State of the Red Sox Saturday
Well, I guess there's good news and bad news. The bad news obviously is that the Red Sox have lost three games in a row for the first time all season and have fallen back into second place, half a game behind the Yankees. Also bad is that they're only a game ahead of Oakland and 2.5 games ahead of Toronto.
The good news is that the Red Sox just got some pitching help and got rid of their most overrated player before he lost his overratedness (if that's a word). Anyway, let's go through the team and see what's what.
This has been the biggest weakness of the team recently. Pedro Martinez is still hurt and Bruce Chen has been ineffective in two spot starts. There had been hope that Pedro would start Tuesday in Pittsburgh (which I would have loved since I'll be at that game), but Byung-Hyun Kim is getting that start instead. I haven't seen anything saying when Pedro might get back since the trade happened.
Derek Lowe continues to be great at home and not so great on the road, although I'll take six runs in 15 innings over two starts anytime. He's still walking too many people, so hopefully he'll be fine once he gets his control under control.
Tim Wakefield made two decent starts against the Yankees, three runs on four hits and two walks in seven innings the first time and three runs on four hits and six walks in five innings the second time. He's now 5-2 with a 4.57 ERA and a 1.43 WHIP. I'd obviously like him to lower those numbers, but I can deal with the way he's pitching so far.
Casey Fossum has allowed five runs in each of his last two starts and faces a very dangerous Toronto lineup today. Despite having a higher ERA (4.92) than Wakefield, Fossum has a lower WHIP (1.36). I still think Fossum has great potential, but only three of his 10 starts this season have been quality starts. Hopefully, he'll have put everything together in time for the stretch run in September.
And then there's John Burkett. You may be expecting me to complain about Burkett, but I'm not going to. I'll admit that I never feel comfortable with him on the mound, but if you take out two of his starts against Toronto he's 3-1 with a 4.42 ERA.
I was thinking the other day that the Red Sox should sign Chuck Finley after the amateur draft because they wouldn't need to give up a pick for him then, but they may not need him. With Pedro (when he's healthy), Lowe, Wakefield, Fossum, Burkett, Kim (until he becomes the closer), Chen and Robert Person, the Red Sox have eight people in the majors who can start if needed. Boston also has Ryan Rupe (1.91 ERA) and Bronson Arroyo (3.92) doing nice work in Pawtucket, and they could come up for a start or two if needed. If Finley's still in shape he's a nice pitcher, but I'd rather see the Red Sox save the rest of their budget and try to get a real impact player at the deadline.
Ramiro Mendoza recently got his ERA under 7.00 for the first time since the opening weekend, but he's since allowed six runs on 16 hits and two walks in his last six innings. His ERA is 7.34, his WHIP is 1.96 and I always cringe when he comes in a game that has less than a three-run margin one way or the other.
Mike Timlin has had a nice month, posting a 3.09 ERA and a 0.94 WHIP in 11.2 innings. The surprising thing is that his WHIP in May isn't much better than it was in April. For the season, Timlin has a 3.90 ERA and a 0.97 WHIP. He's only struck out 17 batters in 30 innings (5.1 K/9IP), but he's only walked one batter all season. You've gotta love a relief pitcher who doesn't come in and put men on base.
Brandon Lyon has had a tough May (4.91 ERA), but he's been better than any of us could have expected. Plus, what happened against the Yankees wasn't really his fault. Yes, he gave up the double to Hideki Matsui, but doubles usually result in a runner being on second, not third. Without the bad throw, Lyon could have just intentionally walked Alfonso Soriano and tried to get Jason Giambi to hit into a double play.
Don't look now, but Alan Embree has been lights out recently. In his last four appearances (4.1 IP), he's allowed no runs on two hits and no walks with four strikeouts. In his last nine appearances (8.1 IP), he's allowed one run on six hits and two walks with seven strikeouts. His ERA is down from 14.40 to 6.09.
When Kim becomes the closer, this bullpen could be a real strength with Lyon, Timlin and Embree pitching the seventh and eighth innings. I think Lyon could develop into a relief ace, but it's hard to stick him in that role right away at the age of 23 in the middle of a pennant race after starting his whole career. Better to let him develop as one of the setup men in front of a proven closer (who happens to be just 24 and under our control for two years after this. How could anybody think Arizona won this deal?).
Catcher - Jason Varitek is quietly still having a nice season, batting .278 with a .345 OBP and a .496 SLG with six homers and 25 RBI. I really can't think of a catcher I'd want on my team more than Varitek. Doug Mirabelli, on the other hand, should not be playing as much as he is. He's on pace for 200 at-bats, but he's only hitting .250/.269/.391. I like him as Wakefield's regular catcher to keep Varitek from getting beat up and that's it.
First Base - Kevin Millar seems to have settled in with an OPS in the .815-.830 range. It would be nice to see him get that back up to his career .865 mark or so, but I'm just happy to not see Shea Hillenbrand playing first anymore.
Second Base - Todd Walker has been pretty much what I expected. He's hitting .326/.366/.426 and getting criticized more than he should for his defense. I think Freddy Sanchez will be the starting second baseman next year, but it will be interesting to see if the Red Sox offer Walker arbitration to see if they can get a draft pick from another team.
Third Base - Bill Mueller has been a revelation, hitting .386/.442/.621 while playing better defense than Shea Hillenbrand. People talk about the team being hurt the next couple years without Shea, but even if Shea were that good it wouldn't be true. Mueller's signed for next year and the Red Sox have a $2.1 million option (I think the option money goes up to $2.5 million if Mueller gets a certain amount of playing time) for 2005 if Kevin Youkilis isn't ready by then.
Shortstop - Nomar Garciaparra is hitting .306/.338/.548 and I expect him to get back up to his usual, great level of hitting. However, I do have a few questions. First, didn't the Red Sox have an off day on Thursday? Yeah, I thought they did. And don't they have another off day on Monday? Okay, that's what I thought. So why in Hell did Nomar need the day off yesterday? I don't think it would have made a big difference, but it would be nice to see our superstar shortstop play all three games of a series when there's an day off on both sides of the series.
Left field - Boston has one of the best offenses in baseball right now, and Manny Ramirez hasn't even really started to hit yet. He's batting .297/.396/.477 with just seven homers (on pace for 21). One of these days, Manny's going to start one of his super-hot streaks and the Red Sox offense will be even more ridiculous than it already is.
Center field - I don't want to alarm anybody, but is Johnn Damon gonig to be Jose Offerman redux? The Red Sox sign a former Royal to an expensive four-year deal, he has a great first year, slips noticeably in his second year and the Sox are stuck with him for two more seasons. Offerman had an .826 OPS his first year with Boston and slipped to .713 the following year. Damon had a .799 OPS last season, and is at .720 this season.
I don't think it's the same for two reasons. First, except for last year, Damon's been a notoriously slow starter and I think he'll turn it around. Second, even when he's not hitting, Damon helps the Red Sox with his defense. Even when he was hitting, Offerman hurt the Red Sox with his defense.
Right field - Trot Nixon has gone stone cold recently, and is now hitting .288/.377/.439. It was probably unrealistic to think Trot would break out this season, and I expect him to do about what he's always done.
Designated hitter - If you think Mueller's offensive output was the only reason Shea was expendable, then you haven't noticed that David Ortiz is hitting .340/.404/.553 in May and has his OPS up to .797. It will be easier to get him at-bats with Shea gone, and I still think Jeremy Giambi will help the team.
I like the way the Red Sox roster is composed right now, but I am a little worried about the losing streak heading into interleague play. Luckily, the Red Sox play the Pirates and Brewers first, so hopefully they can avoid their usual interleague slump. I probably won't be making a post tomorrow, as I'm leaving to go to Toronto with my girlfriend, Stacy, in a little while. We're staying up there tonight and going to the game tomorrow. Hopefully we won't catch SARS, but I may get sick anyway if the Red Sox get swept.