Monday, June 20, 2011
The red hot Red Sox are on a roll. The team has won 13 of its last 15 games.
After a listless April that resulted in a 10-15 record, the Red Sox proceeded to right the ship and post a 19-10 record in May.
And the streaking Sox are now 13-3 in June, finally looking like the team everyone was expecting after a rather eventful offseason.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about the Sox' resurgence is that two of their stalwarts, Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia, are hitting well below their career averages.
Youkilis, a career .291 hitter, is batting just .261 well into June.
The good news is that Youkilis has a .382 OBP (career .393) and, after hitting safely in eight of his last 10 games with 14 RBIs, is on an upswing.
Meanwhile, Pedroia, a career .301 hitter, is hitting just .269. However, his .377 OBP is seven points above his career average.
In the midst of his own upswing, Pedroia is 22 of 60 (.367) with nine extra-base hits and 14 RBIs in 15 games this month. The second baseman has hit in 12 of his last 13 games and is batting .392 with two homers in that span.
Both players missed significant time due to injuries last year, and that may have affected their play earlier this season. Pedroia played in just 75 games last year, while Youkilis appeared in only 102.
Pedroia's injury was more worrisome, since he still has screws holding his left ankle together. Given his self-professed "violent swing," which results in significant force being placed on that left foot every time he takes a cut, it's easy to ascribe Pedroia's early struggles to his surgically repaired ankle.
Perhaps the ankle is more fully healed now. Additionally, Pedroia is finally getting over the right knee bruise he sustained on May 16 while fielding a ball against Baltimore.
But the early struggles of Youkilis and Pedroia aren't the only disappointments thus far, nor are they the only things making the Sox' resurgence all the more surprising.
Carl Crawford, the $142 million man, is playing well below expectations.
Crawford, a career .294 hitter, is batting just .243 this year. And his .275 OBP, which is 59 points below his career average, is keeping the speedy Crawford off the base paths. As a result, he is not the base-stealing threat the Red Sox were anticipating.
Crawford averaged 45 steals over nine previous seasons, yet has just eight so far this year. For perspective, Dustin Pedroia — the guy with the bad ankle and knee — already has 13 thefts this year.
The truth is, the Sox' new left fielder really hasn't excelled in any facet of the game so far this season. Case in point; Crawford has just 21 extra-base hits.
So, when you consider the under-performance of these three Red Sox players — and we're talking about three former All Stars who were expected to help carry the club — the team's turnaround and sustained drive are all the more amazing.
Even with Youkilis, Pedroia and Crawford all performing well below their career averages, the Red Sox are still first in batting, OBP, hits, runs, RBI and total bases among AL teams. And they are second in slugging, behind the Yankees.
Should the under-performing trio all continue to improve and rise to their career-levels, the Red Sox will be a juggernaut.
Youkilis, Pedroia and Crawford represent one-third of the Red Sox' starting lineup and are three of the better players in the game today.
Considering that the Sox are still managing to win consistently despite the trio's sub-par play, should they ever perform to their full potential, Boston will surely be the team to beat in October.
Sunday, June 05, 2011
To the delight of many Red Sox fans, right fielder JD Drew is now in the final year of his five-year, $70 million contract.
However, just two months into the 2011 season, it seems as if Drew has already decided to retire.
Drew has played in 46 games and had 145 at-bats, yet has only eight extra-base hits to show for it.
Consider this: Drew Sutton, who has played in just 10 games and had just 28 at-bats, has more doubles (5) than Drew (4).
Equally disturbing, Drew has a mere 12 RBI, including his game winner on Saturday.
It was nice to see Drew exhibit some sign of life, if only for a moment.
However, after celebrating with his teammates — who had mobbed him on the field in the aftermath of his game-winning hit — Drew immediately returned to his usual stone-face as he left the field.
The moment exemplified Drew's stoic nature. Some might argue that his demeanor is ideal for a ball player, and that he is just even-keeled and not prone to excessive highs or lows.
Others, however, would argue that Drew barely displays a pulse and shows little emotion or enthusiasm for the game. It's fair to say that Drew typically appears dispassionate, disinterested, and complacent.
And that's just what makes his lackluster performance this season so frustrating. To this point, Drew's line is a miserable .228/.335/.331. Long heralded for his OPS, Drew is sporting a paltry .666 OPS this season.
OPS is a combination of on-base percentage and slugging percentage. The point of getting on base is to score. However, Drew doesn't do that with any particular skill or consistency. In fact, he has never scored more than 84 runs in his previous four years with the Red Sox.
This season, Drew has scored a mere 12 runs and is on pace to score about 36 runs in total. Like the rest of his numbers, that is just pathetic.
A high slugging percentage is achieved with an abundance of extra-base hits. The point of extra-base hits is to drive in base runners, or move them — or yourself — into scoring position.
However, Drew is not a run producer either. In four seasons with the Red Sox, he has never driven in 100 runs. His best output was just 68 RBI. This year, he is on pace for a paltry 36 RBI.
If a player performs well, no one cares if he displays a cool, detached demeanor. But when a player performs at a level as low as Drew does, that demeanor seems like a lack of will or interest.
Drew simply isn't getting it done. At this point, it's fair to say that's he's just mailing it in and collecting enormous paychecks.
Mike Cameron (.175/.239/.333) clearly isn't the solution, or even a viable alternative. Maybe Cameron just hasn't been given enough time to play, or enough at-bats. Or maybe he just got old really fast. One way or the other, he doesn't inspire confidence right now.
With that in mind, you have to wonder how much longer the Red Sox will tolerate this gaping hole in their lineup? They could certainly use a potent right-handed bat in their lefty-dominant batting order.
Though he is also a left-handed hitter, Josh Reddick will likely be given more playing time. At a minimum, he'll be given an opportunity to display his skills for major league scouts.
The general assumption is that Ryan Kalish will become the Red Sox' new right fielder once Drew's contract expires at season's end. But if Kalish's injured shoulder heals sufficiently, that moment could arrive a lot sooner.
If the Sox really do place greater value on Kalish and see a higher upside for him, Reddick would certainly be expendable.
Additionally, Kalish is also a lefty, lending credence to the notion that the Sox might like to package players like Reddick and Marco Scutaro for a right-handed corner outfielder with some power.
One way or the other, the Red Sox — a team with realistic World Series aspirations — can't afford to just let Drew ride out the season taking called third strikes and grounding out weakly to second.
Regardless of whether he's injured, or has failing eyesight, or has just completely lost what little heart and desire he once had, Drew is now a total liability at the plate.
The best you can say about Drew is that he is a solid right fielder with good instincts, who covers lots of ground, gets to plenty of balls and prevents hits. He is also a good baserunner who displays equally good instincts on the base paths.
The problem for Drew is that he's not on the base paths nearly enough to utilize those skills. And it's not as if he's creating lots of runs with sacrifice flies either.
Maybe Drew needs a new bat. Maybe he needs a new heart. Or maybe he just needs to officially retire right now.