The Sports Daily > Firebrand AL
Keys To Successful Start

The Red Sox have impressed me in more ways than I can name so far in this 2006 campaign. The most important statistic and factor so far is the record, the impressive 4-1 record, our best beginning since 2002. With a steady flooding of clutch hits, one-run victories, solid starting pitching and slews of walks, the Red Sox have found ways to win ballgames in every fashion. We could see this trend continue throughout the season. This club is not one to overpower you with three-run, towering home runs, but instead will get a consistent effort out of every bat in the order or arm on that pitching staff. Without a doubt, the balance of the Red Sox hasn?t been stronger in a long time. Here are various traits the Red Sox have followed in their first week of real baseball:
Patience- Friday night?s recap from the 1st inning:
Loretta walked, Crisp to second.
Ortiz walked, Crisp to third, Loretta to second.
Ramirez walked, Crisp scored, Loretta to third, Ortiz to second.
Varitek walked, Loretta scored, Ortiz to third, Ramirez to second.
Lowell walked, Ortiz scored, Ramirez to third, Varitek to second.
Gonzalez walked.

While Orioles starter Daniel Cabrera was indeed awfully wild in his desperate attempt to retire Red Sox hitters, the patience this team has displayed thus far is remarkable. While ridding ourselves of impatient, strikeout machines like Kevin Millar and Edgar Renteria and introducing Kevin Youkilis, Mark Loretta and Mike Lowell to the lineup, players who are content with taking walks, the chances to score runs will appear much easier. Also in that first inning, Coco Crisp pulled off an intelligent bunt single to lead off the game, and from then on, Daniel Cabrera completely imploded. While I?m not a big supporter of head games and mental breakdowns of certain pitchers on the mound, this Crisp bunt set the stage for a frustrating night for Cabrera and the Orioles. It was the perfect starting recipe for disaster in Camden.
The Red Sox also showed premium patience when dealing with Kameron Loe on Wednesday night in Texas. It appeared for nearly six innings that Loe would cruise through the game, it just seemed as if the Boston hitters were too completely fooled and dismantled to score. But this veteran, smart, patient lineup kept working this count on Loe- fouling off pitches, working the count, hitting the ball hard- it was just a matter of time before the inexperienced Loe would make a mistake. He eventually did, and Trot Nixon hit a home run to give Boston the narrow 2-1 win.
Consistency- So far, the main Boston batting order looks like this:
Crisp: .333
Loretta: .368
Ortiz: .263
Ramirez: .333
Varitek: .357
Nixon: .294
Lowell: .235
Youkilis: .385
Gonzalez: .235
As for 2005, it?s a different story in terms of consistency:
Damon: .316
Renteria: .158
Ramirez: .150
Ortiz: .474
Millar: .333
Varitek: .333
Nixon: .200
Mueller: .211
Bellhorn: .316
When compared, 2006 trumps 2005. The only players struggling to get going are Mike Lowell and Alex Gonzalez at a tolerable .235, and those former Marlins also happen to be outstanding defensively. In 2005, you had Edgar Renteria and Manny Ramirez hitting in the .100s, something no player this year has approached. Both of these players also were playing dreadful defense. 2005 also sees Nixon and Mueller having difficulties lower than any player in this years lineup. The lineup this year has contributors down the line, starting with Coco Crisp at the top, Loretta in the 2 hole, Varitek in the heart and Youkilis near the bottom.
The lineup is also more consistent in its makeup. I feel this years batting order is constructed to actually be a batting order, if that makes any sense. The number 2 hitters of past years did not fit their actual mold. Those players struck out too often, failed to move runners over, couldn?t reach base often enough, and struggled to consistently reach base for Manny and Ortiz. This year, Mark Loretta is cut out to be the perfect #2 hitter. It seems like Loretta makes contact repeatedly and lacks any negative strikeout habits. Maybe I?m just really, really high on the guy, not sure.
While Johnny Damon was a phenomenal leadoff hitter for most of his Boston tenure, Coco Crisp will match his production, adding a new dimension in the stolen base. Earlier this week, Crisp mentioned he is capable of stealing 60-70 bases this season, and we?ve been seeing glimpses of his speed with web-gem caliber plays in centerfield and a speedy triple in Texas. Youkilis always give us a chance at the bottom of the order over question marks like Kevin Millar and even Bill Mueller, in terms of getting on base with consistency.
One-run victories-
Wednesday: Boston 2, Texas 1
Saturday: Boston 2, Baltimore 1
Low-scoring one run victories. These are victories that would have been impossible in seasons past. Lead by the powerful arms of Josh Beckett and the fully-healed and dominant Curt Schilling, one-run wins will pile up as the season continues, just watch. Bottom line: The offense will not be able to carry the load, it?s going to take a complete team effort to win games- defense, pitching and clutch hitting. On Wednesday, Beckett tossed 7 innings and gave up 1 run. The bullpen, Mike Timlin and Jonathan Papelbon, to be exact, didn?t surrender a run. On Saturday, Schilling tossed 7 strong and gave up 1 run on 3 hits. The bullpen, Timlin and Papelbon, kept the lead in tact. If you?re looking for a possible offensive juggernaut every night, turn on the YES Network. If you?re looking for a balanced baseball team that can win games in any fashion, NESN is the way to go.
Basically, the Red Sox look like a team built for winning close games throughout the year and in the postseason. Maybe I?m a little high on this team after their 4-1 start, but the fashion in which they have started the season gives me reason to celebrate. Plus, if you look around the AL, the Yankees are 1-3 and already showing flashes of defensive incompetence (Loretta would?ve had that, Cano) and inconsistency, the White Sox are 1-4 and just lost their second in a row to the Royals- in fact, the only team I?m really afraid of is Cleveland at this point. I know its mighty early and I?m putting myself on a bit of a limb by vowing for winning ways to remain throughout the year, but there?s definitely reason to be optimistic in Red Sox Nation.