As April turns to May, we are creeping toward the point in the season that we can no longer say “It’s early!” It is indeed too early to draw any conclusions but there are some things that we can glean from the start of one of the most anticipated Red Sox seasons that I can remember.
Lester is Lester: 3-1 on the season so far, Lester continued his mastery over the Baltimore Orioles last night as he ran his record to a gaudy 14-0 over the Birds. After a tough start against Texas to open the season, he’s been excellent through his last five starts showing no let up at all and cementing his status among the very best lefties in the game.
Beckett is back: Yes, his last outing wasn’t great, but I wouldn’t expect him to be dominant every start with an arm that is in its 10th season of full time major league work. Though even his two losses haven’t been horrible – with even a modicum of run support he could be 4-0 in his five starts. I think we can look forward to a solid season from Mr. Beckett.
The rest of the staff is a crap shoot: Matsuzaka and Lackey have been brilliant and horrible in turns and Buchholz can’t seem to get untracked this season. This needs to stabilize if this season is going to be salvaged.
The ‘pen is a bit different than we thought: Papelbon was done and Bard as the closer in waiting with Jenks in as backup and the seventh inning guy that starts to slam the door on the opposition. Thusfar Papelbon is pitching like he wants to stick around, Bard isn’t quite ready to step in – still – and Jenks ERA is hovering around 7.00. The middle inning guys haven’t been great either with no one that you feel comfortable to pitch three innings if you need it. This pre-season strength appears to be a glaring weakness, especially in the middle but not so much in the back. So much for pre-season analysis.
The line-up: Ugh. Gonzalez is the only guy over .300, not counting Jed Lowrie’s unconscious start, so far this season and not exhibiting any of the power expected so far. Two regulars, Crawford and Saltalamacchia, are both under the Mendoza line while, home runs aside, Ellsbury and Youkilis are struggling at the plate. Struggling at the plate is the watchword of the season so far. If you had to pick out .300 hitters in this lineup before the season you would have picked out four starters, maybe five. A nice surprise? David Ortiz starting the season solidly. It’s hard not to love Ortiz as person and a player and it’s good to see that the early season struggles that have plagued him over the past few years have disappeared.
A lot needs to improve to get this team back in contention. While the Sox are still two games under .500, they are only four games back in the division, so there is more than hope. There are signs of the sun peeking through the clouds. A few more quality starts by Matsuzaka and Lackey and their early season troubles will be forgotten. All the experts say that this team will hit over time. Youk’s already banged up but still leads the team in home runs and Ellsbury even has four at this early stage of the season. The best news so far is that no one is running away with this division so the early season sins can be erased with the slightest of turnarounds and the potential is certainly here for more than that.
You get home from work and head to the mailbox. You are expecting to find the usual contents: three bills, one political flyer, two catalogs, and four credit card offers. But today something different catches your eye. Maybe it’s a small envelope. Maybe it’s a large padded one. But your heart jumps for joy when you see the return address: Boston, MA.
Is there any greater mailbox-related occasion than when your Red Sox tickets or Red Sox Nation membership items arrive? I think not. I came home from work to find my RSN stuff had come on Monday and it totally lifted my spirits after a long, boring day. Then I also found out when I could go to a game in May and was able to buy some tickets online. This caused me to giddily update my Facebook status to: “I’m going to Fenway in May!!!!” And I also posted a photo of my RSN stuff.
And such is the life of a fan. On paper, it may not make logical sense that a t-shirt, plastic membership card, and paper sticker should cause such joy in an adult. I know that there will continue to be natural disasters, war, and suffering in this world. But for a brief time I can focus on something else. I can spend my day-dreaming time thinking about that beautifully unique green wall, the way my heart beats faster when the oldest ballpark in America comes into view, and the crack of a bat when the first hit of the game occurs. Somehow the day-to-day triviality of my life becomes more tolerable when I have something to look forward to.
Now I get to start the ritual that every fan does when they are going to a game in the near future: daily and obsessively checking the weather reports.
Play ball!no comments
Prior to last week’s column the Sox win total was mired at two . No, I’m not going to take credit for the turnaround, nor am I going to go so far as to say that they have definitively turned the corner, but the one aspect of the game that has shown vast improvement is what I, and others, have been saying will be the key all along: pitching.
Here are the earned run averages of the starting staff over the past seven days:
J. Lester – ERA 0.75
J. Lackey – ERA 1.50
C. Buchholz – ERA 1.69
J. Beckett – ERA 1.80
D. Matsukaka – ERA 0.00
This is how you win ballgames. At one point watching the Sox/Angels last night just before the between innings break the graphic showed “Coming Up for Boston”: Crawford; Saltalamacchia; Ellsbury AND ALL WERE HITTING SUB .200! Pedroia is the only player with enough at bats to qualify for the league leaders that is hitting .300 (.314 at this writing) and no one else is even sniffing the mark. Jed Lowrie has to be recognized for his unconsciousness at the plate, hitting a gaudy .426, though that’s off his high of .526 a few days ago when Youk remarked postgame that Lowrie must be seeing the ball like “those beach balls in the right field bleachers” (authors note: In my youth, I had a beach ball I snuck into Fenway once teed up and popped with a rake by Bob Stanley. Memories…).
The best news of this short season has been Josh Beckett. Even his worse start this season was solid and his last two were masterpieces. With his velocity seemingly back and the ability once again to spot the curve effectively, he is not only living up to his contract but quite possibly exceeding fans’ expectations for this season. He certainly has answered the questions we all had about whether or not he could have a bounce back year.
Last brilliant outing aside, Matsuzaka still has a lot to prove, as does Lackey, and I’m sure that Lester’s .313 opponent’s batting average needs to come down before he’s burnt by it, the staff is showing sides of the promise they had prior to pitchers and catchers reporting.
In the last column, Rob did a great job outlining the issues this team is having at the plate and why that may not be the cause for concern that it seems to be right now. If the staff can keep throwing the ball like they are, the memories of the ‘o-fer’ start could become just the answer to the trivia question: “What is the only team in baseball history to win the World Series after starting the season 2-9?”no comments
Instead, Lackey pitched well, as he always has against the Athletics, despite having Salty as his battery mate.
The problem was the offense.
Though Lackey and Salty appeared to be on different pages at time, they got through 6 innings and held the A's to one run on four hits and one walk. That's great new for the future of this ballclub. Saltalamacchia even grabbed a hit, going 1 for 3 on the night, but it was one of five the Sox collected all night.
Youkilis K'd 2 more times and went 0-4 with 4 runners left on base in the cleanup spot. Lowrie's hot bad went cold with an 0-4, 2 K night of his own. And those extra righties (Cameron, MacDonald) didn't work out...
The offense looks awful, but here's some food for thought: The Red Sox currently rank 19th in the MLB with 67 runs though 16 games. That puts them on pace for 104 runs in April. In 2010, they finished April with 103 runs, ranking them 18th. They finished 2010 with 818 runs, good for 2nd in the league. Flip side... in 2009 they ranked 5th with 126 runs in April and finished 3rd with 872 runs scored. The point is... April is just one of five moths of baseball. It's just a really bad one for us this year.
Bottom Line: The Red Sox are in a serious funk and with the pitching coming around, Francona needs to find a way to wak up the bats... it's time for more shots.
Jacoby Ellsbury is the Red Sox homerun leader. Kevin Youkilis has struck out the most. JD Drew, Adrian Gonzalez, and David Ortiz have all hit triples. Josh Beckett has the most strikeouts. Clay Buchholz has allowed the most homeruns. Carl Crawford and Marco Scutaro are batting .331. Combined!
Any way you look at it, the Red Sox aren’t looking anything like we all thought they would. Some of the surprising facts are negative ones, but a few are actually encouraging. It’s a long season. By October things may be back to “normal.” Or they may have complete redefined normal.
And that’s why we watch. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: if we knew for sure how the season was going to go, we wouldn’t watch. Why would we bother? We watch sports for the thrill, the expectation, and the surprise.
Knowing that a guy known for speed and not for power can belt out a home run at any moment makes each at bat more interesting. Knowing that a pitcher with a high ERA can go 8 innings while allowing only 1 hit makes each start worth tuning into.
Will the Red Sox get out of the AL East basement while on their West Coast trip? I don’t know and neither do they. But I’m sure excited to find out!no comments
Similar to the Chuck Norris-like tweets that Sox fans were tweeting to describe Adrian Beltre's resurgence in 2010, Lowrie's hot bat (.320 since returning from mono last season) has inspired Brian and other Sox fans tweet about the "Return of Jed."
Being a big fan of Lowrie, I decided to whip up some limited edition t-shirt to support Jed in his battle for playing time in the Red Sox infield. Below are images of the #legendofjedlowrie and Return of the Jed t-shirts. We want your thoughts on which design you like better. We've been voting via Twitter since yesterday and we'll close the voting on Friday... so leave your vote in the comments section below, leave your vote on our Facebook page, or tweet your vote to @bottomlinesox.
Pitching. Pitching. Pitching. Each of us touched on it during our pre-season columns and mentioned it as the key to a successful year. John Lackey and Josh Beckett were frequently cited as being the keys to a Sox resurgence and a late run in the post season along with stabilization of Daisuke Matsuzaka. Beckett’s first start was solid, not terrific, but then the Sox shouldn’t need terrific to be successful, solid should suffice. Terrific, however, was exactly what they got last week in his second start against the Yankees. Beckett was the Beckett of old. His velocity was mid-90s, which is something we haven’t seen in a few years, and the curve ball was drop off the table deadly. He was able to throw the curve for strikes and that combination made him nearly unhittable. Whether that type of outing is sustainable throughout the season is something we’ll need to wait and see, but the fact that it is still possible is great news to Sox fans everywhere.
Lackey, on the other hand, has been thoroughly dismantled in each of his starts – even though he managed to grab a win. His ERA over the two game span is over 15 and, more disconcerting in my eyes, is the opponent’s batting average against of nearly .400! If one start was a shellacking and the other fair enough you could chalk it up to a one bad outing, but both games were a disaster. I can understand the logic of skipping his turn in the rotation rather than just pushing the start back after the rain out with Tampa Bay. The regular season is no time to pitch out of a funk. Watch some tape and work on what you need to in order to get right before heading out to the mound and surrendering seven runs in five innings.
I laughed the other day as a friend of mine called for trading Matsuzaka. I had to ask the obvious question: Who would give up anything for him? For what we’ve seen the past couple of seasons he’s overpaid so the Sox would have to eat a great deal of salary and so far this season he’s pitching to an ERA of over 12. It may be too soon to call it a day on the Dice-K experience, but there has to be more going on there than meets the eye. Whether he needs to head to the PawSox to work it through (if Scott Boras allows that, of course) or if new pitching coach Curt Young can work through his issues with him to get him on track, something needs to be done and done quickly. He and Lackey in the middle of the rotation is a hole that is beyond gaping and if that hole isn’t welded shut right now, it is going to cause this season to founder and the ship to eventually sink.
I’ve listened on ESPN as the talking heads have posited that perhaps Lackey is caving into the daily meat grinder that is playing for Boston as opposed to the less scrutinized Angels of Anaheim. Maybe that’s the issue overall? The pressure of the pre-season hype is causing too much pressing – on the mound and at the plate. Carl Crawford hasn’t exactly shown up as advertised so far this season and even stalwarts like Youk are having a tough time getting untracked. Dustin Pedroia’s explosion against the Yankees was certainly a delight to watch, but we can’t make a living off of feasting on the Yankees and getting smoked by the rest of the league – of course if this season continues down the crapper my guess is that’s the way we’d prefer it to go.no comments
If you went by only my Twitter feed, you’d think attendance at Fenway is 80% female and 20% male. Obviously this can’t be true, but it does seem there are quite a few active female Red Sox fans.
When you look at photos of baseball games back in the early days of the sport, the crowd is predominately male. (And all wearing those bowler and derby hats that were so popular back in the day.) When did women start to enjoy sports? It was a slow evolution over time. In much the same way the workplace opened up to women, so did sporting events.
In 1943 the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League was formed and opened up professional sports for women. Title Nine was passed in 1972 and guaranteed college sports for women. In 1997 the Woman’s Basketball League began.
These advancements for women wouldn’t have happened if women weren’t interesting in sports to begin with, but at the same time, they also encouraged more interest in sports for women. Would the first players of the AAGPBL have dreamed that one day there would be whole clothing lines devoted to woman’s sports fans?
The Red Sox may be struggling, but I’m confident that the players know they have a large fan base behind them. Did you know that women are 75% less likely to dump a baseball team than men? No, of course you didn’t because I made that up, but it seems to be true. When you’re down is there anyone you’d rather have on your side than a passionate, supportive woman? I think not. And the Red Sox know that their female fans will be behind them even if they end up 2-160.
After all, baseball diamonds are a girls best friend!no comments
“Bad dream last night-dreamt #RedSox lost first 4 games and everybody was asking ME why and I didn't know what to tell them-was ugly!Jerry”
- Jerry Remy Tweet morning after the Sox went to 0-5
Sorry Rem Dawg, it’s oh so true. In fact, the streak ran another two games and we’re still sitting on zero wins. Panic button time? Well, many are saying that it’s too early, but the way they are losing is telling if you recall the warnings to start the season. The staff has been lit up like Christmas trees posting an ERA above 8 and balls leaving the ballpark at an unprecedented rate with the Cy Young duo of Buchholz and Lester giving up 7 of the 11! Jenks has posted two scoreless innings but Bard and Papelbon were not so fabulous in their limited work so far.
Unfortunately the Sox haven’t exactly been hitting the cover off the ball either. Papi has displayed power early and Gonzales has arrived as advertised, but so far no one is on fire this first week of the season. A combination of poor pitching and subpar hitting is a very bad combination to start the season.
In yesterday’s game in Cleveland, Ellsbury, clearly safe on a fielder’s choice, was called out, pulling Francona out of the dugout to argue. Papi was frustrated with an outside called strike three and several good defensive plays robbing Sox of hits all combined to make me feel like the baseball gods are starting to build a case against the Red Sox. Throw in the Keystone Kops play by Darnell McDonald over-rounding second for the game ending out and it makes you think that this is going to be one long season.
Realistically, Buchholz and, certainly, Lester, are not going to pitch this way all year long. In fact Lester is a notoriously slow starter but was magnificent through six yesterday but there was almost fear to go to the bullpen when he started to tire. Turns out any fear was justified as Daniel Bard ended up the loser, though it wasn’t like he was lit up in the process. But the “L” is still the “L”. Even Beckett’s loss wasn’t all terrible but Lackey and Dice-K both look to be the pitchers of 2010 so far – and that’s not a good thing. You have to think that with players like Pedroia, Youkilis and Crawford the offensive production is going to improve as well – you have to think that SOMEONE is going to hit with runners in scoring position.
Depressing stat of the first week of the season: of the 85 teams that started the season 0-5 in the history of baseball only 2 have even made the playoffs. What about 0-6? That number is even worse. Not a single team starting 0-6 has even made it to 90 wins (thank you Jayson Stark and ESPN Radio). It’s tough enough to battle against the American League East without having to battle history as well.
I’ve always been of the belief that you can’t win a pennant in April, but you can lose one. Let’s hope the hole being dug isn’t too deep. I haven’t pushed the panic button yet, but my hand is definitely out of my pocket.no comments