NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

August 9, 2013

Throw away the stats, this Sox team has it

On Pro Baseball
David Willis

---- — There’s no other way to say it. This 2013 Red Sox team simply defies logic.

We are now well into August and the Red Sox sit in first place in the America League East, a spot they have owned — other then a few blips — for the last four months.

And you have to ask, how?

No, seriously. How they heck are they doing this?

After approximately 20 years of following major league baseball, I can honestly say I have never seen a baseball team quite like this.

This Sox team has been, no exaggerating, the best team in baseball in 2013.

Through the Houston series, they’ve won 18 games in their final at-bat.

Eighteen!

That’s about 25 percent of their wins coming in the ninth or extra innings. That’s more wins than they had in all of August and September last season.

Of the 18 dramatic wins, 11 have been walk-offs.

This team boggles the mind!

No one would have thought twice if the Sox had lost the Aug. 1 classic. Baseball is a long, long season and the greatest of teams lose 62-plus games. So, trailing by five runs heading into the ninth in a midseason contest, a lot of teams pack it in and call it a day. But not these Sox. A six-run ninth inning later they had an 8-7 victory.

On Tuesday, they fell behind by five runs in the most ugly way possible. Ryan Lavarnway tied a major league record by committing four passed balls in the first inning. Steven Wright, who was making his first major league start, was yanked after one frame.

Quit? No chance.

Simply said, this team has guts like no one else.

In the words of many I have spoken to during my recent dabbling in music video production, this team has it.

But here is the most amazing part about this season’s Sox, about as lovable a team as pro sports and produce.

Really think about the team that is taking the field for Boston. Really, really think about this roster.

Sure, they have David Ortiz, who at 37 is having his best season since 2005 (.337, 21 homers, 73 RBIs).

But who else?

There is Dustin Pedroia, who recently signed a $100 million deal and made his fourth All-Star team. But his .295 average with eight homers is fairly underwhelming. And there is Jacoby Ellsbury, but he’s also under .300 (.298) with just seven homers.

It only gets less impressive — on paper — from there.

Their first baseman, Mike Napoli, is second in the majors in strikeouts with 147 — about one every three at-bats — and has hit just six homers since the beginning of June. Their shortstop, Stephen Drew, is a journeyman on his third team in two seasons who is hitting .249.

Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia (.264, 10 homers) is nothing to write home about and third base, oh third base, has seen a former top prospect (Will Middlebrooks) crash and burn, another prospect (Jose Iglesias) traded and is now manned by a pair of triple-A players (Brandon Snyder and Brock Holt) who will likely never find full-time major league jobs.

Left fielder Jonny Gomes has had some huge hits and is a Kevin Millar-esque talker. But he entered last night with just a .239 average. He shares that position with Daniel Nava, and as much as we love the spunky little guy, he hasn’t homered since June 18 and had just three RBIs in July.

Yet they somehow keep winning.

Their all-star pitcher, Clay Buchholz, hasn’t pitched since June 8 and no one knows when and if he’ll be back. Their “ace,” Jon Lester, since May 20 has a 5.81 ERA and a .304 batting average-against.

Their most reliable starter, John Lackey, missed all of last season after surgery, had a 6.41 ERA in 2011 and was Public Enemy No. 1 in the “Chicken and Beer” scandal a few years ago. Starter Felix Doubront, came into spring training so out of shape he didn’t pitch early in camp.

But they somehow keep winning and winning.

Their closer heading into the season, Joel Hanrahan, out for the season. His replacement, Andrew Bailey, out for the season.

In steps a 38-year-old with just 13 career saves, none since 2010. The result? Koji Uehara has been off the charts. His set-up man, Junichi Tazawa, had just 46 career major league appearances heading into the year. And he’s about the most experienced guy in the pen, other than Craig Breslow who has played for six different teams.

Yet they keep winning, and winning and winning.

The natural reaction is to compare it to 2004, a team we all like to remember as a group of scrappy go-getters. But the whole “Idiots” tag was just a good story.

That team was stacked with a sure-fire hall of fame ace (Pedro Martinez), a hall of fame-worthy co-ace (Curt Schilling) and an all-star closer (Keith Foulke). Their lineup featured maybe the best hitter of his era (Manny Ramirez), Ortiz in fine form, an underrated star (Johnny Damon) and a batting champion (Bill Mueller) just to name a few.

They struck fear into opponents. Not so with the 2013 team.

Until you look at their stats as a team. No. 1 in the majors in runs, No. 2 in slugging and No. 3 in average.

Oh, yeah, and the Sox entered yesterday tied with the Braves for the most wins in baseball.

You may not be able to explain it. I may not be able to understand it. But here we are.

But do they have enough to win the World Series? Why not. Why start doubting them now?