As the Sox face the Cubs at Wrigley tonight, a few thoughts come to mind. First, it wasn't that long ago that Wrigley had no lights, so night baseball didn't exist there. Second, absent interleague play, the only way a Sox-Cubs tilt could exist would be in the World Series, an unlikely matchup.
The Sox enter the contest at 32-29, 17-9 at home and 15-20 on the road. The Sox are 18th in RPI, an ESPN contrivance designed to measure schedule-adjusted performance. Boston has only scored nine more runs than it has allowed, so their record is not far from what is expected from baseball's Pythagorean Theorem.
Terry Francona must reminisce for the 'good old days' of Philadelphia, when he had Curt Schilling. If you had told the average Sox fan that Curt Schilling would miss the first half of the season, that Manny Ramirez would hit .250, that Edgar Renteria would generally be mediocre except for one road trip, that Tim Wakefield would struggle, and that Keith Foulke would have an ERA of nearly six, and that the bullpen would be 13th in the AL, you might guess that the Sox would be eight or nine games behind right now.
Incredibly, despite all this mediocrity, the Sox are 3 games out in the loss column in the AL East and 4 games out for the Wild Card. Take out the rose-colored glasses.
Like the Yankees, the Red Sox suffer when compared with recent history, and when examined under the gilt microscope of salary escalation. Whether we accept it or not, the Sox are 'Yankees Light' in terms of payroll, although probably don't have as much accepted deadwood on their roster as the New Yorkers (Giambi, Bernie Williams, Kevin Brown).
Lower rent gambles such as Kevin Millar, Bill Mueller, and Wade Miller (where's Stu Miller?) don't create long-term payroll inflexibility. Of course, we don't know whether or when Curt Schilling will return and Edgar Renteria's ten-spot (ten million bucks) may end up sticking in the Sox craw.
The Sox team this year is a transitional team, in-between major free agent defections and a minor league system growing in both strength and depth. Any team with a 130 million dollar payroll doesn't want to say it's rebuilding, but the Sox are, rebuilding the rotation and the infield.
The Sox have high hopes for Hanley Ramirez, Dustin Pedroia, and Brandon Moss, and optimism for their young pitching led by Jon Papelbon, Jon Lester, Anibal Sanchez, and Mike Rozier. Papelbon had an eight inning shutout with 12 strikeouts last night. Abe Alvarez seems to be finding himself in Pawtucket as well.
Presuming the Sox can hold onto most of their top pitchers, their biggest need is corner power (ideally from first base), while they can hope that Manny Ramirez regains his stroke.