State of the Red Sox Saturday
As painful as those two losses in the St. Louis series were, I'll gladly take a 6-4 record through 10 games of the interleague schedule. I'd bet the Red Sox would post their best interleague record ever if they just split the remaining eight games. Hopefully, they'll do better than that though.
At 37-28, Boston is in pretty good shape. The Red Sox are just half a game behind the Yankees and 1.5 games ahead of Oakland. The new problem is Toronto, which is just half a game behind the Red Sox. The Blue Jays don't look like they're going anywhere, but they're still more likely to be sellers at the trading deadline than buyers. Anyway, on to the team breakdown.
Obviously the best news is that Pedro Martinez is back and looks as good as ever. He threw three scoreless innings with two hits, no walks and three strikeouts in his mini-start. He now has a 2.70 ERA and a 1.01 WHIP and says he feels fine and hopes to go at least five innings in his next start.
Derek Lowe seems to be coming around too. He has made two straight quality starts, and both of them were on the road! He's now 6-3 with a 4.66 ERA and a 1.49 WHIP. Tonight he returns to the friendly confines of Fenway Park, where he is 3-0 with a 1.53 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP.
Tim Wakefield pitched very well in Thursday's heartbreaker, allowing two runs (one earned) on six hits and two walks with four strikeouts in six innings. That stands nicely in contrast to his previous seven starts, during which he posted a 6.38 ERA and a 1.64 WHIP. The Red Sox went 2-5 in those seven starts, but Wakefield himself actually went 2-1. He needs to be much better than the 5.04 ERA and 1.52 WHIP he's put up this season.
Byung-Hyun Kim got touched up for four runs on six hits in five innings in his last start, but I don't completely blame him. Just three days earlier he had pitched two innings in relief and three days before that he had made a nice seven-inning start (which also came just three days after a relief appearance). The home runs in the Bronx that everybody likes to talk about happened because Bob Brenly overworked Kim. The Red Sox either need to keep him in the rotation and only have him start or make him the closer. If they keep asking him to start and relieve, they'll wear him out.
I was worried about the injury to Casey Fossum, but it may actually be good news. It probably means he's not totally to blame for the three awful starts that saw his ERA skyrocket from 4.07 to 5.86. Hopefully it's nothing serious and he'll be able to be back pitching effectively soon. In the meantime, Ryan Rupe provided a nice boost last night. He allowed three runs (only one earned) on eight hits and no walks with four strikeouts in six innings. He definitely deserves another start, so hopefully Grady Little will give him one.
Almost lost in Pedro's return was the nice performance by John Burkett. He allowed one run on eight hits and a walk with four strikeouts in six innings. As nice as that was to see, however, I'd still rather have Rupe taking a regular turn in the rotation than Burkett.
The good news is that Ramiro Mendoza is gone for at least two weeks (hopefully longer). The bad news is that there's still no really great reliever in the bullpen.
Mike Timlin has probably been with best with a 3.55 ERA and a 0.95 WHIP thanks to just two walks in 38.1 innings. Brandon Lyon has been lights out as a closer and very hittable at all other times. When he's pitching with a save opportunity, Lyon has a 1.29 ERA and a 0.71 WHIP with five strikeouts and no walks in seven innings. The rest of the time, he has a 4.56 ERA and a 1.56 WHIP with 22 strikeouts and 11 walks in 25.2 innings.
I still like Alan Embree even though he's been pretty inconsistent, but I could pretty much do without the rest of the guys in the bullpen. The Red Sox seem to be part of every rumor involving a closer, so maybe they'll bring in a quality reliever or two pretty soon.
Catcher - Jason Varitek has been unbelievable the last week, hitting .455 with a .556 OBP and a .955 SLG. For the season, he's hitting .297/.368/.547 (.914 OPS). Doug Mirabelli still isn't hitting (.677 OPS), but as long as Grady Little is willing to pinch-hit with Varitek in important spots late in games, I don't have a problem with Mirabelli getting a start every fifth game.
First Base - Kevin Millar has gone on another tear recently. He's now hitting .303/.368/.525 (.893) with 10 home runs and 44 RBI. Millar's been one of the top four offensive first basemen in the AL, so who cares if he doesn't play great defense?
Second Base - Todd Walker has slipped a little bit, but he's still hitting .311/.356/.426 (.783), which makes him the fifth-best offensive second baseman in the AL. You want Rey Sanchez instead? How about Jose Offerman? I wish everybody would stop complaining about Walker's defense and be happy that our second sacker doesn't suck anymore.
Third Base - It's not at all surprising that Bill Mueller has seen his numbers slip recently because he was playing out of his mind. He's still hitting .344/.403/.550 (.953), but he doesn't belong at the top of the order anymore. Hopefully, his OBP will settle in around the .370 mark he's posted for his career, and I certainly wouldn't mind if he showed a little more power than he has in the past. But whatever he does, he's better to have than Shea Hillenbrand.
Shortstop - Which shortstop has the best OPS in the AL? It's not Alex Rodriguez, it's Nomar Garciaparra. The strange thing is that Rodriguez plays in a better hitting park, but Garciaparra has a more extreme home/road split. Nomar has a 1.136 OPS at home and a .770 OPS on the road. Rodriguez has a .973 OPS at home and a .902 OPS on the road.
Right now, Garciaparra is hitting the ball as well as he ever has in his career. He's in a bit of a home run drought (none in his last 16 games), but he has seven triples in his last 12 games and 11 on the season. I know it's early, but I'd say Nomar has a pretty good shot at bringing home his third batting title.
Left Field - Pitchers are just plain scared of Manny Ramirez right now, and I don't blame him. He's drawn 11 walks in the last six games, but he's taken advantage of the 18 times he's been allowed to hit the ball with two singles, a double and three homers. For the season, he's hitting .324/.427/.576 (1.002). If Manny and Nomar both keep playing this well, they'll probably end up hurting each other's MVP chances.
Center Field - It was nice to see Johnny Damon hit a home run that ended up being the winning run last night, but he's really struggling this year. He's hitting just .246/.316/.408 (.724). I guess when the rest of the team is hitting this well, you can afford to carry a good-field/no-hit centerfielder, but he shouldn't be at the top of the order anymore.
Right Field - Thursday night's dreadful performance aside, Trot Nixon has been huge for the Red Sox this year. He's hitting .303/.385/.521 and I think he's the best candidate to lead off, at least against righties (he's hitting .336/.418/.562 against righthanders). His .418 OBP versus righties would be followed by Walker's .396 OBP against righties. Then Nomar would bat third with a .592 SLG against righties followed by Manny's .600 SLG versus righties.
Designated Hitter - David Ortiz has been unstoppable since the beginning of May and it's pretty clear that he should be playing pretty much every day right now. He's hitting .316/.382/.515 (.896) for the season even when you factor in his horrible April. Jeremy Giambi has been a major disappointment, but I can't complain about that. Theo Epstein made five big acquisitions on offense (Millar, Walker, Mueller, Ortiz and Giambi) and if only one of them doesn't work out, that's pretty good. Especially since he didn't have to break the bank for any of them (anybody still wish we had landed Edgardo Alfonzo?).
The Red Sox offense is ridiculously good. Boston's on pace to score 1,014 runs, so they just need to get some pitchers who can help prevent other teams from scoring 850 runs against us and the Red Sox should win around 95 games. If the Red Sox give up less than 800 runs this season (they're on pace to give up 909), then they're a lock to make the playoffs.