BOSTON — No sport lends itself to the phrase “defense wins championships” less than baseball. Pitching and hitting are the two factors most scrutinized, and it’s largely because they’re easier to quantify. As the Red Sox are learning, though, defense still plays a critical role in a team’s success.
The Red Sox made two errors in Thursday’s loss to the Twins, and one cost them the game. John Lackey fielded a comebacker with runners on first and second and one out in the sixth inning. Lackey fired to second base for what should have been an easy inning-ending double play, but his throw sailed into center field. If Lackey made a good throw and the Red Sox executed the double play, the right-hander would have escaped the sixth inning unscathed. Instead, he found himself pitching in a tie game with runners on first and third and one out. The Twins ended up scoring four runs in the inning.
That entire sequence is obviously an extreme case of an error being catastrophic. The Red Sox have played subpar defense overall of late, though, and it’s costing them big time.
The Red Sox have made 10 errors in their last seven games, and it’s no coincidence that they’re 1-6 in that span. Pedro Ciriaco’s two errors in the eighth inning of Tuesday’s game allowed the Twins to seize complete control, and a throwing error charged to Will Middlebrooks in the fourth inning of Saturday’s game against the Rangers turned a bad situation worse.
“We’ve got to take care of the ball,” Dustin Pedroia said after Thursday’s loss. “That’s a big part of winning ballgames, pitching and defense.”
What’s alarming is that defense was one of the Red Sox’ strong suits early on this season. The pitching and the offense received most of the recognition — which is usually the case when a team is rolling — but the defense was very good. Boston didn’t make its first error until the eighth game of the season, and manager John Farrell continuously brought up the team’s glove work while analyzing win after win.
Now, we’re looking at a club that’s playing error-per-game baseball over its last 18 contests. Even when the result isn’t as drastic as Lackey’s game-changing miscue on Thursday, that type of sloppy play can kill a team, particularly because it makes life much more difficult for the guys on the mound.
“Our guys work on their defense every single day. It’s not a matter of work. It’s a matter of execution,” Farrell said before Thursday’s game. “They’ve come in bunches. I think it might be more the leveling out of the game itself.”
Very few baseball teams, if any, will ever be built around defense. It doesn’t mean that facet of the game can’t significantly alter the success a team enjoys, though. Just ask the Red Sox.
Defense, specifically, may not win championships when it comes to baseball. But it can sure as hell prevent championships.