Back when he was writing The Baseball Abstract, Bill James put together a terrific essay on the preseason prospects of the unpromising Chicago Cubs. What would it take to for the lowly Cubs to win the pennant? In essence, he pointed out, even a bad team can win the pennant if the stars excel, some rookies turn out to be better than you expected, and everything breaks right.
The oddity of this year’s Red Sox is that it happened – a last-place team with little short-term hope wound up leading the series 3-2 and heading back to Fenway. But going into the season, if you’d asked “What would it take for this team to get to the Series?”, you’d have said:
- The stars, Pedroia and Ellsbury, both have MVP seasons.
- Clay Buccholz has a Cy Young year alongside Jon Lester. Jon Lackey returns to form, and Joel Hanrahan solidifies his role as closer.
- Will Middlebrooks continues to be terrific.
- Jackie Bradley Jr. is rookie of the year.
But they won a ton of games, and they’re playing fine ball, and pretty much none of this happened. The only position player who really had a breakout, perception-changing year was Daniel Nava, and he’s the second coming of Brian Daubach. It’s not like Nava’s going to be a superstar, but he’s been great and he’s playing in the Series, and what kind of story is that?
And then there’s the 38-year-old journeyman reliever who suddenly became unhittable.
For that matter, look at Ortiz, who comes into game six in that rarest of rare situations, where having a decent game as DH will make a real difference to his hall of fame candidacy. How often does that happen? He doesn’t have to be Don Larsen or wear a bloody sock: 2-3 with a walk and an RBI in a hard-fought win would do it.
Did you know that Roger Angell is blogging the World Series? Why didn’t I get that memo?