These have been hard times for Sox fans lately. Even though the Sox still maintain the best record in baseball at 72-48 and hold a five game lead over the New York Yankees (of which they fell to the Orioles twice, a merciful reprieve from the Gods), you wouldn’t know it by looking at the comments on Fire Brand. The comments have been overwhelmingly negative, which shows everyone how insecure Sox fans are. Mass media and most fans have turned on the Red Sox since 2004, crying that the team is spending too much, getting too much media attention, that Fenway is a toilet (how dare they, Fenway is a beautiful stadium; anyone who says that has clearly never visited or just simply has it in for the Sox in every way), on and on and on … well, one thing hasn’t changed. We’re still the same old die-hard fans who cheer baseball in Boston as if it was a religion. (And don’t be fooled, it is a religion in Boston.)
In a month in which we are just 8-6 so far, I think it’s time to bring some positivity to this team. Lord knows we need it with the pesky Angels heading into town tonight, leading the AL West by 3.5 games and holding a record of 69-48. Without further ado, here’s another edition of Nine Up, Nine Down (all statistics do not include the stinker of a 6-5 loss to Tampa Bay on Wednesday)…
LEADING OFF is J.D. Drew. Drew has hit .382/.462/.529 in August (again, not including Wednesday, in which he had an ofer) which is a pleasant sight to see. Drew has been wildly inconsistent this year. Check out these OPS’ by month, starting in April and ending in August: .769, .552, .963, .625, .991. While this may not bode well for September, it certainly does for October! Drew’s also started playing a bit of centerfield, which I’m happy to see because it puts Wily Mo Pena/Bobby Kielty in a more comfortable right field. Drew is important to the Sox’s hopes because he is only the second of two true lefty hitters on the team and he’s important to help link the lineup together. Whether he bats fifth, sixth or seventh, he is important to the offense. I still think the next four years of his tenure will be better than his first, but a .261/.364/.390 line isn’t too shabby (except for the slugging, of course, which was a horrendous .237 in May). Drew is hitting the ball in August. This is good.
ON DECK is Daisuke Matsuzaka, who leads the team in innings. Before his debacle on Wednesday when he coughed up six runs in six innings, he was second in the majors in ERA since June 1st with a sparkling 2.53 ERA. This means he’s starting to figure things out, but he’s still certainly prone to mentally drifting (as evidenced by his yawning on Wednesday). He’s not going to win 20 games, but he can still bring us valuable innings and his ERA is still under 4.00. (Psst… my preseason projection of 18-8 with a 3.43 ERA in 195.0 IP is looking pretty good, he’s on pace for a 17-10, 3.79, 214.0 season.) When Dice-K takes the mound, I’m not supremely confident because I know that he can completely break down (which he did in a four-run third Wednesday, although the Devil Rays lucked out on two infield singles) but more often than not, he’s definitely going to be giving you a quality effort out there.
BATTING THIRD is Julio Lugo, who has finally woken up. After hitting rock bottom in June with a .089/.170/.139 line, he recovered to a .313/.377/.448 line in July and is hitting .347/.365/.449 line in August, not including his two doubles Wednesday night — one that scored Coco Crisp to bring the score to 6-5 and put him on second with no outs (I’m still very upset). This is the Lugo that Theo Epstein thought that we were all getting. I’m not ready to anoint him as “back” or “legit” but every time he gets a hit, it’s a very, very pleasant surprise. I hope this pleasant surprise continues. The only change is that his stolen bases are dwindling. Here are his stolen bases/caught stealing ratios per month of the season (ending with August): 8/0, 7/0, 5/1, 6/2, 1/1. Could he be tiring as the season wears on?
CLEANING UP is Josh Beckett. Beckett’s been the undeniable ace thus far this year, leading the team in wins with a 15-5 record and also leads in ERA with a 3.24 mark. His WHIP is at 1.11, he’s walked 29 and whiffed 140 in 147.1 innings. That’s what I’m talking about! Beckett, who went on the DL earlier this year with an “avulsion” is pacing 194.0 innings on the year (and would have breezed past 200 had he not gone on the DL) and 20 wins, allowing 12 homers and walking just 38. The homers would be his least since 2003, when he allowed nine (he currently has nine) and his walks would be the lowest ever that qualify. I like the year 2003. It’s when Beckett hurled a complete game in the World Series to win the championship for the Marlins.
DRIVING THEM IN Clay Buchholz, set to make his debut today at 1:00 PM against much-maligned Ervin Santana. Buchholz will be another exciting addition to the Red Sox, who were energized by the play of Jacoby Ellsbury earlier this year. Here’s a scouting report on Buchholz from SoxProspects.com:
Buchholz has a low-to-mid 90s four-seam fastball, a two-seam fastball with decent movement, a slider, a hard 12-to-6 curveball, and a change-up. In 2006, Buchholz actually let loose towards the end of the season, when his fastball was sitting around 96 mph. However, over the course of the season his fastball typically sits around 91-94 and tops out at about 97 mph. His plus change-up is generally a straight change that sits around 78-82 mph; he also throws a circle change. His curveball, the best in the organization, sits between 76-81 mph with a knee-buckling bite. On any given night, Buchholz’s curve or change can be unhittable, and he tends to rely on whichever is on as his out pitch throughout the game. His slider, while average to above average, is a bit behind his other secondary pitches and sits in the low to mid 80s. Mixes in all of his pitches phenomenally. Good demeanor on the mound. Pitches well under pressure, pitching coaches have said he has ice water running through his veins. Nice pick-off move. Struggled with consistency early in his pro career, but otherwise has ace makeup. Might need to add and maintain some weight to endure a full major league season.
So far this year, Buchholz has a 1.77 ERA in Portland, having pitched a total of 86.2 innings there before being promoted to Pawtucket. Buchholz holds a 3.26 ERA in Rhode Island, with a record of 1-1 and an 48/8 K/BB in 30.1 IP. I know I’m excited, are you?
IN THE SIXTH SPOT IS Jon Lester, whom I came down on a bit hard earlier this week. I said that if Lester didn’t perform well, to boot him, as I wasn’t pleased with his results so far. Well, Lester responded (probably in no small part to the home crowd) with a sterling outing, shutting the Devil Rays down to one run and two hits in seven innings and then saw his teammates score twice in the bottom ninth for a thrilling comeback (never mind that the offense was frustratingly dormant the entire game until that point). His ERA is now 5.14, and he draws the Rays again in Tampa Bay on Monday. Lester is a great story, but more importantly (and I know this may sound a bit crass, I really don’t want to take away from his accomplishment), he’s starting to show the results on the field. This needs to continue, or I will call for a change again.
SEVENTH IS Mike Lowell, who has been having a great year. He has a .311/.362/.501 line and a .864 OPS, best since 2004 and third best ever. Yes, it’s a contract year, yes, it’s probably a fluke, but he’s doing it. He’s also chilled out on all the errors, and he’s recently started hitting in the five-spot for us. Lowell has really brought the lineup together, and for all our fearing of his second half decline, his .850 OPS since the All-Star Break suggests otherwise.
BRINGING UP THE REAR IS … not us! The Red Sox are in first place with baseball’s best record. Think about that for a second. Forget the frustration we’ve gone through. Forget how nervous we are about the future. Revel in this.
AND IN THE NINTH SPOT IS the results of the most recent poll which asked which player should bat second in our “perfect” lineup. The poll before that asked who the leadoff hitter of the Red Sox should be; people voted Coco Crisp over Dustin Pedroia by a 39 percent margin. This time around, Pedroia holds off Kevin Youkilis (likely aided because of a recent 1/13 slide that Youkilis endured in the Devil Rays series).
The official results of the poll (Julio Lugo received multiple votes!):
I can’t disagree with the results, as I think Pedroia is a solid player. I’m just simply going to repeat myself when I discussed this poll: “He makes contact, putting the ball in play and allowing Coco to use his motor. He has a discerning eye and is batting .352/.416/.480 since May 1st.”
Now, the question is who bats fifth. There’s no question that Ortiz and Manny need to bat third and fourth; it’s where they’re most comfortable, it’s where they’ve done their damage, and it allows us to entertain J.D. Drew as an option for the five spots. The contestants:
- J.D. Drew, who has been heating up in August as previously mentioned and adds lefty/righty balance,
- Mike Lowell, who is having a heck of a season (again, as previously mentioned),
- or Kevin Youkilis, who, while struggling, still is a quality hitter.
Those are your options. I think it would be foolish to entertain the thought of Julio Lugo or Jason Varitek in the five slot, so we won’t bother. Make your voice heard, let’s see what lineup the Sox should carry in September and October!