If there has been one constant for the Red Sox over the past five seasons, it is success during interleague play. Boston is a combined 62-28 (.689 winning percentage) against National League foes since 2005, and that dominance has enabled the Red Sox to make the playoffs in four of the last five years.
With 18 games annually, interleague play comprises more than 10 percent of the regular-season schedule. While a loss or two in May or June may not seem significant, a team?s overall performance against the other league could be the difference between playing in October and watching the postseason from home. The Red Sox found that out during their world championship campaign in 2007 – they went 12-6 against the NL, while the Yankees were 10-8, and that two-game edge equaled Boston?s margin of victory in the AL East.
This year?s interleague slate might be both the most exciting and most challenging one the Red Sox have faced in years. They will play a pair of three-game series against the Phillies – who have won the NL pennant two consecutive years – in addition to hosting the Diamondbacks and Dodgers, and facing the Rockies and Giants on the road. Put that all together, and the Red Sox may have drawn the toughest interleague schedule of any AL team, matching up against the defending Senior Circuit champions, as well as the likely top four teams in the NL?s deepest division.
Fortunately, the Red Sox are built to meet the challenge.
In the nine games played at Fenway Park, Terry Francona will have the advantage of writing David Ortiz?s name into the designated hitter slot of his lineup card. His NL counterparts, meanwhile, will have to put their top bench players into the starting lineup. And even a declining Big Papi is demonstrably better than the likes of Greg Dobbs, Gerardo Parra or Reed Johnson.
On the road, the versatility of the Red Sox? roster will enable Francona to emulate the National League strategies of pinch hitters and double-switches. If Ortiz is on the bench to begin a game, Francona will have the best pinch hitter on either team at his disposal in the late innings of a close contest. If Ortiz gets the start at first base, either Adrian Beltre or Kevin Youkilis would make an elite defensive replacement. And that?s not even mentioning Jeremy Hermida — one of the top fourth outfielders around — or Bill Hall, who can aptly play six different positions.
Those movable parts will come in handy when the Red Sox are setting the tone for a potential World Series matchup with the Phillies, battling for every run against two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum and the Giants, and defending their 2007 World Series crown over the Rockies. But as any Boston sports fan will attest, the most intriguing matchup of all will be the three-game home series versus the Dodgers on June 18-20.
The return of Manny Ramirez to Fenway Park is sure to spark a variety of emotions throughout Red Sox Nation, ranging from nostalgia about his mammoth blasts over the Green Monster, to outrage over the behavior that forced Theo Epstein to trade him to L.A. in a three-team deal for Jason Bay. But the players will have no time to focus on the hoopla surrounding Manny?s comeback, because the Dodgers reached the National League Championship Series last season. With two hard-throwing young starters (Chad Billingsley and Clayton Kershaw), plus a dynamic duo of outfielders (Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier) supporting Manny in the lineup, downing the Dodgers will be no easy task.
With the American League East race looking like a three-way toss-up between Boston, New York and Tampa Bay, the team that wins the most games outside of the division may rest atop the standings come early October. Interleague play accounts for 20 percent of the 90 interdivision matchups, and just like all the recent Boston rosters, it?s an area the 2010 Red Sox are built to exploit.
From now until Opening Day, NESN.com will run down 25 things that need to happen for the Red Sox to win the World Series.
March 20: Manny Delcarmen bounces back from a rough 2009.