Friday night marks the start of what seems to be annual exercise in frustration and futility: a West Coast road trip for the Red Sox. We dread it as fans for so many reasons, not least of which is the horrific scheduling---games that are guaranteed to run past midnight, unless they're day games, which we miss because we're stuck at work or in rush-hour traffic. And if staying up for the games is bad enough on its own, the game experience itself tends to be just a few steps above a Brazilian wax administered by the Marquis de Sade: a disaster that's best left forgotten by all involved (except the victorious West Coast teams, dangit).
Or is it? I've taken a look back at the Red Sox's fortunes on the West Coast since 2003, and the results were surprising, to say the least. Check out the lowlights after the jump.
I picked 2003 as the starting point because it gives us an even decade of results to examine, spanning the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Thus, we have a fair microcosm, although we still don't really escape the "small sample size" syndrome; we're still talking about only a season's worth of games over that time span. But the results are still eye-opening. Let's start with the heady days of the mid-2000's. All of the results here are courtesy of the indispensable Baseball Reference (following the link will take you to the results from 2003). As for what I considered "West Coast," I looked at any game taking place in Pacific Daylight Time, meaning games against the Angels, Athletics, Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Giants, Mariners, and Padres. I omitted the Rockies, because
playing at Coors really isn't baseball it's only a two-hour time difference.
- 2003: The first visit West started with a series loss at Arlington (big surprise there, eh?), before a 2-1 split with Anaheim in April. The next West Coast trip wasn't until August, with a split of a four-game series in Oakland, and a loss in Seattle. (West Coast Record: 5-5. Season Result: *ALCS loss to the Evil Empire.*)
- 2004: Just like in 2003, the first West Coast trip was a "fly-by," lasting just two games, and once again, it was against Anaheim. The next road trip was also split between the Rockies and the Giants. The Sox lost both series, getting swept by Anaheim in a two-game set, and losing 1-2 to San Francisco. Splits of a four-game series against Anaheim and a two-game series in Seattle improved the ledger somewhat, but a three-game sweep of Oakland and a four-game split series at Seattle in September during the Sox' epic run toward history really helped to make the record respectable. (West Coast Record: *9-9*. Season Result: After 86 years, the Red Sox finally reach the Promised Land.)
- 2005: Basking in the post-championship haze, the Red Sox had only three series on the West Coast: back-to-back series against Seattle and Oakland in May, and a four-game set in Anaheim. The results were remarkably consistent: the Sox lost two games in each series, leaving the Sox with a 4-6 record on the road. (Season Result: Swept out of the ALDS by the White Sox.)
- 2006: The Red Sox's West Coast campaign started much like the previous year, with 1-2 showings against both Seattle and Oakland. The second trip of the year, however, was nothing short of an unmitigated disaster, with only a series win against the now renamed Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim relieving the sting of getting swept by both Seattle and Oakland. With a dismal 4-11 record for the year out West, it's little surprise the Red Sox failed to make it to the postseason.
- 2007: The Red Sox had a winning record on the road in 2007, with a .556 winning percentage. You'd have a hard time guessing that based on their West Coast record, with series wins against two (at the time) woeful NL West teams (Diamondbacks and Padres) balancing bad series losses to Oakland and Seattle (1-6). Making life even rougher, the Sox had a third extended West Coast jaunt, going 3-3 combined against the Mariners and the Angels. However, having managed a decent 8-10 record against a stacked deck of so many jaunts out West, it's little wonder that the team was battle-tested enough to survive the onslaught of the postseason---although the contributions of a diminutive, mouthy young second baseman named Dustin Pedroia and a blisteringly fast center fielder named Jacoby Ellsbury (or was that Tacoby Bellsbury?) to that campaign cannot be ignored. (Season Result: Swept the suddenly melted Colorado Rockies to recapture glory.)
- 2008: The Red Sox opened the season well beyond the West Coast in Japan, then returned to the states taking a 3-1 series win against Oakland before getting swept by Toronto. The second trip out west, in May, was another hot mess, with the Sox only eking out one win in Seattle and getting swept by Oakland. Sweeps were the order of the year, with the Sox getting swept by the Angels before sweeping the Mariners. This inconsistent trend was a hallmark of the season, with the Red Sox doing seemingly just enough to survive, but never quite laying waste to their enemies. (West Coast record: 7-9; Season Result: heartbreaking ALCS Game 7 loss to the suddenly exorcised Rays.)
- 2009: The first West Coast trip of the year was memorable, for both good and bad reasons. The record was only 2-4, but the first big problem came on April 14, when Daisuke Matsuzaka imploded after one inning with the first of a series of injuries that would derail his career, leaving the Red Sox bullpen responsible for throwing eleven innings the night before a day game. With the Sox bullpen utterly toasted, it was up to Tim Wakefield to right the ship, and he did, throwing perhaps the greatest game of his career. While the Sox' other West Coast trip was not nearly as memorable, the record was identical: 2-4. Once again, West Coast woes highlighted some significant problems with the Sox, culminating in another postseason we'd like to forget. (West Coast record: 4-8, Season Result: ALDS loss to the Angels.)
- 2010: This was perhaps the strangest of all of the Sox's adventures. Alarm bells were sounded in just the second game on the West Coast, when Clay Buchholz suffered an injury while running against the Giants, proving once more why the DH
is the greatest invention since sliced breadis an important and essential part of modern baseball. However, the series still ended up being a 2-1 win for the Sox. The next trip, after the All-Star break, went swimmingly, with choppy waters against the A's before splitting a four-game series against Seattle and sweeping the Angels. The Sox would struggle once more against the A's in September, but would sweep the Mariners to close out an excellent romp out West. Unfortunately, their West Coast campaign was the bright spot on a rather lackluster road performance amid the total breakdown of just about every important player on the team in the second half of the year. (West Coast record: 12-7!, Season Result: Everybody ended up on the DL, including the Sox's playoff hopes.)
- 2011 was a tale of two halves: The Sox played only one series apiece against the three West Coast teams in the AL West; two of those came in April, when they were actually playing like a good MLB team. They dominated the Athletics and Angels, going 5-1, with a four-game sweep of the Angels. The other series, against Seattle, came as the horrific late-season swoon started, as the Sox went only 1-2, a pattern they would follow for much of the rest of the year. (West Coast record: 6-3, Season Result: Massive promotion of cirrhosis among Red Sox fans.)
- 2012: The Bobby Valentine error in Boston. Not much needs to be said about this. This was supposed to mark a change in Boston, and the West Coast campaign was very different than those of the previous two years: just like everything else Valentine touched, it turned to suck. (West Coast record: 3-13, Season Result: any Red Sox fan whose liver and brain survived the season intact deserves
the right to smash grapefruits into Valentine's face for all eternitya medal.)
So, what lessons have we learned from this look back through the wreckage? Well, over the ten years sampled here, the Sox went 63-80, with winning records only in the disappointing 2010 and infuriating 2011 series. Ironically, some of the best results came in years when the Sox were just fair-to-middling—winning enough games to have a respectable record, but not so many to actually get to a winning record. But sucking on the West Coast usually correlated to a bad season overall. And, just because I'm a glutton for punishment, let's take a quick peek at whether this cross is the Red Sox' alone to bear, or if their competitors in the AL East also look at West Coast road trips with the same excitement as the prospect of watching another Madonna movie.
Looking at the results, we see that, for most of the teams in the division, a trip to the West Coast is about as much fun as a stay in Montresor's cellar. For the Orioles, the results were on the order of the Donner Party—or the Red Sox' 2012 season. The one exception, of course, is the Yankees, but they notably had their only championship (how I hate having to type that) when, lo and behold, they had exactly a .500 record on the road.
On a somewhat related note, another trend stands out: just how unequal the road records are, from year to year and from team to team, even within the division, showing just how capricious MLB's scheduling has been over the years. Just take a look at 2007: the Red Sox, Blue Jays, and Orioles had eighteen or more games on the West Coast, while the Yankees and Rays had half that many. This is an easy-to-follow recipe for unfairness.
Of course, we can ask how this is likely to impact what by all appearances thus far will be an incredibly close AL pennant race. Here's how things have gone so far:
|Record so far
|Games to play
This is actually a bit worrisome, because the teams in our immediate rear-view mirror—the Yankees and the Orioles—have already completed over half of their West Coast itineraries for the year, before the Red Sox have even started a single game. Consequently, we have to hope that the Sox don't shed too much of their hard-earned lead during the course of these two West Coast trips. On the other hand, they do have a slight benefit in having three fewer West Coast games than Baltimore does, although the Yankees indeed benefit by virtue of having the fewest of any team in the division.
Ultimately, we're faced with a dilemma: hope for success out west, and then make suitable offerings that the baseball gods don't punish the Sox for irrational and implausible success, or root for acceptable mediocrity, and then hope that it's enough to hold on to the AL East title by taking care of things inside the division. Personally, I have to think the latter is the more promising route.
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