State of the Red Sox Saturday
I've decided that I'm going to start using a set style for these Saturdays, where I discuss how each aspect of the team has done the last week and how I feel about them and then give my final thoughts on the team. I'll start each week by looking at their record and how they did the past week
The Red Sox are 15-8, four games behind the Yankees and two games ahead of Oakland in the still-completely-meaningless wild card standings. They took three of four from the Blue Jays last weekend before losing two of three in Texas and getting embarrased 16-5 in the final game. They rebounded to take the first game of their series in Anaheim last night. Because of the blowout loss to Texas, the Red Sox have only scored eight more runs than they've allowed and their expected record is 12-11.
This is the biggest problem so far in my eyes, as nobody in the rotation has been consistent.
Pedro Martinez has lowered his ERA to 2.97 and his WHIP to 1.05 since his awful home opener, but he doesn't seem quite right. In each of his last two starts, he's gone seven innings without allowing an earned run, but he's walked a total of nine batters in those games. His strikeout-to-walk ratio is just 2:1 (28 to 14) this year after having a 4.3:1 ratio (2,248 to 521) for his career. I suppose as long as he only allows five hits every 14 innings (as he's done for the last two starts), then the walks don't hurt. Basically, I'm not really worried about Pedro. I still think he'll win the Cy Young Award with a season along the lines of 1999 and 2000.
Casey Fossum has been very impressive in two of his last three starts, combining to go 14 innings with just one run allowed on 11 hits and a walk with nine strikeouts. In that middle start, however, he lasted six innings, allowing five runs (four earned) on six hits and five walks with just three strikeouts. He's going to need to become more consistent, but I'm still glad we didn't trade him. He clearly has great talent and we've got him for a long time.
The other three I'm not even sure I want to talk about. Derek Lowe and John Burkett are both sporting ERAs over 6.00 and both got shelled their last time out. That was only Burkett's first shelling of the season, but it was Lowe's third in five starts and only one of the other two starts was reminiscent of last year. I didn't expect too much from Burkett this year, but the Red Sox need Lowe to be able to post an ERA under 4.00 at least. Hopefully, he can get it straightened out quickly. Tim Wakefield has made two bad starts, two decent starts and one much-needed appearance as the closer. I knew he wasn't going to match last year's performance, but he's better than this (I hope).
Ultimately, I think the rotation will be fine. Pedro's still Pedro, Fossum looks like a future ace at times, and I'm confident that Lowe and Wakefield will improve (Burkett's just a spot-filler). However, I reserve the right to panic if things haven't improved after a few more turns through the rotation.
I think the biggest problem with the bullpen is that it's been needed too much. Boston's relievers have thrown 76.2 of the teams 209 innings (36.7 percent). That is way too much, but it's probably not going to change tonight or tomorrow. Burkett pitches tonight and he probably won't go more than six (hell, I'd be happy with six). Tomorrow is Pedro's turn, but he threw 121 pitches last time and apparently has a cranky back, so they said they'll take it easy with him. Luckily, the Red Sox have the day off Monday, so everybody in the bullpen can rest.
Chad Fox has been impressive lately. He hasn't given up an earned run in his last seven innings, allowing four hits and striking out seven. Unfortunately, he's also walked five in that span, so he might be in for a rough outing if the control doesn't improve and a couple balls in play find holes. Ramiro Mendoza has been better recently and was able to give the Red Sox a solid 2.2 innings in the blowout loss to Texas. Brandon Lyon hasn't pitched in an important spot since getting his first save, and it's starting to look like Grady Little views Fox as the closer since he's clearly abandoned the original plan laid out by Theo Epstein (have your best pitcher pitch in the most important spot in the game).
It also sounds like everybody's diong well with their rehab assignments, so hopefully the bullpen will be a strength before too long.
Catcher - It looks like the Red Sox might be going to a strict platoon where Jason Varitek plays against righties and Doug Mirabelli plays against lefties. I guess I don't really have a problem with that, although I've always thought of Varitek as an every-day catcher. Varitek has pretty much hit righties and lefties the same over his career (.764 OPS vs. lefties, .767 vs. righties), but Mirabelli has a .943 OPS vs. lefties in almost 200 at-bats, so maybe this move will make the offense even stronger. Mirabelli's still struggling this year (1-for-6 the last three games and a .686 OPS on the season), but maybe regular playing time will get him going. Varitek has gone 8-for-23 in his last seven games to raise his average from .243 to .283, but his OPS has stayed about the same (.878 to .893). Basically, whichever way the Red Sox go here they will have a good defensive player and a better-than-average number nine hitter.
First Base/DH - Kevin Millar was in a 1-for-21 slump that had dropped his OPS from 1.271 to .967 heading into last night. He went 2-for-4 last night, so maybe he's breaking out of that slump. He's been one of the keys to the offense so far this season, so hopefully he can find a happy medium between being the best hitter on the team and not hitting at all. Jeremy Giami and David Ortiz are both still struggling, and I think they'll continue to get about the same amount of playing time until one gets on a hot streak. Ultimately, I think the Red Sox will get good production from first base and their designated hitter.
Second Base - Todd Walker's still not hitting as well as he can, but he is getting on base at a decent clip (.347 OBP, which is right around his career average). So far he hasn't been hitting for the power he usually displays. For his career, he's hit a double about once every 15.3 at-bats, but this year he only has three doubles in 88 at-bats. The doubles should return and he'll probably get his OPS up near .800.
Third Base - Shea Hillenbrand continues to lead the majors in RBI as he had three last night and has 25 on the year. He's hitting .329 with an .860 OPS, which would be very good if he could keep it up. But history has shown that he can't and Bill Mueller has an .837 OPS in limited playing time. I still think the Red Sox should trade Hillenbrand for pitching help and let Mueller be the every day third baseman. That said, if there aren't any good offers on the table, I guess there's not much they can do. I'm rooting for Hillenbrand to become an .800-plus OPS hitter (in which case I would want the Sox to keep him), but I just don't think it'll happen.
Shortstop - Nomar Garciaparra's numbers are just ugly right now. He's hitting .258 with a .793 OPS because he's got one hit (a single) and no walks in his last 16 plate appearances. If there's any consolation it's that the Red Sox have still managed to score five runs in three of those four games and win two of them. Nomar will have an incredible hot streak at some point and his final numbers will be just fine.
Left field - While Nomar's been cold, Manny Ramirez has been tearing the cover off the ball. He's 10-for-17 with a home run, two doubles, two walks and no strikeouts in his last five games. He's hitting .337 with a .937 OPS. When he starts hitting homers, that OPS will go up and he may contend for another batting title.
Center field - Johnny Damon isn't hitting (.250 average), but he is walking (10 in 21 games), stealing bases (4-for-4) and scoring runs (18). Strangely, 12 of Damon's 22 hits have been for extra bases (four homers and eight doubles), so he does have an .801 OPS. Further proof that batting averages are very overrated.
Right field - Trot Nixon has had the quietest good start of any Boston player. Probably because despite his .929 OPS, he only has one homer, nine RBI and 12 runs. He may not be scoring or driving in the runs, but he's certainly helping the runs get scored. As much as I like him, though, Nixon needs to be part of a full-time platoon. This year he has a 1.170 OPS against righties and a .325 OPS against lefties and for his career it's an .885 OPS against righties and a .616 OPS against lefties. Millar should be in right against lefties, with Giambi DHing, Hillenbrand at first and Mueller at third.
The most annoying part of the season so far has been the players constant battle with the Boston media. Pedro and Manny aren't talking to the press and the rest of the team is letting the press get to them too. The Boston media is the most antagonistic in the country, and it could ruin this season if the players start thinking too much about what the writers are doing. Just play ball, guys, and let the writers be the assholes. You can take solace in the fact that nobody likes them and everybody's rooting for you.
If this team plays the way it should be able to, I think 100 wins are well within reach. For you Red Sox fans, keep in mind that the Red Sox will be able to acquire $12-million worth of salaries at the trading deadline because they left $4-million in the budget.