The Red Sox executed two sacrifice bunts in Saturday’s 5-1 win over the Yankees, marking the first time all season they had two in a game.
They steal bases (30 for their last 30), they hit, they pitch, and they field about as well as any team in baseball.
They have become that multifaceted team that you just can’t stereotype. They are diverse. You can’t peg them as a home run-hitting team or a team that only pitches well. They beat you in many ways, and they want to add to the arsenal.
“We want to be able to mix it up,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “It’s not that we’re going to do these things all of the time, but when the situation calls for it, it’s great to know your guys can do it and have had an opportunity to use it and practice it before they have to do it.
“We don’t want to be a team that you can pinpoint what we’re going to do. We don’t want to be predictable as a team that does this and that. We want to be unpredictable.”
In football, this is a great trait to have. The championship Patriots teams could beat you in so many ways, giving you different looks and having multiple skills. Coach Bill Belichick would have his teams practice things that other teams didn’t, so when situations came up in games, the players knew what to do.
The same concept is going on with the Sox.
They may be the hardest team for an advance scout to peg. He may see the Red Sox for a series and then report back to his manager that they do this in this situation and this pitcher throws this, etc. And then it may completely change.
Daniel Nava is a patient hitter, right? He is until he decides to swing at the first pitch.
“Every once in a while it’s good to change it up,” Nava said.
You can shift all day against David Ortiz, but there have been instances lately when teams haven’t shifted. Why? Because Ortiz has found a way to put it into their heads that he goes the other way and he’s liable to beat you on the left side.
The Red Sox want to be that moving target.
The Red Sox have the fewest sacrifice bunts in baseball with 22, yet Nava (second inning) and Shane Victorino (third) executed bunts Saturday. Imagine bunting in the second inning at Fenway Park? The Sox did it because they want to make sure you know they can.
Why would a team that leads all of baseball with 528 extra-base hits, 45 better than the second-best team (Baltimore), bunt at all?
“You just do what the game gives you,” said first baseman Mike Napoli. “John [Farrell] probably wanted to push a couple runs across early and that’s just what we did. We had a guy at first and second, Nava puts a bunt down, Shane did it, and we got runs out of it. We’re not just going to always bash. Sometimes you get a good pitcher out there, you’re going to have to try to put a couple runs up early.
“We’re not going to be able to score 10 runs all the time. So sometimes we’ve got to manufacture runs. We did that early today and it just shows we can do different things, not just bash it. We can get guys over, and with less than two outs get guys in. We’ve got a good offense.”
In another example of keeping them guessing, two weeks ago against Max Scherzer, Victorino hit righthanded and then switched to lefthanded because Scherzer was eating him up.
“They kind of looked over at me and tried to figure out what I was doing,” Victorino said. “I don’t think they knew what to make of it.”
Other than Jacoby Ellsbury, you don’t think of the Sox as a base-stealing team, but when you haven’t been caught in your last 30 attempts, when you lead all of baseball with an 86-percent success ratio and have only been caught 19 times, you are what your numbers say you are — a base-stealing team.
Farrell and his coaching staff certainly make the runners aware of pitchers and their quickness to the plate. That’s what first base coach Arnie Beyeler keeps the stopwatch handy for. The Red Sox, like most teams, are aware of those times.
If it’s up in the 1.5 second area, you take off. The Red Sox seem to have runners such as Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, and Victorino in particular to be able to make it work. Even Jarrod Saltalamacchia is 2 for 2 in steals the past couple of weeks because he’s been able to take advantage of those slow times to the plate.
Ellsbury, Pedroia, Victorino, and newcomer Quintin Berry all have the green light, but they also have stop signs, which are implemented in a certain count or situation, such as against a lefty starter who might have a quick or deceptive move to first.
The Red Sox usually don’t miss when it comes to picking the right time to steal. Think about that ability and how it would translate into a potential winning run in the postseason. Ellsbury singles, steals second, and draws an errant throw because the catcher is trying to be too quick. How many times have we seen it? Ellsbury at third, and Ortiz or Napoli singles him in.
The Red Sox make you pay for mistakes, and that’s because they like to finish off what they sometimes create.
In this post-steroid era (we think), as the power numbers decrease, the need to play small ball increases, and the Red Sox aren’t going to miss the bus.
Earlier this season, the Red Sox were struggling against lefthanded starters. After beating CC Sabathia Saturday, they now have won 10 straight games against lefty starters. They decided as a team that such struggles were unacceptable and they did something about it.
They can adapt. They can change their colors on the fly.
This is the perception they’d like to create. And to this point, they’ve done it well.Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.