Can you believe it? We’re already 50 games into the season! It seems like just yesterday the Sox were 0-4, and I’d just finished writing a column titled “The Sky is Falling” in hopes of calming the nerves of Red Sox Nation. Of course, despite my insistence things would eventually improve, things continued to get worse, albeit temporarily. After reaching their nadir at 2-10, the skies finally opened up; the sun started to shine; and the Red Sox finally started winning. Since that forgettable beginning, the Red Sox have gone on to light up the Major Leagues. They’ve won series against the Yankees, Angels, Blue Jays, Twins, Indians, Tigers, and Cubs, going 26-12 in the process. With a few notable exceptions, they’re clicking on all cylinders; poised to make a serious run at seizing hold of first place for the long haul.
In honor of the Red Sox just having completed their 50th game, I thought I’d take a look examine where the Red Sox currently stand with respect to their offense, pitching, and defense.
Offense – Adrian Gonzalez has showed us why Theo and his front office mates were so diligent in their pursuit of the power hitting first baseman. After a promising, yet singles dominated April, A-Gone’s put on a show in May producing an eye popping .367/.400/.637 triple slash line. Even though Casey Kelly and Anthony Rizzo are excelling in the Padres system, I’d re-make this trade every day of the week. Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz have provided ample lineup protection combining some serious power with top-notch on-base abilities. Carl Crawford, after being mired in a gruesome .155/.207/.227 slump in April, appears to have fully rebounded in May hitting a far more robust .308/.330/.451. It’ll only be a matter of time before he’s restored near the top of the order. Jacoby Ellsbury has firmly established himself atop the lineup. He’s drawing some walks, hitting for a little bit of power, and wreaking havoc on the basepaths as per usual. Jarrod Saltalamacchia has finally turned it around as of late, showing off that prodigious raw power that’s been lingering beneath the surface. Hopefully he continues to produce; thereby quieting the haters calling for his ouster. Jed Lowrie, though he’s cooled off recently, has provided a steady bat out of the shortstop slot while Marco Scutaro mends on the DL. The only two regulars that haven’t joined the party are Pedroia and J.D. Drew, but even they’re still getting on base at a pretty decent clip. If they can rediscover their extra base power stroke within the next couple of weeks, the Red Sox lineup could be terrifying to face for opposing pitchers.
Starting Pitching – For the most part, the top three starters (Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, and Clay Buchholz) have been fantastic. Outside of a couple of tough starts recently, Lester has been every bit of an ace. He’s striking out batters, inducing ground balls, and doing a better job keeping the ball in the park. Beckett seems to have rediscovered (or potentially surpassed) his 2007 form. While he’ll almost certainly see some regression (1.69 ERA vs. a 3.30 xFIP), there’s no reason he won’t continue to dominate opposing lineups over the remainder of the season. In April, Buchholz struggled mightily with both command (16/15 K/BB) and keeping the ball on the ground (44.2 FB%). In May, he’s been much improved in all facets of the game, producing a 3.11 xFIP, a 26/7 K/BB ratio, and a 58.7% GB%. Has he turned the corner like Lester did around the same time in 2008? Let’s hope so!
Now, we’re onto the less then savory duo of John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka. I’ve talked a lot about Dice-K lately, so I won’t go too much into his story. Plus, he’s likely done for the year, so there’s not really a point. As for Lackey… Yeah, he’s been a massive of a disappointment. While he’s almost certainly not as bad as his 8.01 ERA would seem to indicate, his 5.50 xFIP does little to quell anyone’s concerns. He’s struggled in almost every facet of the game so far. He’s not coaxing whiffs or strikeouts (4.35 K/9, 6.2% whiff rate); inducing ground balls (33.6% GB rate); or limiting walks (4.12 BB/9). He’s just been brutal. Still, you have to feel for him. His wife was diagnosed with breast cancer just prior to Spring Training, so it’s something he’s probably been dwelling on during his downtime. Add an elbow injury on top of it, and you have the perfect storm for abysmal performance. Will he turn it around this season? I’m not sure. Still, I can’t imagine it getting any worse. Then again, I said that about Beckett last year, and look at what happened.
Bullpen – Jonathan Papelbon is back! There’s no other way to say it. He’s blowing away hitters, limiting walks, and displaying masterful command (27/3 K/BB in 20.2 innings). If this ends up being his last year in a Red Sox uniform, it’s quite a way to close out his career. Daniel Bard has been nearly as good as expected. While his ERA is a touch high (3.65 vs. a 2.95 xFIP), most of that is due to his four run disasterpiece on opening day. If I have one concern with Bard, it’s that he’s displayed some wild tendencies from time to time. Luckily, those instances have been isolated. Matt Albers seems to have settled in nicely as a solid third option out of the bullpen–at least for the time being. Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler have been somewhat disappointing, but I’ll chalk that up to two things: (1) lingering injuries and (2) Francona’s inability to grasp that Wheeler should only be used as a ROOGY. Rich Hill has been spectacular as the lefty out of the bullpen, albeit in very small sample of seven innings. Let’s hope he can keep this going.
Defense – After a rough early showing, the defense has been much improved over the past few weeks. Pedroia and A-Gone continue to look like future Fielding Bible Award winners; Crawford’s finally above water in both UZR and DRS; and Drew has been steady, yet brilliant in RF. On the flip side of the defensive spectrum, Youk’s UZR is still underwater at -2.2 runs, but continues to improve; Ellsbury fails to impress his detractors in CF; and Lowrie looks more like a 2B or 3B long-term than a SS. With regards to the catching situation, I’m not going to touch on that too much considering how difficult their impact is to quantify. Let’s put it this way…both Salty and VTek seem to be doing a decent job calling games and framing pitches. (With “seem” being the operative word.)
With only 50 games down, there’s still a ton of action remaining. Luckily, the Red Sox look like they’re on the right track. Their offense is clicking; their top three starters are dealing; their bullpen is closing out games; and their defense is preventing runs. While 100 wins still seems pretty unlikely, 95 wins and are playoff spot are still well within view. Buckle up guys, it’s going to be an exciting ride.
Categories: Boston Red Sox