Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Red Sox Suddenly Coming Alive

The poor start to the Red Sox season came as a surprise to many. Especially since the offense, which seemed suspect to many at the start of the season, has been a force.

The Red Sox are fourth in baseball in runs, second in homers, third in doubles, fourth in OPS, and sixth in OBP. And they've done all that without Jacoby Ellsbury and Mike Cameron for most of the season.

However, the team built on pitching and defense has been surprisingly deficient in both areas for much of the season.

The Red Sox starter's cumulative ERA of 4.54 is 21st in MLB and ninth in the AL. That's something no one could have predicted, especially with a front three of Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, and John Lackey.

And far too often, Red Sox fielders have looked like the Keystone Kops on defense. At times, their bumbling futility has been nothing short of jaw-dropping. But some of those dramatic and egregious misplays have overshadowed the fact that the Red Sox 27 errors are ranked ninth in the AL, and their .985 fielding percentage is fourth in the AL.

Recently the team's defense, pitching, and overall performance, have been trending upward.

The Red Sox have now won four straight, seven of eight, and 15 of 22. And they've succeeded against a succession of winning teams, such as the Yankees, Blue Jays, Tigers, Twins, Phillies, and Rays.

But the Sox started the season terribly against the Rays and Yankees and, despite their recent hot streak, are still 6.5 games out of first as a result. Boston is now 26-21, the first time they've been five games above .500 this season.

There are 115 games yet to play, and if the Sox manage to win 60 percent of their remaining schedule, they'll wind up with 95 wins – exactly the number the club figures it needs to qualify for the playoffs each year.

While finishing in first in the AL East may be a lofty goal at this point, the Wild Card spot suddenly seems a lot more realistic.

The starting pitching finally seems to be coming around and looks like the staff that everyone had been expecting. With the exception of Lackey's last outing, six of their last seven start have been fantastic.

Sox starters are 6-1 with a 1.44 ERA in the last seven games.

There have been some surprises, such as Josh Beckett's 1-1 record and 7.29 ERA.

However, Clay Buchholz seems to have finally delivered on all that promise. Buchholz's 3.07 ERA leads all Sox starters, as do his six wins. And he has the most wins (12) of any AL starter since last August 19.

There are plenty of other reasons for optimism, as well.

Dustin Pedroia's home run and RBI totals are well ahead of his 2008 MVP season.

Adrian Beltre leads the Red Sox with 56 hits and a .327 average. The odd thing is that the Sox signed him for his defense and 25-homer potential. But Beltre has just three homers and seven errors. Despite his lack of power, Beltre is hitting lights out so far, which is something no one ever expected.

Kevin Youkilis is having an MVP-caliber season, batting .316 with three triples, 10 HR, 29 RBI, and a stunning .458 OBP, which is second highest in the Majors. He also leads the Majors in walks (28) and runs (40).

The question for the Red Sox is how they can improve by the trade deadline.

The Sox have a number of veterans with expiring contracts, such as David Ortiz, Mike Lowell, Jason Varitek, and Victor Martinez. Aside from Martinez, none of them have a lot of trade value. Aside from that, their more productive, youthful players are guys they've built their team around (Youkilis, Pedroia, Ellsbury), or are veterans on short-term deals (Beltre, Cameron, and Marco Scutaro).

Mike Lowell can still hit and may still have some trade value. Lowell had three doubles on May 3, becoming the first player since 1952 to accomplished that feat eight times in his career. He surpassed George Brett, who did it seven times. Lowell needs regular at-bats to maintain his rhythm, something he won't get in Boston.

A Rangers official told the Globe's Nick Cafardo last week he’d love to get Lowell in Texas. The Rangers are looking for a righthanded hitter who can produce.

Martinez's defensive deficiencies are the primary reason the Sox have held off on negotiating an extension with him. There are serious concerns about him at catcher going forward, and it's likely the Sox view him as a first baseman / DH in the future.

The Indians said Martinez wore down catching every day, and that it affected his hitting. Unfortunately, he got off to a very slow start this year. Given his defensive deficiencies, if he doesn't hit, he has little value behind the plate.

Depending on the team's record in July, Jonathan Papelbon's name will likely surface in trade discussions.

Boston's closer hasn't been as dominant as in the past, and has been trending downward in recent years.

This year, he's 1-3 with a 3.00 ERA, which is well below is career 1.92 ERA. Over 21 innings he's given up 14 hits, 11 walks, and hit one batsman, amounting to 25 baserunners. That's a WHIP of 1.25, which is decent. And he has fanned 16 batters, which is also decent. However, none of this amounts to the dominance he once showed.

It's hard to envision the Red Sox giving Papelbon the multi-year deal he is seeking before 2011, especially with Daniel Bard waiting in the wings.

Incredibly, Papelbon recently suffered his first regular season blown save since last July.

But because it was against the Yankees, and because of the way the team was playing, it was magnified.

Yet, it was the first walk-off home run given up by Papelbon in his five-year career, which is simply amazing.

Coming into that game, Papelbon had made 22 straight conversions. The only other time he allowed two homers in a game was to Minnesota's Justin Morneau and Jacque Jones in his major league debut on July 31, 2005,

With the exception of Game Three in last year's ALDS, he's been pretty solid and reliable.

To even consider trading him this season, the Red Sox would have to appear to be out of contention by the trade deadline, something that suddenly seems less likely.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

May, a Make or Break Month for Red Sox

The Red Sox are team still struggling to find their identity as they near the midpoint of May.

Having dropped two in a row to the Yankees, the Sox are now back below .500, at 15-16. They find themselves in fourth place in the AL East, and 7.5 games behind the division-leading Rays.

The Red hadn't strung together a winning streak of longer than two games this season, until they swept four in a row from the Angels this week. The offense suddenly awoke, outscoring the Angels 36-16.

But now they've lost two in a row to the Yankees, losing the series before today's game is even played. The Red Sox have proven themselves to be a team of streaks, and the winning variety haven't been long, or frequent, enough.

At this point, the Sox only solace is that the Yankees started 15-17 last season, then ended up with 103 wins and a World Series championship.

But things won't get any easier for the Sox during the rest of May. After this three-game series with the Yankees, the Blue Jays — who are ahead of the Sox in the standings — come to town. After that the Sox go to Detroit, and then to Yankee Stadium. After that, they’re home against the Twins for two games before heading out to Philadelphia and Tampa. All of those teams are over .500, and three are division leaders.

The Sox won't catch a break until May 27, when they return home to host the Royals.

At that point, we should all know if the Red Sox have any chance of competing in the AL East this season. Though they've been without two-thirds of their starting outfield for nearly a month, many would argue that it's already too late for a meaningful recovery anyway.

The Red Sox are essentially relying on the Rays and/or Yankees to collapse – perhaps due to key injuries – to get back into the playoff hunt. But a team wants to chart its own course, be responsible for its own fate, and not rely on another team's demise to provide hope or opportunity. Yet, that's the reality the Sox are facing at this point. They are 1-8 against the Rays and Yanks this year, all at Fenway.

When they leave town Wednesday night, the Sox will have played 23 of their first 35 games at Fenway, where they have traditionally shined. However, they are 9-10 at home this season.

The Red Sox offense has been better than predicted; the Sox are third in the league in batting average, homers, and runs.

However, the pitching and defense – the very things this team was purported to have been built on – have been disappointing, to say the least.

The Sox’ staff ERA is 5.11, putting them near the bottom of the American League. And it's not the bullpen's fault; the starter's ERA is 5.21. This was supposed to be the best starting three, maybe four, in baseball. Not so much.

Adrian Beltre, who was alleged to be the best defensive third baseman in the AL, now has seven errors, and it's only the second week of May. Believe it or not, Beltre has more errors than any other player in baseball. Indeed, Beltre's .327 average has been a welcome surprise, but the Red Sox brought him to Boston for his defense.

Defense begins up the middle, and unfortunately Victor Martinez can't play defense. He is simply a liability behind the plate. Bill Hall doesn't belong in the outfield, and Jeremy Hermida is not a defensive standout either.

May will be a definitive month for the Red Sox. By the end of the month, we will all know whether this is a playoff caliber team, or not. Management may already know, regardless of their optimistic pronouncements.

Theo Epstein and Co. may have to make uncomfortable decisions about players such as David Ortiz, Mike Lowell, and even Martinez by the end of this month, or next. Lowell and Ortiz can't run or effectively play defense, and at $12 million apiece, neither has any trade value.

Martinez will be a free agent at season's end and doesn't appear to be the team's catcher of the future. So, unless the club sees him as a DH or first baseman going forward, they may choose to trade him by the deadline.

The Sox are not in a position to do a salary dump. No club will pick up any meaningful amount of Ortiz's or Lowell's remaining salaries, and JD Drew is also untradable. Even if the Sox believe the season is lost and want to groom Josh Reddick for a spot in the outfield, facing big league pitching, they can't make room for him by moving the $14 million-a-year Drew, who is signed through next season.

The Red Sox may not be able to fix this team by the deadline, and considering that their payroll is already in excess of $170 million, owner John Henry may be unwilling to invest further in a team of overpriced underachievers.

Considering the talent of their chief rivals in the AL East, May is a make or break month for the Red Sox. In just a few short weeks we should know if this team will buyers, or sellers, in July.