Red Sox - Dodgers narrative takes a hit

Red Sox - Dodgers narrative takes a hit
August 23, 2013, 1:00 pm
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This story would have been much easier back in June. Back then, it was almost perfect. The Red Sox were revitalized, sitting proud atop the AL East on the power of their starting pitching and new found positive attitude. Meanwhile, the Dodgers were in the dumper, firmly planted in the NL West basement, with a disjointed clubhouse and a manager on the verge of getting axed.

Honestly, you couldn’t have scripted it any better. And with this weekend’s series lingering in the distance, conveniently scheduled exactly a year after the trade that changed the course of both franchises, the columns would have written themselves. For the Sox, it was addition by subtraction and an uplifting reminder of the power of chemistry and teamwork, even on the game’s biggest stage. For the Dodgers, it was a cautionary tale: Money isn’t everything, with Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford all sharing the marquee.

“This weekend, the Red Sox will get a taste of how life used to be, while the Dodgers will come face to face with what could have been . . .”

You know, or something like that.

But in reality, things done changed. While the Sox are still on top in the AL East, their lead is far less comfortable, and with the calendar quickly approaching September, we’re reminded that a shiny, happy clubhouse can only takes you so far — and also becomes more difficult to maintain.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers have risen from depths and assumed the role of the hottest team in baseball. Chalk it up to the arrival of Yasiel Puig, the return of Hanley Ramirez, the season-ending injury to Josh Beckett, the continued dominance of Clayton Kershaw or a combination of all that and more, but Big Blue is damn near unstoppable. They’re 28-5 since the All Star Break. They’re 18-3 in August. They’re 25-5 in their last 30 road games. On June 22, they were in last place, 9.5 games back in the AL West. Today, they’re in first place, 9.5 games up. And yes, they’re doing it with Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford featured in their every day line up.

Gonzalez still hasn’t regained the power that he flashed before coming to Boston, but he’s steady as ever. He’s played in 123 of the Dodgers 127 games and is the team leader in runs (59), hits (141), doubles (27), home runs (16) and RBI (78), while posting a respectable .299 average. As for Crawford, he’s still nowhere near the player he was in Tampa and hasn’t come close to fulfilling the expectations set forth by his contract, but he’s been far more serviceable than he was with the Sox — in 88 games this season, he’s hitting .289 with a .340 OBP.

But the bottom line is that, even if neither Gonzalez nor Crawford is really setting the world on fire, their consistent existence within this remarkable Dodgers run pretty much kills the narrative that Sportswriter University was ready to hammer into our brains this weekend. The tailor made storyline of “this is what happens when you try to buy a title” or “sometimes nice guys finish first” or whatever else everyone had planned can be placed right up on the shelf next to Josh Beckett’s career. It’s done. It’s dead. Replaced by a far vaguer and less show-stopping takes like: “Hmm, so maybe there’s more than one way to win?”

Wah wah. That’s no fun. So I guess we have no choice but to turn our attention away from the narratives and focus on an insanely important and incredibly exciting weekend of baseball. In LA, of course. But also in St. Petersburg, where the Yankees and Rays face off for three games, and in Baltimore, where the Orioles host the currently Wild Card-bound A’s.

Much like in San Francisco, where the Sox avoided both Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain, they have the good fortune of missing both Clayton Kershaw and Zach Grienke this weekend in the quest to stay on top in the AL East. On that same note, the Sox have their three most battle-tested arms ready to take the mound in John Lackey, Jon Lester and Jake Peavy (they’ll be opposed by, Ricky Nolasco, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Chris Capuano, respectively.)

On offense, the biggest issue is the health of David Ortiz, who’s questionable with a sore back, will be further hampered by a need to play first base, and would obviously leave an enormous hole in the line-up. Then there’s Dustin Pedrioa, who bounced back a little against the Giants on Wednesday, going 2-for-4 and picking up his first RBI in eight games, but is still looking and needs to break out like the former MVP that he is. Not that power is Pedroia’s forte, but he’s yet to hit a home run this month.

On a more positive note, Will Middlebrooks is a new man since being called back up to the big leagues. He’s hit safely in 10 of 11 games, with five multiple hit games, two homers and seven RBI mixed in. This is a little less pressing while Ortiz’s health is in question, but the potential for Middlebrooks to develop into a legitimate No. 5 hitter down the stretch is something to keep an eye on. And then there’s Xander Bogaerts, who should probably get at least one chance in the starting line-up over these next three games, and even if he doesn’t, should definitely get a shot as a pinch hitter. The city is dying to see this kid break out, even if it won’t necessarily result in more playing time this season.

Either way, the point is that while the timing of this trip to Los Angeles offers a ton of obvious parallels, narratives and what could-have-beens. None of that holds a candle to the importance of now. Wins and losses. The absolute dog fight in the AL East.

And anyway, if we use up all our Sox/Dodgers stories now, what will we have to talk about come the World Series?

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