red Sox, as almost every fan knows, overachieved last year. No one expected them to do what they did. Everything clicked, the bullpen got hot at the right time and they completed a worst to first season. Generally when that happens, one can expect a regression to the mean during the following season, especially when the team loses one of its best players like the Sox did with Jacoby Ellsbury. It really wouldn’t be that much of a surprise if the Red Sox slip from last season.
That said, after the first three games, the Red Sox still look like the team from last year. David Ortiz is tearing the ball up as he’s reached base seven times in his first 15 plate appearances. Xander Bogaerts continues to show signs of a promising career with an OBP of .667. The bullpen hasn’t allowed a run. And finally, the starting pitching held a powerful Baltimore Orioles lineup featuring Chris Davis, Nick Markakis, Nelson Cruz, Adam Jones, and Delmon Young to just seven earned runs over a three game span.
Even the bad looks the same. Jonny Gomes has only one hit and Mike Napoli and Will Middlebrooks have struck out for a combined seven times.
No, the Red Sox aren’t undefeated, but the way played against Baltimore was similar to the way they played all season long last year. Nothing has changed. They’re still getting contact on pitches they swing (80.4 percent contact rate – third best in the majors even though, yes, it’s a small sample size) and they’re taking the first pitch 78.3 percent of the time – fourth highest in the league.
The Red Sox have a special way of playing. They take bad pitches and swing and get contact on the good ones. When they’re on “their game”, they end up getting W’s. It doesn’t seem to matter if Jonny Gomes or Jacoby is leading off in the lineup. The formula worked last year, and John Farrell’s boys are trying to make it work again this year.
The team is sticking to the championship script and after their first series against a pretty good Orioles team who will likely stick around until September, things are looking up. If the Red Sox are going to repeat this season, they need to stick to that script.