The Red Sox are a tough team to predict, but it would be wrong to overlook them. Isn’t that what we’re saying about all the AL East teams?
It was interesting hearing how many people thought the Red Sox would finish last in the American League East. I thought Ben Cherington had a terrific off-season even without spending gobs of money or making splashy acquisitions. First, the hiring of John Farrell is going to have a huge impact. He has the trust and respect of his players, and regardless of the reason, that’s something Bobby Valentine never had. He’s organized, smart and probably isn’t one of those guys anyone would want to cross. Farrell especially has the trust of his starting pitchers, and the best way for the Red Sox to take a step forward is to get productive seasons from John Lackey, Jon Lester, etc. Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz also appear to hold Farrell in high regard. So there’s that.
And then there were the player moves. Cherington filled holes and gave the Red Sox a different vibe without making a single huge financial commitment. In Jonny Gomes, Shane Victorino, Stephen Drew, David Ross, Mike Napoli and Ryan Dempster, he got more than good players. He got good teammates and team-first guys. Suddenly, all the pieces seemed to fit in a way they haven’t in the last couple of years. If you wanted to be skeptical, you’d look at those six players and wonder if they could make a dramatic impact on a team. Those are legitimate concerns, but to me, it’s more than that.
Winning teams are these living, breathing things that function together and are at their best when players trust one another and get along with one another. During the Winter Meetings last December, I asked Jack Morris if those of us in the media made too much out of chemistry and teamwork and intangible things.
“I think you don’t make enough of a big deal about it,” he said.
I vividly remember the atmosphere around those Tigers teams he was part of in the ’80s. Sparky Anderson would tell of leaving the clubhouse at midnight and seeing a few players still hanging around, having a beer and talking about the game. I have to think that stuff matters because in tough times, there’s unlikely to be finger-pointing or a lack of trust.
Craig Biggio said when he first came to the big leagues the Astros did exactly the same thing. He’d gather on the outside of the group after games and listen as Nolan Ryan, Danny Darwin and others sat around and told stories and talked about the game. Those have to be great exercises in team building.
The Red Sox probably can’t win without big years from Lackey and Lester. They need Felix Doubront to continue making progress. And there are a dozen little things that have to happen: Joel Hanrahan, Will Middlebrooks, Jacoby Ellsbury. Then again, no one can argue they can’t win. Just because they’ve got some older guys doesn’t mean they still can win. And Jackie Bradley Jr. has provided a burst of energy for an entire organization.
Another reason some people may have been picking the Red Sox last is that the AL East is about as close to being a tossup as any division in baseball. Various people are picking the Rays, Blue Jays and Orioles. Almost no one is picking the Yankees and Red Sox, but there are scenarios, especially for the Red Sox, in which it’s easy to see them making the playoffs. Regardless, it’s the kind of team Red Sox fans will enjoy. They’re consummate professionals. They seem to enjoy one other and love to compete.
Yeah, I know. Boston is a bottom line town, and there’s no way of knowing what the bottom line will be on the Red Sox. But on the morning after the first victory of the season, it’s a lot easier to be optimistic about them.