Contending with Mediocrity

The Red Sox have never hit like a good road team. They are very comfortable hitting the wall and the corners of Fenway Park, but they lose their confidence on the road.  That would have been good enough in a rebuilding year, but now we think they are contenders.

Contenders do not always play from behind or wait for two strikes to start swinging. Contenders do not depend on big swings to produce runs. Contenders are not predictable.

At home the Sox score early and they take what the pitchers give them at the plate. On the road they wait and watch and take third strikes.  There is no excuse for taking a third strike except for the occasional breaking ball that leaves you flat-footed. Facing the Royals the Sox kept holding back, hoping to get a free pass. Victorino even threw his body into a few pitches, a practice that will soon get him a reputation among umpires.

The hitters that are getting on base, Ellsbury, Gomes, Drew and Ortiz,  are taking what they get and putting the ball in play somewhere.  The hitters that are watching the strikes go by and then flailing, currently Pedroia, Napoli, Saltalamacchia and Nava, are always hitting behind in the count and then swinging from the heels. Pedroia, of course, always swings from the heels, but when he’s hitting well, he takes the ball to right field.

On the road the Sox don’t play much small ball. The days of powering their runs over the plate are gone, but that doesn’t mean they can’t score by bunting, stealing and moving the runner over.  The double plays are killers, and the Sox should be playing to avoid them.  The crazy running and sacrificing game the Astros modeled in Houston has its virtues, especially when the home team is not expecting it.

Which brings us to predictability.  When the Sox are predictable, they lose. What is predictable about their game? Taking the first pitch, hitting into the defensive alignment, yanking the ball on the ground, pitching into high counts, never pitching out. These tendencies give their opponents an advantage, because they can defend them more easily.

The Beantown boys do all the right things at home, where they feel confident and expect to win. On the road they are much more predictable and defensive, both hitters and pitchers falling behind in the count.  You can call it a slump, but contenders break slumps by aggressive and unpredictable play.

The players that demonstrate this kind of aggressive play are Koji Uhehara and Stephen Drew.  (Yes, I am through maligning Stephen Drew).

Uhehara throws strikes and never pitches from behind.  Of course he only has to do it for one inning, but that’s his job, and he does it with flair.

Drew is a fairly discriminating hitter, but he does not get behind in the count much.  He is not waiting for a walk or the ideal pitch to hit. Earlier he was taking third strikes. Not anymore.  He is putting the ball in play all the time, and he does it early in the count.

The Road is long and winding, and you have to navigate it with confidence, if you are a contender. Because the Red Sox are truly contenders, they should take the road aggressively and play with confidence, even though when they play on the other guy’s turf.

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