Back in the good ol’ days, when Theo Epstein and Terry Francona called Fenway Park their home, their shared philosophy of team-building was simple: Construct for Fenway, and watch the runs – and wins – multiply before their eyes.
It was a blueprint for success, leading to two World Series titles, three ALCS appearances and five postseason berths in their eight years together.
But, needless to say, those days are decidedly over. And the problems that plague the team at Fenway this season do not confine themselves to the clubhouse.
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The Red Sox enter play tonight against the White Sox on the precipice of nirvana, 2012-style. A victory - coupled with a key loss here and there in the American League - and the Red Sox would at last be in possession of a Wild Card berth, 91 games into the season.
Regardless of what else happens in baseball tonight, a victory would assure another significant milestone at Fenway: the first time reaching .500 at home (24-24) since starting the season with three straight wins against the Rays in mid-April.
Remarkably, while the Red Sox have been so uncharacteristically mediocre at home, they have been one of the best teams in the American League on the road, sporting a 23-20 record, the best mark in the league among non-division leaders.
How is it possible that a team so built for Fenway is having so much trouble winning there? As one might expect, it’s not the hitters’ fault. Despite the season-long absences of Carl Crawford, Jacoby Ellsbury and Adrian Gonzalez’ power, the Red Sox lead the AL in runs scored at home (261) and are second in team OPS (.817).
No, the real reason the Red Sox are so “Jekyll and Hyde” home-and-away lies with the pitching. In particular, the home/road splits of three critical contributors tell the tale.
Red Sox pitching has been dreadful at home this season, allowing the second-most runs in the AL (237) and sporting the third-highest ERA at 4.60. Their WHIP (walks/hits per innings pitched) ranks 10th among the 14 teams at 1.34.
But on the road, despite playing just four fewer games, the Red Sox sported a 3.58 ERA yesterday, the third-best in the league, allowing the second-fewest runs at 162, and compiling a WHIP of 1.24, which ranked third.
Why the disparity? Look no further than tonight's starter, Jon Lester, and fellow lefty Felix Doubront.
While Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz have been equally pedestrian no matter where they pitch – with Beckett posting a 4.38 ERA at home, 4.50 on the road and Buchholz 5.40/5.71 – Lester and Doubront have been two completely different pitchers, depending on area code.
In the 617, their ERAs have been almost as high – Lester sports a 5.80, while Doubront owns a 5.66 at Fenway. Teams are hitting an eye-popping .316 off Lester at Fenway, while Doubront lugs a .291 BAA on his back.
Away from the unfriendly confines, Lester rolls a 3.04 ERA, with teams hitting .230. Doubront also enjoys his hotel service, posting a 3.09 road ERA with a .220 BAA. Not surprising, the duo owns a combined 6-7 record at home, but are 8-3 on the road.
None of which spelled good news for finally cresting .500 at home and taking residence in Wild Card land this week. Tuesday’s starter was Lester, with Doubront slated for Wednesday. The Red Sox don’t play on the road again until Monday. Keep the faith.