Thursday, April 10, 2014

Comparing the Start of 2014 to the Start of 2013

After reading Art’s post about the Red Sox’ start through nine games, I started to make a comment about the helter-skelter nature of the early 2014 schedule and how it seems to be preventing this team from getting in a groove. So I went back and did some research on their start to the 2013 season, and what I found led me to blow this up into its own post.  Here’s what I found:
  • The early season schedule through nine games in 2014 has certainly been crazy. Check out these start times:
               3/31 - @ Baltimore - 3:00pm (season opener)
               4/2 - @ Baltimore - 7:05pm (normal weeknight start time)
               4/4 - vs. Milwaukee - 2:05pm (home opener)
               4/6 - vs. Milwaukee - 1:35pm (Sunday start time)
               4/8 - vs Texas - 6:05pm (experiment with earlier start time for warmth/sunlight)
               4/9 - vs. Texas - 4:00pm (getaway day)

That’s six different start times in the first nine games.  When you throw in a trip to the White House on April 1 and the home opener/World Series rings ceremony on April 4, it has been really hard to establish any kind of rhythm throughout the first nine games of this season.  Baseball is a game of routine, and if start times and ceremonies prevent players from getting into a comfortable routine, then the on-field performance suffers.  Hence, the slightly disappointing 4-5 start to the season.  
  • For comparison, in the first nine games of 2013, 8 of the 9 games started at either 1:00 (3 times) or 7:00 (5 times).  The only exception was a 2:00pm start time for the Baltimore home opener.  This consistency allowed our everyday players to establish their rhythm early on and got us out to the great start that led to a great season. Through nine games in 2013, our record was.......5-4.  Wait, what?!?! That’s right, even though the first nine games of 2014 feels a little disappointing, the Sox are only one game off their 2013 pace.
  • In their 5-4 start in 2013, the Red Sox outscored their opponents 46-31. In their 4-5 start in 2013, the Red Sox have been outscored 35-37. I’ll let you decide what this means, if anything.
  • Throughout the first 16 games of the 2013 season, no Red Sox starting pitcher gave up more than 3 runs, which is probably the biggest factor that went into the 46-31 run differential mentioned above. In 2014, Buchholz has been torched for 6 runs (he didn’t give up a single run in his first 22 innings pitched of 2013), and Doubie has been roughed up for 5 runs. Is this a symptom of the aforementioned helter-skelter early season schedule? Is this an indication that the teams playing the Red Sox are taking their pitching staff more seriously in 2014 coming off a World Series championship than they did in 2013 when the Sox were coming off the dumpster full of dog poo that was 2012? Or is this just an over-examination of a small sample size? It should be mentioned that in 7 out of 9 games to start the season, the Red Sox’ starting pitching has been very good, Lester’s 0-2 record be damned.
  • Along with a more consistent start time routine, the 2013 Red Sox were helped by starting the season with players in clearly-defined roles, which allowed them to get into a rhythm and allowed the Red Sox to get off to a good start and never look back all season long. At least that’s how I remember it. Right?  Not so much. See if you remember these events:
    • Gas Can Joel Hanrahan had three saves in the first seven games of the 2013 season before coming down with arm issues. The closer job was in a state of flux throughout the first two-and-a-half months of 2013 - first it was Hanrahan, then it was Andrew Bailey, then it was back to Hanrahan, then Junichi Tazawa got a couple of looks, Alex Wilson got some action, before we finally settled on Koji Uehara in mid June and the rest is history. Somewhere in there, some idiot made a post declaring that Hanrahan was a good pitcher and would be fine as this team’s closer (my defense: he was hurt! Just like John Lackey! He is good when he’s healthy, really!)
    • Alfredo Aceves pitched for this team. It’s true. He even got a win in game 14. Then he gave up 7 runs in 3 innings to the A’s on April 23 and shortly thereafter got demoted to AAA, and was hardly heard from again.
    • David Ortiz missed the first 15 games of the 2013 season and most of spring training with soreness in both heels. Coming off his achilles injury in 2012, many thought he may never hit for power again. I forget this part of 2013.
    • Shane Victorino was dealing with lower back stiffness right around this period and was in and out of the lineup.
    • Jose Iglesias was making starts at SS while Stephen Drew was out of the lineup. Iglesias hit so well that many were clamoring to make Drew a backup utility player.
  • Whether it was consistent start times leading to routines, defined roles leading to chemistry, or simply dominant starting pitching, after starting 5-4 the 2013 Red Sox ripped off a seven-game winning streak from April 13-April 20.  During this seven-game stretch, the Red Sox outscored their opponents 33-14. This seven game winning streak should probably comprise its own book. It could be the most interesting stretch of seven games in recent major league history. Consider the following:
    • The seven straight wins put the Red Sox at 12-4, allowing the Red Sox to finish April 18-8 and in 1st place in the AL East. Their April head start helped the Red Sox win their first AL East crown in six years.
    • On Monday, April 15, the Red Sox beat the Rays 3-2 on a walk-off double by Mike Napoli after Andrew Bailey blew a save chance in the top of the 9th. Hours after the game, while the Red Sox players are already on the bus to Logan Airport to catch their flight to Cleveland, bombs explode near the finish line of the Boston Marathon
    • On Tuesday, April 16, the Red Sox pound the Indians 7-2. The Sox scored 7 runs in the second inning, led by a Mike Napoli three-run double. Doubront pitched five innings, giving up two runs with seven strikeouts. This game was Terry Francona’s first against Boston since being fired after the 2011 collapse. The Red Sox hang a uniform in their dugout with the number “617” on it with the words “Boston Strong”. This uniform remains with the team throughout their run to the World Series championship. Before the game, Cleveland plays “Sweet Caroline”, observes a moment of silence, and flies their flag at half mast. In fact, across all of baseball, teams and fan bases observe moments of silence and wave “Boston Strong” posters.
    • On Wednesday, April 17, the Red Sox beat the Indians again 6-3. Alfredo Fettuccine Aceves tossed five shutout innings for the win. Mike Napoli had an RBI single in the first inning, the Sox scored three in the first frame, and they won their fifth game in a row. After the game, Red Sox players talk about how the tragedy of the Marathon Bombings and being away from their families in Cleveland brought them all closer together as a team and created a strong bond.  After the game, 22 of Boston’s 25 players all go out to dinner together.
    • On Thursday, April 18, the Red Sox won their sixth game in a row.  Lester pitched seven strong innings and Jarrod Saltalamacchia smacked a home run. After the game, John Farrell and several players talked about how happy they were to be going back home to Boston. They spoke of being able to give Bostonians a chance to escape the trauma in the aftermath of the bombings. They had no idea what was about to happen when they did return home to Boston.
    • On Friday, April 19, the Red Sox were supposed to play the Royals in the first game at Fenway since the bombings. Instead, the city of Boston went into lockdown Friday morning, and remained in lockdown until Friday evening. News outlets gave constant coverage of the Tsarnaev brothers’ night of carnage throughout greater Boston on the 18th into the 19th. The city became a ghost town on the 19th. The streets were eerily empty. The Red Sox and Bruins games were cancelled that night. Everyone stayed inside and watched the manhunt for the younger Tsarnaev brother on TV and on Twitter. 
    • On Saturday, April 20, the Red Sox beat the Royals 4-3. Daniel Nava hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the 8th to take the lead. Andrew Bailey picked up the save. But this day is best known as the day the Red Sox helped Bostonians restore some sense of normalcy to the city after a tumultuous week. David Ortiz exclaimed, “This is our fucking city. We won’t let anyone dictate our freedom”. He then played in his first game of 2013. Neil Diamond showed up in the flesh to sing “Sweet Caroline” in the middle of the eighth inning, minutes before Nava’s home run. Through it all, the 617 uniform hung in the Red Sox dugout. You remember the rest.
    • Now you tell me that seven game stretch (really a five game stretch) wouldn’t make a fantastic book, and wasn’t largely the catalyst for the 2013 team’s unbreakable chemistry, resiliency, and championship.
And so back to the original intent of this post, which was to examine the nine game start of the 2014 season. I think the lesson here is that every team is in flux throughout the first dozen games of every season, often times much longer than that. Last year we were dealing with a closer carousel, a disabled Papi, and the residual stench of 2012.  This year we’re dealing with a hole at 3B, a crowded outfield, a revolving door at leadoff, a helter-skelter schedule, and high expectations. Maybe the consistency of the 2013 schedule helped that team establish roles and take off on a seven-game winning streak.  Maybe the shared grief from the marathon bombings allowed the 2013 to gel more quickly than they ever would have otherwise (by the way, it wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies in 2013 after April 20. The 2013 team lost 9 out of 11 games from May 3-14). Maybe the 2014 team lacks both of these advantages.  Maybe the 2014 team will never take 22 guys out to the same dinner. 

But if we win the next seven games in a row, then all bets are off.

1 comment:

  1. Good trip down memory lane...One thing you could add to that book (which would be fantastic btw) is the Bruins playing their first home game and the crowd singing the national anthem. That was an amazing moment also.

    I have had a lot of theories banging around in my head about the start of this season. All of which you addressed, and you brought one thing up that I haven't thought of, but I think it is the key. That is the fact that most baseball teams don't have a seminal bonding moment that early in the season. Over the course of a long season the manager and coaches usually hope for something to happen (certainly not something as tragic as the bombings) that will help unite their team and help build chemistry. You can't force those things to happen. All of those events you just eloquently pointed out lead to that team coming together early and never looking back. Here's to hoping that this year's team comes together at some point before it is too late (I'm not suggesting that April is too late, but sometimes these things take time). Hopefully we're still not waiting for this to happen in September. Right around July or August would be fine with me.

    I do think that while this years team is younger but more talented, that there are more pieces that need to fall in to place. While last year it seemed like everything fell in to place. I.E. Stephen Drew gets a concussion in Spring Training and you have Iglesias ready to become a major league SS. Every time someone got hurt there was someone ready to fill that spot. This year it hasn't happened that way, i.e. Will Middlebrooks gets hurt and there was not an heir apparent (who was ready for the majors) waiting to step up. Now if Middlebrooks gets hurt again in the middle of June he may never get his job back from Cecchini.

    Now in a funny way I think that these are all good problem to have early in the year because once things start to click i.e. the lead off spot, the batting order, clutch hitting, pitching and defense. This team will be very tough to beat. Let me get my jab in here for Bogaerts hitting 2nd. The Red Sox best hitters are too spread out in the line up right now and that's playing a small role in the lack of clutch hitting right now. Their rally killing hitters keep coming up in the wrong moments. And our BAPIP must be insanely low right now!!!