Sox Catch Tampa Bay
The Sox finally playing inspired baseball, the club has been rolling with a 14-5 record in June. Meanwhile, the Devil Rays have stagnated, posting just an 8-9 mark over that period.
It has been a long time coming, but the Red Sox have finally drawn even at second place with in-division foe Tampa Bay.
It’s difficult to do justice to how great of an accomplishment this is. A team that appeared dead in the water not one month ago has risen from the ashes back to contention — all the while combating debilitating injuries and emergency call ups.
Should Daisuke Matsuzaka and Josh Beckett, especially, come back strong from their injuries, the club could once again have the MLB’s best rotation. A 1-2-3 of Beckett, Jon Lester, and a surging Clay Buchholz would rival that of any in the league. John Lackey and Matsuzaka at 4 and 5 would make the Rays and Yankees green with envy.
With Jacoby Ellsbury in left and Jeremy Hermida the fourth outfielder, the lineup will see a tremendous boost.
The best is yet to come.
Or is it?
While the abounding optimism and rejoicing across Red Sox Nation is absolutely warranted — and deserved — the Faithful must tread lightly as the team proceeds onward. Though the club has certainly hit a groove, there are still plenty of roadblocks to overcome.
For one, the patchwork outfield, held together by AAA call ups Daniel Nava and Darnell McDonald, cannot be expected to hold.
The key word is expected.
While Nava’s (.360/.407/.680) and McDonald’s (.276/.335/.386) have been more than the team could have hoped neither is a proven commodity. And while many players throughout baseball history have moved from “pleasant surprise” to “bona fide stud,” these instances are few and far between.
Perennial contenders like Boston are perennial contenders because they rely upon proven players, not unknowns.
It would be unreasonable to expect two Pawtucket replacements to produce at the level of Major League regulars.
Sooner or later, the team will need an upgrade.
Therefore, the club will need contributions from a fully healthy J.D. Drew, Jeremy Hermida, and Jacoby Ellsbury to keep up with Tampa Bay.
In addition, the impending arrivals of Daisuke Matsuzaka and Josh Beckett must be met with a certain amount of healthy skepticism. While they will both bolster the club upon arrival, they have their own hurdles to overcome.
Daisuke’s history of inconsistency — when healthy, no less — will be further compounded when returning from injury. Ailments and fatigue can hurt pitchers in any number of ways, and a pitcher with Daisuke’s track record is as risky as any in the Majors.
Beckett, too, is a relative unknown. Back injuries are notoriously unpredictable, and, combined with the length of time he has missed, it’s anyone’s guess for what to expect. With reports as far back as May citing Beckett’s inability to repeat his delivery as well as the injury causing him to alter his mechanics, who knows how he will produce when he returns.
The fact that the injury has caused problems for his delivery is particularly concerning, as altered mechanics and deliveries have been known to cause any number of problems, including issues with command and being able to consistently throw certain pitches.
Will any of the aforementioned players be able to avoid the DL through the remainder of the season? Will Beckett be able to consistently repeat his delivery upon arrival? Will Ellsbury, an all-out player, feel confident enough in his ribcage to continue his pre-injury style of play?
This team has played itself back into contention and is poised to overtake the division lead — an incredible accomplishment considering all their injuries and disappointments this season. If anything, this team really does have its best baseball in front of them. Still, Boston fans would be wise not to celebrate just yet, instead getting geared up for an all-out fight to the finish.
There is a long way to go.
Minor Additions: Ryan Shealy to Pawtucket
The Sox made quite the unheralded addition this past week, signing AAA slugger Ryan Shealy to the Pawtucket Red Sox.
Though Shealy has his drawbacks and had struggled with the Rays’ AAA-affiliate Durham (.238/.368/.514, 10 HR, 183 AB), there is a lot to like about this low-risk addition — one that could provide dividends if and when the Sox need to dip into their organization’s lack of hitting depth.
The first, and most prominent, positive is Shealy’s bat.
The 6-5, 240 lb. first baseman is big on power. Having posted a gaudy .306/.399/.560 career minor league line with 142 homers in 2466 at-bats (including 41 career long balls for my very own Colorado Springs Sky Sox), he brings some serious thump to whichever AAA city he happens to being calling his home.
Second, is the glove.
Having spoken with sources in Colorado that are familiar with Shealy, he was reportedly a very skilled fielder in his days with the Sky Sox in ’05 and ’06 — with good range and hands. These abilities will certainly help him make a case for Major League playing time, especially in an organization that makes defense a high priority.
Unfortunately, the rub with Shealy has been his inability to turn those minor league statistics into consistent production at the Major League level — leading to him earning the dreaded Quad-A moniker.
It doesn’t take much digging to see where this notion comes from, as Shealy’s Major League line shrinks considerably upon the jump to the Majors. (Career Major League line: .271/.335/.429; 19 home runs, 538 at-bats.)
In addition, compared to AAA, his strikeouts have risen (Career K rate, AAA: 21.75 percent; MLB: 27.51 percent) while his power has dropped (Career AB/HR, AAA: 17.81; MLB: 28.31) — both negatives for his prospects in the Majors.
Nevertheless, Shealy could prove to be quite the valuable pickup for a team in need of organizational depth at the infield corners — especially one obtained at a low cost that does not eat up a spot on the 40-man roster.
On the one hand, the first baseman’s career MLB line, as is, would prove to be a serviceable backup for the Sox if called upon in a pinch. Hitters with a .764 OPS — even at first base — do not grow on trees (remember Sean Casey, anyone?).
On the other, his most recent season in ’08 with Kansas City (.301/.354/.603, 7 home runs, 73 at-bats) leaves some hope that Shealy may be on his way to figuring out how to translate his power to the Major League level.
In addition, the fact that he has been able to post a .341 BABIP in the Majors bodes well for his ability to hit for power.
As long as a hitter can consistently connect and drive the ball, it is usually expected that his power will follow soon thereafter. 2008 may have been that long-awaited indication that he was improving. Don’t expect a Carlos Pena-like breakout, but an uptick in production would make Shealy a serviceable MLB backup and situational hitter.
In other words, quite the nice mid-season addition.
Another role that has been suggested for Shealy is that of insurance for a Mike Lowell trade.
In this scenario, Shealy would replace Lowell on the roster should the latter be shipped off, leaving Shealy to take over some of Lowell’s platoon duties. While this seems like a natural fit for Shealy’s right-handed bat, perhaps some enthusiasm should be tempered. Shealy the holder of a fairly large reverse platoon split against Major League pitching, his career record consists of a .307/.363/.481 line against righties versus a .179/.266/298 share versus lefties.
Whatever the case may be, Boston should be thrilled with the addition of Shealy to Pawtucket. With his serviceable MLB track record and the club’s lack of organizational depth, he may eventually prove to be a key contributor to the 2010 Red Sox.