I canít ever remember a time when familiarity dictated so much in a baseball season.
Perhaps the major reason that few are up in arms over this weekend sweep at the hands of the Angels is because the Red Sox are hardly alone in looking lost away from home. Yes, in the American League, only the Orioles, Indians, Aís, and Mariners have fewer road wins than the defending champs, but you know how many AL squads actually have a winning road mark?
One. The aforementioned Angels of Anaheim.
In the NL, only the Phillies and Cardinals can boast road records over .500. Thatís three teams in all of Major League Baseball that manage to put up more Wís than Lís away from their friendly confines. Last year on this date, there were nine, including the Red Sox, who were 25-20 on the road, a far cry from this seasonís pathetic 21-32. The reason behind this? It's probably partly thanks to the emerging parity we're seeing in the game, partly teams building to take advantage of the strengths of their home fields. Whatever the case, that old adage about playing .500 on the road is going to be a major challenge for the likes of Boston.
Whether the Angels' road record says more about them on the whole or the league in general, it must be noted that they are only 29-20 at home, compared to Boston's AL-best 36-11. But in a way, perhaps this weekend was finally the Angels' coming-out party after being virtually ignored by right coasters for the better part of the season.
It's not just that they have the best record in baseball, but yesterday's 5-3 win over the Sox was the kind of game we're used to seeing the Red Sox win in their own backyard. Close game, score a couple in the eighth inning, and have your lights-out closer finish the job. That's a script well-played out at Fenway over the past few seasons.
It's not a question any longer of whether the Angels can hold onto the division, which seems a virtual certainty with an eight-game lead, but whether they can beat the Sox in October. The Angels are losers of nine straight postseason games to Boston, dating back 22 years. They may be the best team in baseball. The pitching top to bottom is tremendous, as it has been in years past, not that it got them anything in '04, '05, or '07. But until the likes of John Lackey and Ervin Santana prove they can be serviceable postseason pitchers, the jury is still out on the Angels in a major way.
As for Boston, while Jacoby Ellsbury's .291 road OBP doesn't help matters leading off, the Sox still remain statistically one of the game's best road offenses, their .266 average fourth-best in baseball. Boston's 229 road runs, however, rank just ninth-best. The return of David Ortiz should help the Sox in key situations both home and away, but it was Manny Delcarmen putting a blinking red light yesterday on what Theo Epstein and Co. need to concentrate on the next 10 days. Again.
Maybe Justin Masterson is the answer getting to Jonathan Papelbon. Maybe the team makes a run at Huston Street. Only Detroit, Cleveland, and Texas have worse bullpen ERAs in the AL. In the "close and late" statistical category, Delcarmen's OPS against is a whopping .790. This is your de facto setup man.
Compare that to AL holds leader Eddie Guardado's .293 OPS against, and you begin to smell a major problem. Whether Epstein wants to revisit another deadline deal for a Rangers reliever remains to be seen, but despite injury concerns, Guardado's name could be an interesting one to watch.
Still, the Sox are just 3-7 on the road since June 27, and an October ALDS or ALCS starting in Los Angeles would spark some level of concern. Not to mention, gaining in the rear-view mirror are the Yankees, just three games behind the Sox and 4 Ĺ in back of the first-place Rays.
When a team is this dominant at home, panic doesn't yet fit into the equation. But it's at least mentioned. Yes, the Sox play 34 of their final 62 at Fenway Park, but that's only a six-game advantage. Considering their ineptitude on the road, that's not as much of a luxury as it once seemed even two weeks ago.
Still, everyone stinks on the road. Except those Angels, who might or might not be the best team in baseball.
But they're a concern for a month down the road. Right now with the Rays, the emerging Yankees, an all-important trade deadline, and trying to figure out why their Marriott points are letting them down, there's enough to worry about rather than trying to figure out if you can beat the Angels in October yet again.
You have to get there first. And thanks to a number of contributing factors, that's simply not the slam dunk you'd like to think it is.