Logically, I don't see much cause for panic in the Red Sox's 0-6 start this season, but as I wrote for SI.com, baseball history has a different take on things. Going back to 1871, only two of 110 teams to start 0-5 went on to make the playoffs (or to finish first in their league), and no team has ever started 0-7 and finished above third place. The Yankees can hand Boston that seventh loss tonight, but even with that ominous history, I'm far from convinced that Boston's season would be lost along with tonight's game.
I was one of the many who picked the Red Sox to win both the AL East and the American League pennant just a week and a half ago, but unlike others who made a similar pick, I don't think there's all that large a gap between them and the Yankees. In fact, I think the similarities between these teams are striking, as I'll illustrate with a (relatively) quick player-by-player comparison. I'll award the edge to one team or the other, but as you go, note how similar the players being compared are to one another and how close some of these calls are:
1B: Mark Teixeira & Adrian Gonzalez
Teixeira is two years older and coming off a down year. Gonzalez is escaping the offense-suppressing Petco Park for the hitting-friendly Fenway, but is also coming off off-season labrum surgery in his right shoulder. Fun fact: these two were teammates with the Rangers in 2004 and 2005. Rangers general manager Jon Daniels did much better trading Teixeira (for Neftali Feliz, Elvis Andrus, Matt Harrison, current Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and two others) than Gonzalez (Adam Eaton and Akinori Otsuka, plus one).
Edge: Red Sox
2B: Robinson Cano & Dustin Pedroia
Cano is a year older. Pedroia won the Rookie of the Year in 2007; Cano finished second in 2005. Pedroia won the AL MVP in 2008; Cano finished third last year. Both have one Gold Glove, but Pedroia is the better fielder according to advanced metrics. Pedroia can steal 20 bases a year at a high percentage; Cano doesn't run much, but has been caught more often than he has successfully stolen a base. Neither man strikes out much, but Pedroia has more walks than Ks in his career, while Cano has more than twice as many strikeouts as walks. Cano is the better pure hitter and has more power, but Pedroia is better at getting on base. With Chase Utley hurt, these are the two best second basemen in baseball, but if he can avoid a catastrophic injury like the broken foot that cost him half of the 2010 season, Pedroia is better.
Edge: Red Sox
SS: Derek Jeter & Marco Scutaro
This is going to hurt. Scutaro is only eight months younger than Jeter, but these two were basically a wash at the plate last year. Jeter is still the better runner, but Scutaro is a significantly better fielder (though he's still not among the game's elite at the position).
Edge: Red Sox
3B: Alex Rodriguez & Kevin Youkilis
Youkilis is nearly four years younger, but played just 15 innings at third base last year. He made 185 starts there in his major league career prior to this season, but the adjustment to full-time work at the hot corner is still going to be difficult. I'm going to give Rodriguez the edge on defense. Youkilis is also coming off surgery to repair a torn tendon in his right thumb, didn't hit at all in spring training, and hasn't hit yet in the young regular season. Rodriguez, meanwhile, has been red hot this spring. Youkilis has been more productive hitter the last two years, but I'm thinking the balance will tip back this year.
C: Russell Martin & Jarrod Saltalamacchia
Martin is two years older, but is also a former All-Star and Gold Glover. Saltalamacchia is a busted prospect who has never qualified for the batting title. Martin also spent his career in pitching-friendly Dodger Stadium, while Salty has mainly played in hitting heavens in Arlington and Boston. No one knows what to expect from either of these men, but Martin's worst season was better than Saltalamacchia's career line after adjusting for their ballparks.
CF/LF: Curtis Granderson & Carl Crawford
People such as Steven Goldman and Brian Cashman like to compare Crawford and Brett Gardner, but what do they know? Granderson is just five months older, has more power, more patience, and a higher career OPS+. He also plays center field, something Crawford apparently refuses to do, and his slightly above average fielding in center is worth more than Crawford's superlative work in left, particularly in Fenway Park, where left field is tiny. Yes, Crawford will steal more bases, enough to make a real difference, but Granderson also steals at a high rate of success. Crawford has been better over the last two seasons, but despite Granderson's slow start (and Crawford's has been even slower), I still think Kevin Long's fixes to Granderson's swing are going to pay big dividends this season. Still, I'll hedge a little.
LF/CF: Brett Gardner & Jacoby Ellsbury
To me, Ellsbury is the better Boston comp for Gardner, as neither has any real power, both derive most of their value from their legs, and they were born less than a month apart (Gardner is a little more than two weeks older). They have just three full seasons between then and a long list of injuries, but Gardner is the only one to have posted a three-digit OPS+ in one of those full seasons and has far more patience at the plate, which makes his value less dependent on batting average, which can vary wildly. Gardner is also the better center fielder, though Granderson has pushed him to left, where he's nearly Crawford's equal and has more opportunity to prove it in his home ballpark.
RF: Nick Swisher & J.D. Drew
Swisher is five year's younger, has played in at least 150 games in each of the last five seasons. Drew has never played in 150 games in any of his 14 major league seasons. Swisher was better in the field (per John Dewan) and at the bat last year. Drew's best was better than Swisher's best, but those days seem to have passed.
DH: Jorge Posada & David Ortiz
Posada is four years older and new to full-time DH work. Ortiz is one of the best designated hitters in baseball history. Both should have declined more at the plate by now than they actually have, and this could well come out even, but with Ortiz off to a solid start, in stark contrast to the last two years, there are more question marks surrounding Posada right now.
Edge: Red Sox
For those of you keeping score, that's 4-4-1 on the advantages in the starting lineups. Both teams are also likely to give regular work to a righty-hitting platoon outfielder, so here's that comp:
OF: Andruw Jones & Mike Cameron
Jones is four years younger, otherwise, this is an almost a perfect match. Both hit for low averages with on-base percentages close to 100 points higher. Both have big power and the high strikeout rates that come with it. Both are former Gold Glove center fielders who are still assets in the outfield, though likely best used in the corners at this point.
Remainder of Bench: Eric Chavez, Eduardo Nuñez, Gustavo Molina & Jed Lowrie, Darnell McDonald, Jason Varitek
Francisco Cervelli will replace Molina within the next month, but this is basically even either way. Varitek still has some pop, but is finished defensively. Chavez and Lowrie could both be big bats or total duds. Nuñez and McDonald are similarly batting-average-dependent bats with little patience and doubles power who offer speed on the bases.
CC Sabathia & Jon Lester
Lefty aces both. Lester is three and a half years younger. Sabathia throws an extra 30 innings every year. This is too close to call at this point in their careers.
Phil Hughes & Clay Buchholz
Both are in their second full seasons in the big league rotation. Both made the All-Star team in their first full season in the big league rotation. Both were a bit lucky last year, Hughes thanks to run support, Buchholz thanks to a low batting average on balls in play. Hughes is two years younger and has the superior strikeout rates, but he also has concerns about his velocity this spring and had an ERA nearly two runs higher last year. I'll hedge for now.
A.J. Burnett & Josh Beckett
These two have always been a pair in my mind. Both are ex-Marlins with long injury histories and surly mound demeanors who rarely pitch up to their stuff (only Beckett really has, but not since 2007). Both were awful last year. For all of the hand wringing over Burnett, Beckett's 2010 ERA was a half-run higher. If you look at 2008 to 2010 as a whole, they're basically the same pitcher, with a roughly league-average ERA despite a solid 8.5 strikeouts per nine innings. Burnett has been a tick weaker due to more walks and wild pitches, but he also threw 100 more innings than Beckett over those three seasons. Who knows what either will do this year.
Ivan Nova & John Lackey
Here's where things start to diverge. I'm optimistic about Nova, and Lackey was a league-average disappointment for the Sox last year, but it's a bridge too far to project Nova as Lackey's equal, and that's perhaps the biggest reason that I favored the Sox in the division coming into the season.
Edge: Red Sox
Freddy Garcia & Daisuke Matsuzaka
These are probably the two pitchers both teams and fanbases would rather forget exist at this point. Matsuzaka has managed to make just 37 starts with a below-average ERA over the past two seasons, and even when he won 18 games in 2008, he only threw 167 2/3 innings, the least ever by an 18-game winner. He picks and nibbles, walks far too many men (4.7 per nine innings over the last three years), and exits early having burned off too many pitches, exposing the underside of the Boston bullpen, and that's when he's healthy. Garcia has a more contact-oriented approach that results in more home runs and not necessarily much longer outings. Both have had shoulder trouble in recent years, and in terms of innings, ERA, and WHIP, they had nearly identical 2010 seasons, both pitching in hitter-friendly environments.
Closer: Mariano Rivera & Jonathan Papelbon
I don't care how old Rivera is, he has yet to show it.
Ex-Closer: Rafael Soriano & Bobby Jenks
Jenks is more than a year younger. Soriano was a free agent. Jenks was non-tendered. That says a lot. Still, Soriano is more temperamental and fragile and got a huge assist from luck on balls in play last year.
Relief prospect: Joba Chamberlain & Daniel Bard
Chamberlain is three months younger. Both are hard-throwing sinker/slider guys with similar peripherals. Joba has better control. Bard got a huge assist from BABIP last year, while Joba had bad luck. Then again, Joba always seems to have bad luck as his BABIP has been .322 over the last three years. Chamberlain's the better pitcher, but in such short stints, the difference is likely negligible.
Other righty who could be the primary set-up man in a weaker pen: David Robertson & Dan Wheeler
Robertson is more than seven years younger and has vastly superior strikeout rates. Robertson walks too many men, but Wheeler gives up too many home runs. Wheeler has been at this a long time and even spent some short periods closing. Robertson is entering just his second full season in the majors.
LOOGY: Boone Logan & Dennys Reyes
Logan is young and skinny and on his third major league team. Reyes is seven years older, fat, and on his 11th. Reyes had a wild reverse-split last year, but on their careers, they have similar numbers against lefties, while Reyes has handled righties better. Logan had a breakout of sorts in the second half of 2010, but there's no telling if he can build on that or not.
Long Man: Bartolo Colon & Tim Wakefield
Colon is a reclamation project who had a great spring and will turn 38 in May. Wakefield is a trick pitcher (a knuckleballer) who is more than six years older and needs no introduction. Wakefield threw 140 major league innings in 2010. Colon threw zero.
Edge: Red Sox
Other Guy/Injury replacement: Luis Ayala & Alfredo Aceves
A pair of right-handed Mexican relievers wrap this up. Aceves just got called up when Matt Albers hit the disabled with a sore latissimus dorsi last night. Ayala made the roster when lefty Pedro Feliciano hit the DL with arm trouble. Aceves is good enough to stick around. Ayala isn't.
Edge: Red Sox
I'd say the edge at closer outweighs the two edges at the bottom of the pen, but call it all even if you must. If so, the difference between these two teams coming into the season is Ivan Nova vs. John Lackey. Certainly as the season progresses comparisons that seem close now could diverge significantly, but as far as pre-season projection, it really comes down to the advantage of former Angels ace Lackey over the rookie Nova.
Speaking of pitching, and Lackey specifically, here are this weekend's pitching matchups:
Phil Hughes (0-1, 11.25) vs. John Lackey (0-1, 22.09), Fri., 4/8, 2:05 pm, YES
Hughes looked awful in his first start, giving up five runs in four innings while striking out just one and struggling to hit 90 miles per hour with his fastball, which he also wasn't locating very well. Two homers by Miguel Cabrera drove in four of those runs.
Lackey was worse, or at least his results were. He gave up nine runs, all earned, in 3 2/3 innings with seven of his 10 hits allowed going for extra-bases, including three doubles, two triples, an Ian Kinsler solo homer, and an Adrian Beltre grand slam on Lackey's penultimate pitch of that outing, the capper to a six-run fourth inning.
Ivan Nova (1-0, 4.50) vs. Clay Buchholz (0-1, 5.68), Sat., 4/9, 1:10, FOX
Nova was sharp in his first start, working low in the zone, getting 11 outs before surrendering his first hit, turning in a quality start after working out of jams in the fourth and fifth innings, and needing just 83 pitches to do it. Perhaps most significantly, he didn't implode when the lineup turned over for a third time
Buchholz was the only Boston starter to last six innings the first time through the Red Sox rotation this season. That despite his giving up four home runs in his 6 1/3 frames. Those four homers, all solo shots, accounted for all but one of the five hits Buchholz allowed, and though the last bounced him from the game, he had thrown just 86 pitches to that point.
CC Sabathia (0-0, 1.38) vs. Josh Beckett (0-1, 5.40), Sun., 4/10, 8:05 ESPN
Sabathia is off to the best start he's had since his Cy Young season of 2007. After turning in a quality start with seven strikeouts in six innings on Opening Day, a game the Yankees won after his departure, he threw seven scoreless innings of two-hit ball at the Twins on Tuesday only to walk away with another no-decision after the bullpen (primarily Rafael Soriano) blew a 4-0 lead in the eighth. His line after two starts is excellent: 13 IP, 8 H, 3 R (2 ER), 0 HR, 3 BB, 13 K.
Beckett only allowed three runs in his first start, but walked four men in five frames and used up 106 pitches in that span, thus falling short of a quality start. He was the only Boston starter not to allow a home run in his first start of the year, though he made his start against the Indians, not the Rangers.
Boston Red Sox
2010 Record: 94-68 (.580)
2010 Third-Order Record: 88-74 (.543)
Manager: Terry Francona
General Manager: Theo Epstein
Home Ballpark: Fenway Park
Bill James Park Indexes (2008-2010):
LH Avg-105; LH HR-88
RH Avg-103; RH HR-93
Who's replacing whom:
• Adrian Gonzalez replaces Adrian Beltre
• Jarrod Saltalamacchia replaces Victor Martinez
• Dustin Pedroia replaces Mike Lowell's playing time
• Carl Crawford replaces Daniel Nava (mL), Ryan Kalish (mL), Eric Patterson, and a lot of Darnell McDonald
• Jacoby Ellsbury replaces Bill Hall and Jeremy Hermida
• Josh Beckett replaces the bulk of Tim Wakefield's starts
• Bobby Jenks replaces Scott Atchison (mL)
• Dan Wheeler replaces Manny Delcarmen
• Dennys Reyes replaces Hideki Okajima (mL)
• Alfredo Aceves is filling in for Matt Albers, who replaces Ramon Ramirez
1B - Adrian Gonzalez (L)
2B - Dustin Pedroia (R)
SS - Marco Scutaro (R)
3B - Kevin Youkilis (R)
C - Jarrod Saltalamacchia (S)
RF - J.D. Drew (L)
CF - Jacoby Ellsbury (L)
LF - Carl Crawford (L)
DH - David Ortiz (L)
R - Mike Cameron (OF)
S - Jed Lowrie (IF)
R - Darnell McDonald (OF)
S - Jason Varitek (C)
L - Jon Lester
R - John Lackey
R - Clay Buchholz
R - Josh Beckett
R - Daisuke Matsuzaka
R - Jon Papelbon
R - Daniel Bard
R - Bobby Jenks
R - Dan Wheeler
L - Dennys Reyes
R - Alfredo Aceves
R - Tim Wakefield
RHP - Matt Albers (sore latissimus dorsi)
LHP - Felix Doubront (left elbow tightness)
RHP - Junichi Tazawa (recovery from April 2010 Tommy John surgery)
L - Jacoby Ellsbury (CF)
L - Carl Crawford (LF)
R - Dustin Pedroia (2B)
L - Adrian Gonzalez (1B)
R - Kevin Youkilis (3B)
L - David Ortiz (DH)
L - J.D. Drew (RF)
S - Jarrod Saltalamacchia (C)
R - Mark Scutaro (SS)