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Swept up in problems

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff July 21, 2008 10:44 AM

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.

12 comments so far...
  1. Yeah, but you curiously forgot to mention the Yanks who are playing .500 ball on the road. Sox road record needs to dramatically improve quickly for them to keep the Yankees down. Luckily for them, their home record is better. But the Yanks are a-comin'. Check your rearview mirror.

    Posted by Trueblue July 21, 08 01:03 PM
  1. I think the phrase "Manny being Manny" would be more appropriate if it referred to Delcarmen coming in with men on and promptly giving up a bases-clearing gapper. This guy is a bum. Ken Ryan thinks we are giving this guy too many chances just because he's from around here and throws in the mid 90s.

    In any pressure situation, Delcarmen looks like he just realized that Daniel Plainview drank his milkshake. Calvin Schiraldi thinks he needs to work on his body language. Get some bullpen help Theo! Just not Gagne.

    Posted by internet_king July 21, 08 03:21 PM
  1. I was at the game yesterday and I think right now the Angels are the better team. Timely hitting, and once they took the lead, it was ovah. That was us last year, but right now...........I hope Masterson can fill in because I have NO confidence in DelCarmen right now. BIG PAPI where are you???

    Let's worry about Tampa Bay before we start worrying about " the yanks"

    Posted by owenfromburbankbywayofthecape July 21, 08 04:30 PM
  1. Papi comes back and you have to sit a superior defensive outfielder because manny must play left all of the time. Papi will hit an occasional HR but will the team be better? It sure will be slower.
    If theo does not take care of business and get at least three relievers, and Masterson may be one, you can forget about wining the East and you can in fact forget the playoffs!

    Posted by accland July 21, 08 06:41 PM
  1. It wasn't the monkey that beat you yesterday, Dustin Pedroia. It was the Frazee Paint advertisement that appeared on the left field screen just before the start of the bottom of the 8th. Look up you Red Sox history for the name Frazee. The curse is back.

    Posted by T. Ritchie July 21, 08 06:46 PM
  1. If the Sox are ninth in road runs scored that pretty much refutes your comment, "the Sox still remain statistically one of the game's best road offenses, their .266 average fourth-best in baseball". Run scoring is the ONLY barometer of a teams offensive prowess.

    Is it time to move Ellsbury down in the lineup? Better to have Pedroia leading off (even though he doesn't walk much) and Youkilis hit second once Papi is back? Look at the damage those two did in the ALCS last year!

    Posted by Mike Pinciaro July 21, 08 07:51 PM
  1. When will the Sox just bury the Yankees? Everytime the Yanks need a few wins they play the Sox and usually do well. It's our turn to sweep. If we play our cards wrong we will be in third next Monday morning.

    Posted by Tom_Fairfield_County July 21, 08 07:57 PM
  1. Delcarmen should be demoted. Useless bum! Estupido!

    Posted by Josh July 21, 08 11:32 PM
  1. I think our struggles are a combo of Francoma,the bullpen and the weak bench.Why wasn't Delcarmen brought in after the 7th to start the inning with no-body on?I know Wake had gotten those last 3 batters easily before,but isn't that the formula to get to Pap?Maybe no faith in the pen, he thought he'd stick with Wake.Why was Cash hitting so late in the game?Oh, that's right, nothing on that bench,couldn't neutralize Oliver cause we have all lefties sitting there.Definitely need a right handed bat.Casey's o.k. but he won't scare anybody.Does anybody notice that Drew is starting to wake up? Don't know the stats,but check out the avg. in the last bunch of games.How many GIDP's.He's got one tonight already in Seattle.I hope Masterson ,Ortiz and a righthanded bat are enough.

    Posted by dewey July 22, 08 12:19 AM
  1. The Sox's win in Seattle tonight doesn't alter substantially their dreadful road record. But in under-performing on the road the Sox are hardly unique, since only two MLB teams out of 30 have winning records on the road -- the Angels and Cardinals (the Yankees are at .500).

    I'll let someone else look it up, but when was the last time so many teams played so poorly away from home?

    Posted by George Mitrovich July 22, 08 02:54 AM
  1. The Angels record is a bit of a fluke. Their run differential belies their record and with K-Rod throwing so much in the first half, he'll either be rested or break down in the second half.

    The Sox do need bullpen help, but I've never understood why teams will trade for another team's overpaid closer to be a set-up man when actual set-up men are cheaper and more effective.

    Posted by J-bone July 22, 08 12:55 PM
  1. Would you rather lose 10-6 or win 2-1? Run differential is a good way of measuring a teams POTENTIAL, but since the Red Sox cant win any game in which they score less than 5 runs, it puts a lot of strain on the lineup. Whereas the Angels usually only give up 3 or 4 each night.

    Posted by Bobo the Hobo July 23, 08 11:29 PM
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