What Must New Red Sox Do to Make Chemistry Worth It?
Much has been made about the concerted effort by the Red Sox to go for character over sex appeal in reconstructing their roster. But if they want to rebound from their worst season since the Beatles played Boston, the Sox need performances to match the chemistry.
Today's Opening Day lineup at Yankee Stadium has several likable newcomers, but personality will only go so far if they don't produce.
Case in point, among the newcomers facing the Yankees this afternoon is Shane Victorino. Everyone agrees he's a great guy with a great glove.
But can he adjust to the vast expenses of Fenway's right field and hit enough to justify an everyday spot in the lineup?
He's hit as many as 18 home runs in a season but had just two in 53 games with the Dodgers last year and none in 45 at-bats this spring training.
Then there is Ryan Dempster, the newest member of the starting rotation. Good with a joke (which was surely handy on the Cubs), he comes here boasting durability (an average of 199 innings for the past five years).
But John Lackey arrived in town with similar credentials—and experience as a World Series winner. How's that turned out so far?
The new closer is Joel Hanrahan, who put up some pretty gaudy strikeout numbers in the low-stress atmosphere of Pittsburgh. But Eric Gagne whiffed all comers as well with the Dodgers, and he was a disaster when put into the Boston pressure cooker.
Boston is still seeking a closer with the eye of the tiger Jonathan Papelbon possessed; Hanrahan is next to make the attempt.
Jonny Gomes was not expected to be the starting DH, but David Ortiz's uncooperative heel has necessitated it for now.
Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe calls Gomes "baseball's chemistry professor, a positive clubhouse presence wherever he goes." That will only take him so far if he fails to start strong, and last year he had a .220 average through May with Oakland.
And what's with the missing "h" anyway?
The rookies in today's lineup, also apparently strong pieces in the chemistry mix, have to prove they can be everyday big leaguers.
Shortstop Jose Iglesias, another guy getting his Opening Day shot due to an injury (Stephen Drew's concussion), already has Gold Glove skills. His bat, however, has been very suspect in limited MLB trials (although his .294 spring training performance was encouraging).
Ozzie Smith spent several years early in his Hall of Fame career as a .220 hitter, but it's hard to imagine Boston fans being that patient with Iglesias, especially with Drew and minor league phenom Xander Bogaerts waiting in the wings.
Jackie Bradley Jr.
Projected to make his debut at Yankee Stadium is a 22-year-old who was the best story of spring training for the Red Sox—left fielder Jackie Bradley Jr.
He was Mr. Everything during the Grapefruit League schedule, hitting .419 with power and running with poise and purpose on the field and the basepaths. He's the guy Boston fans can't wait to see at Fenway, but the annals of baseball are filled with rookie phenoms who went bust before the All-Star break.
There is, of course, one other newcomer on the team—manager John Farrell. He's not an unfamiliar face to Red Sox fans, having been a well-liked and successful pitching coach with Boston from 2007-2010. But reviews of his performance as Blue Jays manager were mixed and the results (a 154-170 record) rather tepid.
Ownership thought Bobby Valentine was the answer last year, and the result was a chemistry explosion. Farrell seems a better fit for Boston in the early going, but you can be sure Joe Kerrigan (the last Red Sox pitching coach elevated to manager) is on his mind.
Unless Farrell and the other newest parts of the Red Sox potion perform at a high level, nobody will much mind whether they keep the clubhouse happy and help old ladies across the street. In fact, the old ladies will likely be kicking them in the shins if they try.
Saul Wisnia lives less than seven miles from Fenway Park and works 300 yards from Yawkey Way. His latest book, Fenway Park: The Centennial, is available at http://amzn.to/qWjQRS, and his Fenway Reflections can be found at http://saulwisnia.blogspot.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and @saulwizz.