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How similar are this year's Red Sox to franchise's past playoff teams? (Part 2)

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  September 25, 2013 08:10 AM

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Here's part two of our comparison of the 2013 Red Sox to the franchise's playoff teams of the recent past, beginning with the memorable 1999 club. Part 1, which covers 1975-98, can be found here:

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1999


Record: 94-68
Run differential Plus-118: 836 scored, 718 allowed.
Fate: Lost ALCS to Yankees, 4-1.

Similarities: Brian Daubach escaped the designation of Triple A life to hit 21 homers with a .921 OPS as Mo Vaughn's replacement at first base. Daubach has some memorable clutch hits late that season, and that version of Dauber would have fit perfectly with this year's Sox ... Jason Varitek broke through at age 27 with 20 homers in his first season playing more than 86 games. His development into a superb everyday catcher beyond his mid-20s offers a blueprint for Jarrod Saltalamacchia ... They were 8-4 against the Yankees during the regular season, roughing them up like they did this year.

Differences: These Sox don't have a Pedro Martinez fronting the rotation, because there was only one Pedro. (Though Yu Darvish does a decent imitation when he's facing the Astros). But their rotation is much deeper now. Pedro led the staff with 29 starts, following by Mark Portugal (27), Pat Rapp (26), Bret Saberhagen (22), and Brian Rose (17) ... Tim Wakefield wasn't part of the rotation, but he did collect 15 saves as a closer. He was not a forefather of Koji Uehara, with a 5.08 ERA and 19 homers allowed in 140 innings ... Remember when the city honored this team after they were eliminated in five games by the Yankees? Boston loved that team, but man, times have changed. There have been quite a few duck boat parades for actual champions since.

Last word: When I refer to this era as Pedro and Nomar Against the World, this particular season fulfilling/heartbreaking is what I mean. Pedro was at his peak of dominance, winning 23 of 27 decisions with 313 strikeouts in 213.1 innings. Nomar hit .357 with a 1.022 OPS and walked more than he whiffed (51-37). They were surrounded by some solid players -- Derek Lowe was a 100-innings-plus horse out of the bullpen, Troy O'Leary had his career year with 28 homers and was a monster in Game 5 of the ALDS -- but they were no match for that flawlessly structured Yankees buzzsaw.

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2003


Record: 94-68
Run differential Plus-152: 961 scored, 809 allowed.
Fate: Lost ALCS to Yankees, 4-3.

Similarities: I know Red Sox fans would be most comfortable comparing this year's team to one of their championship clubs the past decade. But I have to say, they remind me of the incredible likable if ill-fated '03 Sox more than anything else ... It starts with the chemistry; the '02 team, by bringing in Carlos Baerga and Johnny Damon, went a long way toward changing the culture around the team, much as this year's Sox did to erase the Bobby Valentine disaster. And that continued entering '03, with the likes of Kevin Millar, Bill Mueller, Todd Walker, Gabe Kapler and, of course, David Ortiz coming aboard to fortify a ferocious lineup and make it a team that was very easy to root for ... And that's the second part of it: Ben Cherington's superb work in shopping for mid-level, respected free agents over the winter is very similar to what Theo Epstein did entering '03.

Differences: This year's Sox have deeper pitching -- they'll give up about 160 fewer runs in the regular season. And their closer situation is considerably more stable than that of the '03 Sox, though Byung-Hyun Kim and Scott Williamson did stabilize things at various points ... How stacked was their offense? The weak link was Todd Walker, who hit 13 homers and drove in 85 runs.

Last word: Yeah, yeah, Aaron Boone. This team still deserves to be remembered well. To me, the 2003-04 seasons are two chapters in the same story.

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2004


Record: 98-64
Run differential Plus-181: 949 scored, 768 allowed.
Fate: I mean, you know. This changed everything. Everything. And don't let anyone tell you any of it was for the worse.

Similarities: If the Sox go 3-1 in their final four games, they'll equal the '04 club's won-lost record ... Both blasted out of the gate in April, with the '04 Sox going 15-6 ... You say idiots, I say beards ... I'm probably on an island with this, but Stephen Drew's approach and personality remind me a lot of Bill Mueller ... The Red Sox haven't had a closer with Koji Uehara's guile since Keith Foulke in '04. Here's hoping Uehara doesn't have to sacrifice seasons of his career to win a championship like Foulke did ... Mark Bellhorn set the Red Sox' record for strikeouts in a season in '04 (177). Mike Napoli has topped that by five this year ... David Ortiz mashed.

Differences: As much as we cherish the '04 team now, they were a source of frustration for much of the summer. From May 1 through the end of July, they were 41-40, including an 11-14 June ... This year's Sox are a fine hitting team, with a team OPS of .789. The '04 team was an offensive machine, with an .832 OPS ... The '13 Red Sox' worst month was the 15-15 May.

Last word: I cannot wait until next year when the 10-year anniversary comes around and we'll all have a genuine excuse to revisit October 2004 in 1,918 different ways.

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2005


Record: 95-67
Run differential Plus-105: 910 scored, 805 allowed.
Fate: Lost ALDS to White Sox, 3-0.

Similarities: Not many, actually ... Center fielder Johnny Damon had a 110 adjusted OPS in '05. Center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury has a 112 OPS this year ... David Ortiz mashed.

Differences: The Sox have their postseason pitching lined up just the way they want it right now. In '05, because it was a fight just to make the playoffs, Matt Clement pitched Game 1. Clement at his best wouldn't crack this Sox rotation ... Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz combined for 92 homers and 292 RBIs. The Red Sox' top five home-run hitters this year total 95, and their top three RBI guys total 271 ... The Red Sox' five regular starters in '05 -- including Wade Miller -- had an ERA between 4.15 and 4.95. They were a pack of Ryan Dempsters ... Edgar Renteria was something less than Stephen Drew defensively, and the polar opposite of Jose Iglesias ... David Ortiz mashed.

Last word: Didn't really realize it at the time, but the hangover from October 2004 really did linger, didn't it? Not to mention that replacing Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe with David Wells and Matt Clement is a cold and drab way to follow up a championship season.

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2007


Record: 96-66
Run differential Plus-210: 867 scored, 657 allowed.
Fate: Swept Rockies to make it two World Series titles in four years.

Similarities: AL East champs, meet the AL East champs .... The current run differential for this year's Sox is 185 -- they've scored 815 and allowed 635. With four games remaining, they won't outscore the '07 Sox, who had a Pythagorean record of 101-61 based on their run differential, but they will likely allow fewer runs ... Papelbon and Okajima were '07's version of Uehara and Breslow ... Dustin Pedroia broke through at age 23 with a .317/.380/.442 season, along with 8 homers and 50 RBIs. This year he's at .298/.370/.415 with 9 homers and 83 RBIs ... David Ortiz mashed.

Differences: As excellent as Clay Buchholz has been when healthy this year, these Sox lack a horse like Josh Beckett, who won 20 games with a 3.27 ERA and was brilliant in the postseason, winning all four of his starts while allowing four runs in 30 innings. Amazing how quickly he burned down what should have been an admirable legacy in Boston ... Ortiz and Manny were exceptional as ever, but the season that really jumps out is Mike Lowell's .324-21-120 line. His adjusted OPS, 124, is only a point higher than Daniel Nava's this year, but the Sox don't have anyone approaching that RBI total this season.

Last word: The most underrated team in Red Sox history. Their championship -- including the comeback against Cleveland and the World Series sweep of the Rockies -- is still deep in the shadows of 2004.

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2008


Record: 95-67
Run differential Plus-151: 845 scored, 694 allowed.
Fate: Lost ALCS to Rays, 4-3.

Similarities: Jon Lester developed into a true top-of-the-rotation starter in '08, going 16-6 with a 3.21 ERA. In '13, he restored that lofty status ... They had to deal with David Price then. They may again. Here's hoping John Farrell doesn't let Stephen Drew hit against him in a big moment ... David Ortiz mashed.

Differences: How about this one? Clay Buchholz is 11-1 with a 1.60 this season in 15 starts. In '08, in 15 starts and 16 appearances, he was 2-9 with a 6.75 ERA ... The Sox had a truly superb bullpen in '08 -- the kind the Red Sox might have had this year if not for injuries -- with Jonathan Papelbon, Hideki Okajima, Manny Delcarmen, and Javier Lopez all submitting an ERA between 2.30 and 3.30 ... Daisuke Matsuzaka made 29 starts, pitched just 167.2 innings, and yet managed to go 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA. No one on this pitching staff requires such maintenance in order to succeed.

Last word: Terry Francona said in his book that this might have been his best Red Sox team, but Beckett's injury ended up being insurmountable. He'd know better than we would, but I'm not sure I agree. Jason Bay and Kevin Youkilis were terrific, but give me the two that won championships with Manny in the middle of the order.

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2009


Record: 95-67
Run differential Plus-136: 872 scored, 736 allowed.
Fate: Lost to Angels in ALDS, 3-0

Similarities: Well, they both made the playoffs. That's something this year's crew doesn't have in common with any Red Sox team since '09 ... The '09 Sox won 56 games at home, three more than this year's Fenway-friendly Sox ... Jon Lester was 15-8 with a 3.41 ERA. He's 15-8 with a 3.67 ERA this season ... David Ortiz mashed.

Differences: John Lackey helped get them to the playoffs this year. He helped knock them out in '09 with seven innings of shutout ball in Game 2 ... Those Sox had two major, major holes in the lineup. Nick Green had a .669 OPS in 104 games mostly at shortstop, and Jason Varitek hit .209 before losing time behind the plate to trade-deadline pickup Victor Martinez ... This year's weak link, if there is one, is Will Middlebrooks, and at least he's capable of torrid stretches and well-timed three-run homers ... Jason Bay (36 homers, .921 OPS) and Kevin Youkilis (27 homers, .961 OPS) both had huge years, but in terms of adjusted OPS, neither was as productive as David Ortiz this season ... J.D. Drew had 24 homers and a .914 OPS, superior to what his better-liked brother Stephen has accomplished this year.

Last word: This was a pretty darned good Red Sox team, but it's not remembered as well as it should because of the brief stay in the postseason. Seems to me this year's Sox will build a longer legacy.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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