Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Thursday, May 01, 2008

SOX RISE TO CHALLENGE IN APRIL

Despite a 30,000-mile road trip that included three nations, injuries, and a flu bug that invaded their clubhouse, the Sox still finished April in first place in the AL East, with the second best record in the league.

Josh Beckett. Mike Timlin, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Manny Delcarmen, Coco Crsip, JD Drew, Alex Cora, Sean Casey, David Ortiz and Jacoby Ellsbury all missed various amounts of time due to injury or illness.

The Sox had to call on Triple A players, such as Jed Lowrie, Brandon Moss, David Pauley, Justin Masterson, Craig Hansen, and Joe Thurston, because they were so decimated and undermanned. To win in the face of these challenges is very impressive. And that's not all.

The Sox lead the Majors with eight wins in their last at-bat this season, and are 8-2 in one run games.

However, while the Sox travel schedule was indeed challenging, the majority of their opponents were not. In April, the Sox played series' against Oakland, Toronto, Detroit, New York, Cleveland, Texas, Anaheim, and Tampa Bay. Of all those teams, only Tampa Bay, Anaheim, and Oakland had records of .500 or better. So the Sox clearly benefitted from a weak schedule.

Here's how the Sox stacked up in April versus last year:

2007 - 2008

16-8 Record 17-12

.262 Team Avg. .288

27 Home Runs 22

3.28 Team ERA 4.40

69 Walks 112

.228 Op. Bat Avg. .246

First the good news: The Sox are second in the Majors in hits and batting average. But the pitching could be a concern.

Here's the not-so-good news: The Sox team ERA is 19th in baseball, and 10th in the AL. They are fourth in walks -- second in the AL. They are also fourth in the AL in runs allowed. If you're looking for the upside on the pitching staff, they are tied for second in the majors with three shutouts, have allowed the ninth fewest hits, and are third in strikeouts -- first in the AL.

David Ortiz was mired in a slump for much of the month, but has finally come around and found his stroke. Mike Lowell was injured and couldn't produce while on the DL. Despite the struggle/absence of these two key leaders, the offense largely thrived. With both of them healthy and performing to their capability, the Sox offense will only get better.

Indeed, if there is an area of concern, it has got to be pitching. Walks have hurt the Red Sox, costing them runs and games. The only starter with an ERA under 4 is Dice-K (2.52). And the middle relief has been ugly and costly.

However, Jon Lester and Clay Bucholz should get better and more confident as the season progresses. Dice-K looks like the pitcher everyone had anticipated last season and is leading the team in ERA and strikeouts. Josh Beckett will compete for the Cy Young Award once again. And the combination of Bartolo Colon and Curt Schilling could add depth later this year. Their veteran presence and experience could also help in a playoff hunt. But for Schilling to pitch, and be effective, again will require a minor miracle.

In the meantime, we can only hope that the starters stay healthy. And if someone goes down, Justin Masterson gave us a reason for hope. And there is little doubt that Theo Epstein will be looking for bullpen help once again at the trade deadline (isn't he always?).

Despite their difficulties in April, the Red Sox gave us reason to believe that they will compete for a Championship again this year. But it won't be easy. The division has gotten stronger due to the improvements of Baltimore and Tampa Bay. Nine of fourteen AL teams have at least a .500 record. They're all beating up on one another and the competition, so far, has been fierce.

It will likely remain that way as the season continues to unfold.

Copyright © 2008 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

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