On three consecutive days during ESPN’s Hot Stove Heaters series, the Red Sox have been snubbed. You’d think it would be impossible to underrate the team with the second-highest payroll in baseball, the biggest offseason splash and the most feared 3-4 combo in the sport. You’d be wrong. Leave it to ESPN, whose commentators similarly underrated the Yankees at the All-Star break last year.
On Wednesday, John Shea ran down the league’s most fearsome lineup. His choice: The Mets. Myself, I would have picked the Yankees, but he chose to put them second. The Red Sox arguably do not have a lineup as good as those two teams — they have large question marks in Jason Varitek and Dustin Pedroia, small question marks in Mike Lowell and Coco Crisp. Nevertheless, they have the potential to be very good, and as we’ve established, based on 2006 OPS, the Ortiz-Ramirez-Drew combo is the best in the AL. Instead, Shea put the Sox in the "Cold Plate Special" category. It’s unclear as to why because he didn’t give much of a reason except to note the Sox’ low batting average last season.Apparently he decided that significant offensive upgrades at two positions and likely natural upgrades (injury bouncebacks, etc.) at two to three more aren’t good enough.
On Thursday, Bob Klapisch tackled baseball’s best infield, a tough topic because a top-notch offensive infield and a stellar defensive infield are often mutually exclusive. He picked the Marlins, a interesting but defensible choice, followed by the Mets and Yankees. No argument there Again, however, the Sox were the "Cold Plate Special," despite Klapisch labeling Lugo a defensive upgrade over Gonzalez (typo?). He says the Sox infield "has degraded." The reason? A lack of All-Stars at any position. Forgive me if I’m underwhelmed, particularly considering the starting AL All-Star last year was David Ortiz.
Today, Phil Rogers ranks the Sox as having the fifth-best outfield. Apparently, J.D. Drew, who has never had a slugging percentage below .498 since 2002, is too inconsistent to merit much consideration, and Coco Crisp, though battling a finger injury all season and still putting up a year roughly equivalent to Gary Matthews Jr.’s 2005, apparently isn’t as good, because it’s Matthews’ inclusion into the Angels’ outfield that somehow makes them the No. 1 in baseball. Another team ahead of both the Sox and the Yanks? The Braves (with a platoon in left).
I’m not saying the Red Sox should have been at the top of these lists, and I’m not saying I blame the writers for trying to find new and creative angles to pick a No. 1. After all, it’s no fun to have a series running down the best of everything if you’re always saying, "The Red Sox had the biggest acquisition, the Red Sox have the best rookie, the Yankees have the best outfield, the Yankees have the best infield, the Red Sox have the best rotation, the Yankees have the best lineup," etc. But just a little respect would be nice. It’s not like the Sox signed Juan Pierre or anything.
Really, though, this makes me very happy. Knowing ESPN’s track record, the Sox are sure to win the division now!
(Thanks to Trisk for the tip to the third item — the other two I was already stewing over).