May 4, 2014; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox mascot Wally before the game against the Oakland Athletics at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
The Detroit Tigers and Boston Red Sox — 2013 ALCS foes — are set to square off for their first series of the season Friday night in Boston. I had a chance to sit down and swap emails with Sean Sylver, editor of BoSox Injection, to talk about this year’s version of the Red Sox, how the American League East might shape up, and what might (or might not) have been had David Ortiz‘s Game 2 grand slam not cleared the fence.
My questions are in bold and Sean’s responses follow. Enjoy!
The Boston Red Sox currently sit just one game above .500. Is there concern in New England that this team might have trouble breaking through, or is the recent 10-game stretch (7-of-10) more indicative of where the Sox are heading?
I think fans expected the Sox to pick right back up where they left off last year. 2013 was the confluence of a number of factors that aided the Red Sox in putting together a truly magical season. Lightning doesn’t strike twice too often. I thought the Rays were really scary heading into this year but their pitching has sustained some brutal injuries. So, for the moment, a regression to the mean is okay for the Sox because no one’s running away with the division. I have concerns the Sox will be able to hit enough and in key spots, but a few examples from the last ten games have certainly helped keep them in the picture, and that’s enough to ask of them right now.
The AL East is always a meat grinder, but we’re halfway into May and no team(s) have really separated themselves (first through fourth are within 1.5 games of each other). How do you see this division playing out into the summer and down the stretch?
I think this is setting up to be a tremendous battle for the division. The Rays are down a few pitchers. The Yankees have the same problem. The Red Sox had some injuries, but they’ve been comparatively healthy with the scenes in St. Pete and New York. I don’t think anyone expected Baltimore or Toronto to compete for the top slot, but those teams are right in step. It will come down to pitching. Will the Yankees and Rays get those high-end arms back? In Matt Moore‘s case — Ivan Nova‘s case — nope. But the Red Sox won last year with a strong rotation, one-through-five. Buchholz and Doubront need to make the fans feel like there’s a chance to win the game.
Jon Lester, Friday night’s starter, has always been a very good pitcher, but he’s been an absolute stud so far this year. What’s been different?
I think a lot of people wrote Lester off with the “chicken and beer” fiasco of 2011 and a troublesome 2012 that saw all of his numbers take a hit. The environment around the team was toxic and fans turned on a bloated Josh Beckett and a version of John Lackey that Lackey would probably like to forget. But Jon Lester had been in the conversation as one of the top 10 pitchers in the American League prior to a late injury that threw off his control. His walks shot up; then he struggled to throw quality strikes and balls started flying out of the yard. Under John Farrell and pitching coach Juan Nieves, there’s been some tinkering, maybe some regained focus, and he’s right back in that conversation now.
Do you ever wonder what might have happened if David Ortiz’s ALCS Game 2 grand slam took a slightly lower trajectory and instead found it’s way into Torii Hunter‘s glove? I do.
I certainly do. One can’t discount how outrageously close that series was — if the Tigers had the Red Sox luck, they would have swept the thing. We really can’t account for luck in baseball; that’s part of what makes the game great. Like David Ortiz being “clutch.” Who knows if he is or isn’t? All I know is I’m ecstatic he did what he did. The Tigers are a scary team once again and I think, in a rematch, they’d be the prohibitive favorites.