First, let's state the obvious. This is the worst possible time for the team to be slumping, if they are in fact slumping, with the Yanks and Jays coming to town. Regardless of what's happening, they have some important games upcoming, and they need to be better than they are.
They have lost 7 of their last 10 games. Toronto handled them easily, taking Beckett down and pounding on the unsuspecting Lenny Dinardo. Cleveland also took 2 of 3 and embarrassed Beckett in a 15-3 blowout. Worst of all, the Sox dropped 2 of 3 to Tampa Bay, including today's headscratcher in which Rudy Seanez was allowed to pitch in a one-run game (why? why?!?!?). This doesn't paint a pretty picture but if Tito doesn't throw this one away by bringing in Rudy, they are riding a two-game winning streak and nearly played .500 ball on the road, and all is not lost. It's early, and I am not going to call this a full-on slump, but the Sox are not playing to potential.
The most obvious issue is Crisp's finger injury, which has kept him out far longer than expected. It looks like he'll miss 33 games all told, which for those of you who struggled in maths, is over 20% of the regular season. That hurts. Stern projects to be the closest thing to Crisp as a player but it appears the Sox don't think he's ready for primetime (.190 in 20 ABs doesn't feel like Christmas, but it's only 20 ABs) and this gives the FO the opportunity to see what Wile E Mo Pena, Super Genius can do. Crisp brings a lot of energy and ability to the team, and while statistically Youks has performed, the top of the lineup is not the same without Coco.
The top of the lineup is also not the same without Mark Loretta. Loretta's average has dropped nearly 50 points since his walk-off HR on April 17th against Seattle, and while at this point in the season that doesn't spell disaster, it's a little disturbing, isn't it? You have to wonder if Papi or Wily Mo pounded him a little too hard on the helmet during the walk-off celebration. With Crisp out and Youks riding the Lark 2000 around the bases, he needs to show a bit of the gap power he advertised in SD. I was high on Loretta coming into the season and I think he'll turn it around, but this week would be a good time to start.
Manny obviously had a slow start, possibly due to his not realizing the season had started. A couple weeks back Johnny Pesky pulled him aside and using hand-puppets explained that it was time for Manny to play for real, and since then he's picked it up and his OPS is now around .900. Ortiz is doing what Ortiz does, but when Loretta and Manny are hitting it makes his job much easier.
Overall, this team is just not getting it done offensively. Let me shock everyone for a second. As of today, the Boston Red Sox have scored the fewest runs in the AL East. They have scored 117 runs to New York's 144. The Rays have 120, second-to-last. As a benchmark, Cleveland (largely thanks to the Sox) have scored 154 runs to lead the majors.
When you sign Alex Gonzalez, your runs scored figure is going to drop. He cannot hit - at all. When Coco returns, Loretta normalizes, and Manny gets hot this team will score runs, although fewer than last year because they have AGon in the nine-hole, and Dustan Mohr is getting PAs. Still, they will score runs. The idea of course is that their run differential stays the same or improves, and this is accomplished through, you guessed it, pitching and defense. Here is where we are seeing some disappointing figures.
Defense is not a pressing concern in the infield. Lowell's D has not been as advertised, as he has three errors already, and a starting-team-lowest .952 fielding percentage. Since he's hitting well it's a wash but this illustrates the unfortunate theme that Sox players are not playing to potential. Cora also has 3 errors, and he's only been in 6 games (he's a....ahhh....late inning defensive replacement). Still, Gonzalez has been stellar at short, and Loretta and Youks are capable.
Defense in the outfield is troubling right now, since Manny is Manny; Wile E Mo is, well, wow; and Trot is old and slow. Still, if it's cost us more than one game I'd be surprised.
Defense behind the plate is solid as usual when Tek is catching, but is apocalyptically bad when Josh Bard settles in. I am pretty sure there is an entire betting room in Vegas specializing in Knuckleball Keno (a new game every five seconds!) where you take odds on every pitch that Bard commits a passed ball. It is nearly impossible for the Sox to win when he is behind the plate. If guys aren't taking free bases on the 10 passed balls, they're swiping one of their 12 bags thus far - in only 7 games. Short story, Wake is 1-4. This needs to be addressed, or this team does not make the post-season, end of story.
Starting pitching is the thing that concerns me thus far. Pitching stats for 2006 are below:
|J Van Buren||0||0||3.00||1||3||2||1.00||1||1||0.00|
What jumps out? With the exception of Schilling, the starters are not controlling the strike zone, and giving up far too many walks. In the cases of Beckett and Dinardo, mistakes are turning into home runs. Wake is giving up runs since Bard can't catch him (his WHIP and HRR are normal for him), and Clement simply sucks no matter how you slice it. With Fatty McFatFat on the DL, this is not a bedtime story for Sox fans. The much-vaunted Red Sox pitching staff is not off to a strong start (well, except for Arroyo). I know what some of you may be thinking, and before you ask, Jon Lester is not off to a strong start either - he is 0-4 with a 6.94 ERA in Pawtucket, and needs some more seasoning. It goes without saying, I mean really, it does, but these guys have got to throw strikes and get ahead in the count. This team cannot win without quality starts.
The bullpen looks good - Papelbon is a beast and Foulke is coming back - with the exception of the aforementioned Rudy Seanez who quite frankly is the anti-christ. He should be DFA'd very shortly. I will take anyone from Pawtucket, or Portland, or the Stop & Shop over Rudy. I would prefer to see Mad Jeep pitch a couple innings then leap into the stands to sucker-punch a toddler than see Rudy Seanez pitch in a Red Sox uniform ever again. That is all I will say about that.
So this is a big week for your 2006 Red Sox. In the division they are currently 8-7, and as of today are in second place behind the hated Spanks who have gone 7-3 over the past 10 games. The MFYs come in for a quick 2-game kiss, then the Jays (who are 4-2 vs. the Sox this year) come in and Halladay goes against Clement for the Rolaids Spring Classic. Then Baltimore, and our nemesis the otherwise-crappy Rodrigo Lopez, comes in for a visit. There are no easy games for this team. If the Sox do not step up in several key areas, it could be a long, hard spring.
God, I missed baseball.