Sunday, May 31, 2009

2 months down...

... and 4 to go in baseball this year. The end of May finds the Sox half a game behind the Yankees in the now-the-universe-is-back-in-order AL east (know your place, Toronto). The Sox are on pace for ~92 wins so on balance there's no need for any one way trips off the Tobin Bridge.

The Good
The Red Sox bullpen has been as good as advertised, with an AL-best 2.96 ERA. Ramon Ramirez, the counterpart in the Coco Crisp trade, has been nearly unhittable, and Manny Delcarmen has become reliable, although Tito has mostly avoided using him in pressure situations. Okajima continues to be effective with his smoke and mirrors, and his countryman Saito has, after a rocky start, settled in nicely to the backup closer role (distinct from the set-up role, which is mostly Okajima and Ramirez). Papelbon has gotten the job done at closer with only a single blown save and an ERA of 2.45, although his peripheral stats haven't been as good as in the past: fewer strikeouts, more guys on base, more pitches per AB. So that's five guys in the pen with ERAs below 3.00, plus a sixth if you count the new guy, Daniel Bard, who really brings the heat. Masterson does a fine job as the swing guy, capable of starting if need be, or pitching multiple innings out of the pen. To call him the long man/mop up guy would really do him a disservice, it is much more a credit to his rubber arm, and he is more than capable of pitching the 8th inning in a one-run game.

The Okay
The Red Sox lineup has its share of hits and misses so far this year. They are third in the AL in OPS and fifth in runs scored, so it isn't like they are anemic, but there is the walking corpse that is David Ortiz, he of the lone home run and 0.185 batting average. There have been no reports of any health issues, so who knows what's wrong with him. The guy most-expected to be a corpse this year, Jason Varitek, has been nicely non-rotting, with 10 HRs and an OPS of 0.849 (last year was 0.672). The meat of the order has been mostly as advertised, with Youkilis continuing to put up MVP-type numbers, his 1.150 OPS behind only Joe Mauer in the AL; Jason Bay with 15 HRs, good for third; Mike Lowell coming back nicely from hip surgery. Pedroia's power numbers are down from last year, but he's still hitting for average and a lot of doubles. Drew has been good, with an 'eh' attached to it, because that's what he does -- he has yet to have a really hot streak. Ellsbury was, appropriately, moved out of leadoff spot for today's game. He's a good ballplayer but he doesn't get on base enough to justify hitting at the top (yeah, he's hitting 0.300, but an OBP of 0.330 is below-average for a leadoff hitter). The SS hole is exactly that, a hole -- Green and Lugo have put up OPS of 0.783 and 0.714, respectively, which I guess classifies as "not horrible" but no better than that.

The Ugly
It'd be a bit simplistic to say the starting pitching has sucked for the Red Sox, only because the defense has largely sucked too, and the two are non-separable. Beckett's top line numbers aren't great, but he had a spectacular May, so the arrow is pointing in the right direction. Lester finally had a good outing today, let's hope it keeps up -- otherwise, he has more or less sucked. Wakefield has been, as always, steady, and he pitched some real gems when the Sox needed it most, coming on nights after the pen was severely taxed. DiceK continues to make me want to blow my brains out, taking forever when he pitches, nibbling, putting a ton of guys on base, same old same old. Of course, last year he was very lucky (low BABIP) and this year he has been very unlucky (high BABIP) and the results show it. Brad Penny has been exactly what you'd expect out of a fifth starter -- with him, the question is do the Sox keep him when Smoltz and/or Buchholz are ready? The former has looked good in several rehab assignments, while the latter has been lights-out in AAA all year.

In sum
The Sox are chugging along with no major needs that can be addressed. That's a good position to be in come June. If Ortiz turns it around then so much the better, although it is not clear to me, or to anyone really, what they do with him if he doesn't. Green and Lugo are a real problem at SS, mostly because of their atrocious defense, but I don't know if Jed Lowrie is the solution (at least he can field okay). I still think they are the favorite to win the AL East.