Baseball BeatSeptember 06, 2006
Boston's Theme
By Rich Lederer

"If you get caught between the moon and New York City,
The best that you can do, the best that you can do, is finish second."

With apologies to Christopher Cross, the Boston Red Sox once again look as if they will finish behind their arch rivals in the American League East. If the division race plays out as expected, the New York Yankees will win their ninth AL East title in a row while the Sox will end up as the bridesmaid for a like number of consecutive years.

There are worse things in baseball than placing second every season. For confirmation, just ask the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. The cellar dwellers have been in the league for the same number of years as the Yanks and Sox have captured first and second, respectively. In these nine years (including 2006), the Devil Rays have finished last every time, save for 2004 when they. . .gasp, ended up in fourth, three games ahead of the Toronto Blue Jays.

Two-thousand-and-four is significant for one other minor reason. Boston just happened to win the World Series that year in a post-season for the ages. The Red Sox swept the then Anaheim Angels in the ALDS, then beat the Yanks four straight after falling behind three games to none in the ALCS. It's almost easy to forget for those of us who don't live, breathe, sleep, and eat the Sox that Boston had been outscored 32-16 in those three losses. The inhabitants of Fenway Park looked like they were dead in the water at that point. Nonetheless, the Red Sox came back and won four in a row, including back-to-back, extra-inning victories in games four and five. Then, in an almost anti-climatic World Series, the Sox got the brooms out and swept the St. Louis Cardinals, outscoring their counterparts 24-12 in the process.

Last year wasn't so bad either. . .well, at least with respect to the regular season. The Red Sox and Yankees finished with identical 95-67 records, leaving them in a tie for first. Or so some would like to think. But the reality of the matter is that New York was credited with the AL East title by virtue of winning their season series with the Red Sox ten to nine. Boston beat out the Cleveland Indians for the wild card by two games.

First, second. . .it doesn't really matter a whole lot as long as you qualify for the post-season. In fact, the World Series champ from 2002-2004 was none other the wild card. The Angels, Marlins, and, yes, the Red Sox all emerged victorious by sneaking into the playoffs and getting hot at the right time. It just so happened that there was an even hotter club last year. The Chicago White Sox led the American League with 99 victories, including five straight to end the campaign. The Pale Hose then swept the defending World Champs in the ALDS, beat the Angels four out of five in the ALCS, and completed their dream season by sweeping the Houston Astros in the Fall Classic.

Despite a disappointing post-season in 2005, the Red Sox were still the popular choice to win their division and even the league this year. At the All-Star break, Boston was three games in front of New York. A month later, the Red Sox were two games behind the Yankees. Fast forward to today and the team that has a bad case of "seconditis" finds itself eight games back of the Bronx Bombers. Moreover, Boston is six games behind in the wild card standings and looking as if it will be on the outside looking in come October for the first time since 2002.

EAST          W   L   PCT    GB   HOME   ROAD   RS   RA 
NY Yankees   82  55  .599     -  43-25  39-30  776  646  
Boston       75  64  .540   8.5  43-26  32-38  717  705  
Toronto      72  67  .518  11.5  42-28  30-39  697  669  
Baltimore    61  77  .442  21.5  36-34  25-43  661  759  
Tampa Bay    55  84  .396  28.5  36-34  19-50  592  729 

Interestingly, Boston's win-loss record is actually better than what one would expect, given its run differential. Having scored 717 runs and allowed 705, the team's Pythagorean record works out to approximately 71-68. The Yankees, by comparison, are playing right about in line with expectations based on runs scored and prevented.

Look, the Red Sox have nothing to be ashamed of - they just picked the wrong division. New York has won at least 87 games every year since 1996 and 95 or more in eight of the last nine. Boston, on the other hand, has garnered a minimum of 92 victories in six of the past eight seasons. The Red Sox have been good. Very good. The Yankees just have been great during this same period.

It hasn't always been this way though. Hard to believe but the Sox had a better record than the Yanks in 17 of the previous 30 seasons (1966-1995). The Bostonians also thoroughly dominated the New Yorkers from 1903-1918, topping them in 13 of those 16 campaigns while capturing five world championships. The real problem is what took place between those two stretches. Get this, from 1919-1965 - a span of 47 years - the Red Sox had the superior win total TWICE. Yep, Boston won more games in 1946 and 1948 and that was it. The Sox won the AL title in 1946 but lost to the Cardinals in the World Series in seven games.

The Red Sox have certainly closed the gap over the years but are finding it difficult to overcome their competitors to the south. If not for the World Series championship two years ago, I believe the disappointment in failing to win the division more often would be an even bigger deal.

This winter will likely be one of reflection from principal owner John Henry to president Larry Lucchino to general manager Theo Epstein to manager Terry Francona all the way down to the players. Sure, the team has suffered a number of injuries this season. But there have been a number of mistakes, too, including judgments in personnel and flawed in-game strategy. Who will be back and who won't will be part of the intrigue, yet the real question comes down to whether the Red Sox have what it takes to dethrone the Yankees - be it money, smarts, or players. Only time will tell.


So help me if I hear another story about how the Yankees are "good for baseball". A while back Joe Sheehan of BP talked about how dynasties are good for sports in that they give other teams something to shoot for. I'd agree with that in the case of 3-5 year dynasties. But the Yankees don't have to go through the rebuilding phases like other clubs. For the past 10 years it's been this same "dynasty". I can't wait to see it end -- be it from Boston, Toronto or even Baltimore or Tampa Bay.

"Sure, the team has suffered a number of injuries this season."
- That's the understatement of the year.

Don't get me wrong, the Red Sox do have flaws for sure. However, this year by my count 17 players (Manny, Ortiz, Varitek, Gonzalez, Loretta, Crisp, Nixon, Pena, Kapler, Schilling, Clement, Wakefield, Foulke, Papelbon, Lester, Wells and DiNardo) have been out for significant stretches with injuries, the majority of them all at once in the last couple months when the Red Sox have fallen out of the race.

No team, even the Yankees, could have sustained these losses and remained competitive. And, yes, I do know that they have sustained some big hits this year - but still not to the extent the Red Sox have over the last couple months with fully two-thirds of the team out of action.

"No team, even the Yankees, could have sustained these losses and remained competitive. And, yes, I do know that they have sustained some big hits this year - but still not to the extent the Red Sox have"

I can't believe you wrote that. Talk about blinders. Sheff and Matsui out the whole year. Cano, the possible batting champ out, what was it, six weeks or so. Rivera on the shelf now. Farns with nagging injuries much of the season that required him to miss time. Moose on the shelf. Cairo banged up as well as Phillips. And, if you're gonna count Wells, well, I'll count Pavano. Honestly, I think I'm missing some. And, if you count DiNardo and Kapler, I guess I'll through in Rasner, who would have filled in earlier if not for injuries. Not to mention Dotel's setbacks.

Yeah, poor sox, they've had it so much tougher. ;)

Just wanted to let you know that your column is the first one I read each morning, very enjoyable-thank you. best wishes.

What you all don't know is that the Red Sox where going through a "Rebuilding Year". Ya I know your all gonna flip out and say "That's no Rebuilding Year!" or "The Red Sox have so much money they don't have to rebuild!" Well thats true but with the intensity or Fans and the team's payroll, Boston's rebuilding would not be like teams with miniscule payrolls. It was time for Theo and the Red Sox to start infusing youth into a very old team. He did that by Getting Crisp in the Center, Papelbon in the closer role, Hansen and Delcarmen in the pen, Lester and Beckett in the Rotation. And soon we'll see Pedoria at second. By infusing youth into your team, it helps keep payroll down and a good, talented team on the field. By saving money on these young players, the Red Sox will be able to afford Curt Schilling, Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, and then be able to bring in another starter or bat. After the World Series the Red Sox were too old and had too many veterans(which equals high contracts). They decided to bring int he youth but still perform to Red Sox nation standards. If they didn't you would see another Boston massacre. I'm not surprise the Red Sox will miss the Post-Season, it is about time they start bringing in young players and trim the payroll a bit. By having cheaper players at some positions, you can have more expensive players at other positions.

Yeah, poor sox, they've had it so much tougher. ;)
- Yeah, only double the number of injuries if you bother to add it up, that's all.

Don't get me wrong, in the interest of being balanced, I actually cited the Yankees because I wanted to acknowledge that they got hit with a lot of injuries. And, the Yankees were definitely deeper than the Red Sox and that allowed them to weather their injuries which could have been catastrophic - an extra $100 million to spend on the roster definitely helps on depth. However, their injury problems, though severe, were still not in the same class as what hit the Red Sox, particularly in the pitching ranks.

it really bothers me for people to complain about the yankees payroll because boston and many other clubs owners have just as much money, but rather than spending it to make the team better, they instead choose to pocket the money and spend it on on themselves. Thank God that george wants to feild a winner for his fans in New York and elsewhere around the WORLD!

The Yankees will eventrually go down, it is simply that the Yankee managed to get 2 super hall of famer and 2 more insanely good solid player (Jeter, Mo , Posada , Bernie) as their corner stone during the last decade. yes they have the cash to make sure that they can capitalize, but once those guys are gone, cahs may not be enough. (though nowadays the Yankees are getting some serious players from their farm again, so you never know.)the late 80s early 90s Yankees are good testimone of what the Yankees might be in 5 years or so if their next generation doesn't pan out.

Yankees had some issues this year, but their luck is still within the normal bad range, Boston this year is beyond horrible in the luck department.

IF both teams had a perfect lineup for a season this year the yanks probably would have still won, IF both were equal in luck the Yankees probably would have still won (albit both at closer margins) this year if the Yanks were unlucky, the Sox were super unlucky.

There is nothing wrong with dynasties, and one wonders why people spend more time complaining about the Yankees instead of complaining about how certain teams doesn't even attempt to compete (Royals anyone?) the Blue Jays are about to double their payroll in the span of two years is a simple testimony to disprove anyone who's saying they can't spend at least up to 90-100M in payroll, the Yankees is trying to shed payroll now, and i figure they go down to 170 or less M in the next few years.