EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

July 19, 2013

Sox winning with better approach ... and fans are back

A Fan's View
Ed Warnhuis

---- — There are some valuable lessons to be learned from these 2013 Red Sox about how to put together a winning baseball team.

We have to start with a quick look back at the philosophy behind assembling the utter failure of a team that preceded them. The driving force behind that team was star power and ticket sales. Abstract things like character and clubhouse chemistry played no role.

The result was an assembly of marquis players with glitzy stats and mega-contracts. For most of these guys it was me first, the Red Sox second and baseball third. Management doubled-down on this by hiring a field manager who was a headline-grabbing ego-maniac.

This year, GM Ben Cherington did just the opposite in every respect. The first thing he did was ship out the self-absorbed, big contract guys. Then, he hired John Farrell, a solid baseball man who understands his players, cares about them and knows how to communicate with them. Together, they brought in solid ballplayers who love the game and go out there everyday and try to find a way to win.They built these new Sox around starting pitching, and although there have been some major setbacks, the rotation of Clay Buchholz, Jon Lester, John Lackey, Ryan Dempster and Felix Doubront came out of the gate 20-8 with a 3.25 ERA.

Buchholz hasn’t pitched in over a month because of a neck injury and Lester has hit a major rough spot.

But Lackey has had nine quality starts, his ERA is 2.78. And Doubront gets better every time he goes out there, now 6-3 with an ERA of 3.91 and falling fast.

On offense, they kept a solid core of veteran ballplayers headed by Dirt Dog Dustin Pedroia, David “Big Papi” Ortiz and Jacoby Ellsbury. They added two frontline ball players in Shane Victorino and Mike Napoli (frontline but by no mean superstars), then filled in with guys no one else wanted, a la Billy Beane — players such as Jonny Gomes, Daniel Nava and Mike Carp.

Gomes is only hitting .235, but he has two walkoff homers and he’ll try to go through the left field wall to make a catch. Nava, cut from his college team, is batting .290 with a .377 OBP, 10 homers and 52 RBIs. Carp is hitting .303. There have been plenty of setbacks, but Cherington, Farrell and the boys keep coming up with the right answers. I mentioned the problems of Boston’s top two starters, but the Red Sox also lost two closers.

When Will Middlebrooks got hurt and then struggled, the Red Sox ignored the pundits and sent him to Pawtucket in favor of Jose Iglesias. It didn’t take long to figure out this is a much better team with Iglesias, and he’s not going anywhere.

When Drew went down, Brock Holt stepped in and in the recently completed West Coast road trip, he and Iggy had two clutch, two-out, late-inning RBI hits.

And so it goes.

I thought this team would have trouble scoring runs. Boy, was I wrong. They lead the majors with 498 runs scored and are on a pace to score 830.

Can they keep it up? We’ll find out soon enough. After the break, they play the first 10 games against the AL East and they start with a two and half game lead.

I hope Sox management is paying attention, because there’s a big lesson to be learned. The past two years, to boost attendance, it spent a fortune on superstars, the team stunk. This year, they put a team out there that loves to play the game and usually finds a way to win.

Guess what? The fans are back and they may just be watching October baseball at Fenway.

Editor’s note: Ed Warnshuis has a B.S. from Emerson College (’65), worked for 30 years in sales and marketing with Agfa/Compugraphic and spent the last 13 years doing community action work in Lawrence. He founded “Stand and Deliver — Corporate Campus Mentoring,” presently working with Lawrence High principal Paul Neal on a Peer Mentoring program at Lawrence High.