With their win today, combined with a Yankee loss, the Red Sox once again find themselves back atop the AL East standings after a brief, one day, fall into second. How good is this year's team?
Well compared to last year's club, which won 95 games and got into the playoffs, pretty comparable.
Through 54 games, this is how the current team stacks up to last year's edition:
Wins 33 30
HR 67 57
OBP .366 .361
Team Average .278 .280
Team ERA .460 .476
Saves 21 12
HR Allowed 66 52
Errors 20 36
So what does this infer? Well, for starters, this team is at least as good as last year's -- if wins are the primary indicator -- and secondarily, the power hitting has improved (to the surprise of many) while the team's ability to hit and get on base has remained about exactly the same. Concerns about an offensive decline were premature and overstated.
Perhaps the most eye-popping statistic is how far the team's error total has fallen, which bears out Theo Epstein's commitment to defense this year. That's been of great benefit to Sox pitchers, though their numbers don't necessarily bear that out. Just think of how much worse things could be.
The team's Achilles' heel last year was pitching, and -- though it was advertised to be much improved -- pitching is this team's significant weakness once again. The team ERA has improved just marginally, but the homers allowed are way up. The one shining success is the bullpens' 36 saves. Rookie Jonathan Papelbon has already singlehandedly amassed as many saves (20) as the entire bullpen did collectively in 2005. That's a marked improvement, and one we can all be grateful for.
The most amazing thing, however, is that the Sox have managed to be this successful despite the middling contributions of Matt Clement (now finally over .500 but with a 6.68 ERA) and Tim Wakefield (4-7, 4.05 ERA). Even Josh Beckett is now sporting a 4.46 ERA, though that's overshadowed by his 7-2 record. But most of all, the rotation has been without a regular fifth starter all year, and has gotten mostly weak efforts from David Wells, Lenny DinArdo, and David Pauley. Pauley will continue his trial by fire this week in the Bronx, but he'll be on a short leash and won't be given much room for error.
Because of the double-header on Saturday against Texas, the Sox will likely call up 22-year-old lefty Jon Lester to make his Major League debut. Hopefully he's as good as all the hype that's surrounded him for the past couple of years, because at this point the beleaguered rotation could use an injection of talented, capable youth. As we saw last year, offense will only take a club so far -- namely a first round playoff exit, if they're lucky to get that far again. The AL is much more competitive this year. Wining the division may provide the only invitation to the post season.
In the meantime, the Sox will remain patient at the plate and try to keep feasting on opposing pitchers.
As Tiger rookie pitcher Zach Miner said, "That's probably the best-hitting team in baseball, and they just wouldn't swing at anything out of the strike zone."
That plate discipline and patience have worked wonders so far this year, and were on display again today as David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez hit two of Boston's four homers and drew two of its three bases-loaded walks in the Sox victory.
The Sox will need more of that, and they'll also need some pitching help from either inside or outside the organization, if they're to fight their way back into the post season again and repeat the World Series glory of 2004.
Copyright © 2006 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.