LONGSHOTS: Sox have holes in early going
by Dave Long
We are a month into the baseball season, which is a benchmark of sorts. Especially since when people wanted Big Papi’s head in just the first week, I said you’ve got to give it until May 1. Now that May 1 has arrived, let’s check in to see what we’ve learned so far.
David Ortiz: Hate to start off with the negative, but with the Sox 11-14 and seven games out in the AL East as I write this it’s hard to avoid. Obviously the 1,200-pound elephant in the room is David Ortiz. As bad as it was last April, it’s worse in 2010. He left April 2009 hitting .230 with 12 RBI and no homers. This year he’s got three homers, but half as many RBI and he’s at .151. Maybe the two homers Saturday are a sign, but sorry to say if he matches his 2009 May, which pretty much mirrors what he did this April, he’ll be on the clock to get released sometime in June.
Would They Release Him? Hey, Babe Ruth got released twice. Once from the Yanks after the 1934 season when he hit 22 homers and 84 RBI and then from the Boston Braves in 1935, not too long after he hit three homers in a game including the first to ever go onto the roof in right at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh. If it can happen to the Babe, no one is safe.
The Record at Fenway: Is it disturbing or comforting to know they’re just 5-8 at home? You could argue that it’s evidence they’re just in a bad patch, which every team goes through, and it appears worse than it actually is because it’s not buried in the totality of the record as it would be in July ’cause you know they’ll play well at Fenway. Or you could argue they’ve morphed into the Celtics who inexplicably lost games at the Garden to teams that couldn’t beat SNHU to underscore a much bigger problem.
Run Prevention: Let’s just say the PR spin from the Jason Bay defection is off to a rough start. They’re 13th-worst in fielding percentage. Ditto in errors with 19. The Twins have just five.
Adrian Beltre: Why does he remind me of Edgar Renteria? He ain’t been Brooks Robinson so far. He’s 23rd in a 15-team league in fielding percentage and his five errors are most in the AL among third baseman. Over a full season that projects to a Butch Hobson-like 33. He has time to smooth things out, but right now it’s a seven on the Yikes! meter.
Marco Scutaro: He had a few damaging errors that came in a four-game flurry, but he hasn’t had any lately and seems to have settled. Not spectacular like Alex Gonzalez can be, but he’s been solid. And do you think Theo is aware Gonzalez is fourth in the AL in runs batted in with 21?
Outfield Defense: Mike Cameron made the year’s worst error on a can of corn right to him, then he AND Jacoby Ellsbury went out three weeks ago, so there’s not much of a sample. Although my major objection to putting Cameron in center was that 37-year-old players get hurt and that’s exactly what’s happened to him with the abdominal strain.
The Pitching: Overall it’s been better as they climbed from 30th overall in ERA to 23rd at 4.78 in the last week, so they are going in the right direction.
The Starters: The mantra has been that horrible starts by Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and John Lackey will straighten out. And it appears that way, especially for Lester, who was lights out in his last start. And then there’s the debate over whether they should have sent Clay Buchholz to the bullpen instead of Tim Wakefield. The point well taken on their side is you can’t pitch Wake in the eighth or ninth because you can steal on the knuckleball with impunity and that Buch would be more effective there. But, the best way not to tax the pen is to get outs, and Buchholz, with a ninth-best-in-the-AL 2.19 ERA, is showing he’s on his way to being a dependable starter, and putting him in the pen retards his growth. Wake should remain an insurance policy in case anyone goes down, as already happened with Dice-K.
Middle Relief: Manny Delcarmen, Ramon Ramirez, Scott Schoeneweis, Scott Atchison, et al. Do those names scare you? That is, I mean, unless you’re sitting in the Sox dugout when they enter the game. How can a guy have a 1.59 ERA and you’re scared to death when he comes in? Maybe it’s the six walks Manny has in 11 innings — but as Forrest Gump likes to say, “it’s something.”
Eighth- and Ninth-Inning Relief: Same thing — the ERAs look great, at least for Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon, but they’ve been far from lights out as the ERAs suggest. By far the biggest worry is Heart Attack Pap, who picked up the nasty habit of walking people last year when the number tripled from 2008. Well, in giving up nine in 13 innings it’s worse this year. Last year he gave up 24 in 64 innings; if the current pace continues he’ll walk FORTY-FOUR in 64 innings. Maybe I’m wrong, but as I said in a column last November and again in March he looks like a one-pitch pitcher whom people have figured out.
Stolen Basegate: The hysteria has thankfully subsided. True, Victor Martinez looked terrible during the onslaught vs. Tampa Bay and Texas. But if he’s so bad, how did he manage to throw out more than 30 percent of runners his last two years in Cleveland? And isn’t this the EXACT same complaint we heard about Jason Varitek last year when Carl Crawford stole six in one game? What’s the common denominator? Both catch Red Sox pitching, which philosophically is more concerned with throwing strikes than being distracted by runners at first. Joe Maddon figured that out and exploited it, followed by Ron Washington. But since then, runners are two for nine against them trying to steal.
The Hitting: Believe it or not, with 33, the Sox are fourth in baseball in homers. But they’ve scored 34 runs fewer than Tampa Bay, which is 15th best/worst in the majors. That’s with Ortiz and JD Drew (who appears to be coming out of it) below the Mendoza Line through all April. One thing for certain is they need a real fifth hitter to hit behind Kevin Youkilis — which they won’t get unless a big trade happens. Beyond that, several have been solid or better, like Dustin Pedroia, who leads in homers and RBI, while at .330 Beltre is the top hitter and Scutaro leads in on-base percentage.
A little on the pessimistic side. I’ll admit, but I don’t think I’ve exaggerated any of the issues. Do you?
Dave Long can be reached at email@example.com. He hosts Dave Long and Company from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. each Saturday on WGAM – The Game, 1250-AM Manchester, 900-AM Nashua.