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Likability Factor.

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Boston Red Sox left fielder Daniel Nava signs autographs for fans prior to playing the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. The Red Sox defeated the Phillies 5-1. Credit: Howard Smith-US PRESSWIRE

I have a very simple question. Is this team likable? For the first time in a while, I feel like I can honestly say yes. Maybe it’s just me; maybe people have always liked this team regardless of who’s on it.

Here’s where I’m coming from. I like the underdog, the dirt dog. I mean, I really like dogs in general (see picture). I’ve rooted for this team my whole life and for most of it the Red Sox weren’t great. Basically I’ve seen one decade of great baseball, and almost two of underdog baseball. I grew up surrounded by the mantra of “There’s always next year”. I grew up playing games like Ken Griffey baseball. I’d always pick the bad teams and try to build them up. I still do that. I used to have one game that  had an “Expansion” mode, where two new teams came in the league, you ran one and had a fantasy draft. These teams were so bad that the best player in those drafts was a young pitcher named Rick Ankiel. I wonder if he’s related to the outfielder? Anyway, that’s where I come from. I like overachievers, guys who leave it all on the field. I like the kind of team that gets described the same way that someone might describe Dustin Pedroia.

So are the Red Sox in that category? Last year was about two things, disappointment and underachieving stars. The only bright spot might have been Jacoby Ellsbury. But think about the disappointments, Carl Crawford, John Lackey, Kevin Youkilis, Bobby Jenks, Daisuke Matsuzaka, J.D. Drew, Clay Buchholz. These are all players with decent contracts that we expected more from. Now think about how the season ended. The way it went down, they way they responded. Terrible. That’s not the definition of a likeable team.

Now let’s think about this year. Yeah, we’ve got a lot of those same players on the roster but so far we haven’t had to think about them. This year we have Alfredo Aceves, a man willing to do anything that the team asks. A guy who thought he’d be a starter, then told that he’s going to be in the pen, then becomes the closer. Scott Atchison, a 36-year old who was pitching in Japan before pitching in Boston. Rich Hill a hometown guy.  Mike Aviles, a career backup who has never played more than 110 games in a season.

Currently the 4 players on the 40 man roster, not including the DL, that are listed as outfielders are Marlon Byrd, Daniel Nava, Scott Podsednik, and Ryan Sweeney. None of these players were projected to start, only one to be on the team. Podsednik played 39 games with the Dodgers last season and started the year in the Phillies minor league system. Ryan Sweeney has only one season (2009) with at least 400 at bats. Marlon Byrd has had the best career out of all of them, and he averages 40 RBI per season. But most importantly is Daniel Nava. To me, he’s the most likable player on the team.  At 29, he’s played less than 90 games in the majors, all with Boston. Nava was a guy that no one wanted. He was designated for assignment and removed from the Red Sox 40-man roster on May 20, 2011. He was unclaimed and was out-righted back to the Pawtucket Red Sox. This year Nava was not even invited to major league training camp.

And let me talk about two guys who I really like on this team. Former 1st round picks who have been underachievers their whole career but seem to be getting it together this season. Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Andrew Miller. Miller had such high projections and he may never reach those. Who knows if he will ever be a starter, but I love his arm coming out of the pen. This season in 12 appearances Miller has a 2.38 ERA, 2.4 walks per 9 and 11.9 Ks per 9. All career best. His previous best in various seasons were 4.84, 4.7 bb/9, and 7.9 k/9. And Salty, what a player he has become. This is what people expected all those years when he was considered a top prospect. Compared to all AL catchers with at least 120 ABS (11 qualify), Salty is 3rd in batting average at .273, 1st in HRs with 10, and 4th in RBI with 25. He has the best slugging percentage with .576 and OPS of .883. If he had enough at bats to qualify against all AL batters he’d be 7th in the American League in SLG and 13th in OPS.

Boston still has the standard fan favorites, Ortiz, Pedroia, and Ellsbury. That hasn’t changed.  And how can fans not like Gonzalez, a guy who switches positions for the team? I know his personality isn’t what Pedroia’s is but he’s still putting team first. Middlebrooks is winning fans over with his power. With these players and the addition of the misfit toys, how can you not like this team?

I know the counter argument, the starting pitchers. They aren’t likable. They lost most of the goodwill they had last season, but it hasn’t been terrible this season. Beckett has had some rough patches, Lester isn’t the ace that we thought he was, and Buchholz is at risk of losing his starters role but they appear to be getting better. And I mentioned some bullpen pieces earlier, but as a whole, are there any relievers on this team that you don’t like?

I like this team. I feel good rooting for this team. Who knows what will happen with Nava and who knows if Salty and Miller will keep up these numbers. But as long as we have guys that know they need to fight to keep their jobs, to stay in the lineup, to fight for future jobs once the Red Sox get their high priced players back, I will root for these hard workers much like I rooted for Bill Mueller.

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Tags: Alfredo Aceves Andrew Miller Bill Mueller Bobby Jenks Boston Red Sox Carl Crawford Clay Buchholz Daisuke Matsuzaka Daniel Nava Dustin Pedroia J. D. Drew Jacoby Ellsbury Jarrod Saltalamacchia John Lackey Kevin Youkilis Marlon Byrd Mike Aviles Rich Hill Ryan Sweeney Scott Atchison Scott Po

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