Monday, April 20, 2009

Bird-brained schedule also a Sox-friendly one

Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away, the Orioles were not just the Homecoming opponent for the Red Sox. Photo courtesy of this site.

Major League Baseball has absorbed the usual (and well-deserved) criticisms for the quirks and hiccups and burps and—since I already mentioned two bodily functions, let’s go for three and be brutally honest here—farts of the early-season schedule. But the Red Sox tonight probably don’t have much issue with the computers and the people who churn out the schedule, since a well-timed visit from the Orioles was the perfect tonic to an atypically slow start.

The Sox routed the Orioles 12-1 today to complete a four-game sweep of the Orioles. The final margin of victory in the series (30-14) is a bit misleading, since the Sox won the first three games by a combined five runs, but that the Sox broke out the brooms should be no surprise.

Basically, the Orioles are the Washington Generals to the Sox’ Harlem Globetrotters. The Sox dribble the ball around and around and off the Orioles and use the head of Nick Markakis to make a trick shot and send out a 23-year-old making his second career start to no-hit the O’s. Only a fool, or Krusty the Clown, would bet on the Orioles, particularly when they pop into Boston.

Since 2006, the Sox are 43-15 against the Orioles, including a robust 25-6 at Fenway. The Sox haven’t lost a home series to the O’s since Baltimore swept a two-game set in April 2005. Not saying that sweep was a foreboding sign of things to come or anything, but, well, a bunch of guys mentioned in this article weren’t in Boston by Opening Day 2006 (and you could make a case that Keith Foulke suffered an even worse fate by remaining in Boston in 2006).

The sweep allowed the Sox to surge past .500 and past the Orioles in the standings, two places I presume they’ll stay for the next 149 games. Bruce Allen wrote last week that he was tired of people assuming Sox fans were panicking over the slow start, but the truth is it would have been hard to blame Sox fans if they had little idea how to respond to the Sox’ 2-6 start against the Rays, Angels and Athletics.

How consistently competitive have the Sox been under Theo Epstein and during the final few years of the Dan Duquette era? The last time the Sox were as many as three games under .500 more than a week into the season was 1997, back when the Spice Girls were topping the charts and making most of our ears bleed.

And the last time the Sox started 2-6, it was 1996 and Roger Clemens had presumably not yet learned super duper workout secrets from Brian McNamee. 1996 was also the season the Sox stumbled out to a 7-19 start in April and were 14 games under .500 July 6 before a red-hot second half lifted them over .500 and put them back into the wild card race (but did not save Kevin Kennedy’s job).

No other team in baseball can match the Sox’ feat. Even the Yankees fell as many as four games under .500 multiple times in the previous 13 seasons: Five games under as late as May 20 last year, eight games under as late as May 29 in 2007, eight games under as late as May 6 in 2005 and five games under as late as April 17 in 1997.

And if the Sox stumble again this season? Well, the Orioles will show up to bust the slump July 24-26 and Sept. 8-9.

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