LONGSHOTS: And baseball season finally kicks off
by Dave Long
We’ve been vacationing of sorts for the last month writing about the Celtics’ run in the NBA playoffs. And while we were doing that, a lot of stuff was piling up, mostly from the most under-the-radar beginning to the local baseball season since at least before the Duquette administration was in charge. So in an attempt to catch up, here’s a quick take on things that have been taking place while hoops was the center of my attention.
The Sox Are Back In It: After being written off in early May by many panic-stricken, out-on-the-ledge folks in The Nation, the Red Sox are alive and kicking. As I write this they are tied for the wild card with the D-Rays and just a game behind the hated Yanks for first in the AL East after roaring back with the best record in baseball since April 20. And they made that climb with a host of injuries that at various times cost them J.D. (er, I mean) Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Cameron, Dice-K (twice) and Josh Beckett, while surviving horrendous starts from Big Papi, V-Mart and Jon Lester along with a cavernous six-week slump from Dustin Pedroia that brought to mind the first six weeks of his rookie season. And even though he’s 8-3 John Lackey still quite hasn’t found his groove as his ERA is still above 4.00. Yet even with the great start from the D-Rays — who many thought were invincible (admit it — you did) after their red hot start in April, it is just the latest example of how (and if you had them dead on May 1 please repeat after me) Baseball is a Marathon and Not a Sprint.
Run Prevention Has Worked — Sorta: I say that because the guys brought in to spearhead the new mantra have done great, but not the way Theo planned. At the head of that class is Adrian Beltre — who was supposed to bring Brooks Robinson to mind at third. With 12 errors already that hasn’t happened, but he’s fourth in the league in hitting at .334 and leads the team in RBI — so he’s been terrific. And even with those errors, which are the most at his position in baseball, the hallowed Evan Longoria has 10 and he has improved the range in that spot.
Marco Scutaro has nine errors and that’s second worst among AL shortstops and his power number lag far behind Alex Gonzalez, who he replaced, but he’s been solid and not the usual free agent disaster at short of the Theo regime. Especially since Gonzalez leads AL shortstops in errors. As for the outfield defense, who knows, since Ellsbury and Cameron have played so little? And with the 37-year-old Cameron getting hurt as expected, the Ellsbury-to-left experiment will be called off if he ever gets back in the line-up.
The other blip was stolenbasegate, which had many loopy in early spring. But after a little work on his mechanics by Victor Martinez and with the pitching staff actually paying attention to keeping runners from running that’s subsided quite a bit. And while his .191 caught stealing percentage is nothing to write home about, the Yanks’ Francisco Cerevelli is at just .143 and people are managing to not jump off the Throgs Neck Bridge over that.
The Hitting: The big worry coming into the season was power — thus the push for Gonzalez. But you can put that worry to bed, as with a second-best-in-the-AL 93, the Sox are projecting to hit 212 homers. They are also first in doubles, slugging percentage, RBI and RUNS.
Alumni News: The reason for the worry about power hitting came from losing Jason Bay, who hit 36 homers and drove in 119 last year. This year he’s tied with Marco Scutaro with four homers and his 27 RBI are just four more than the Sox shortstop, reminding us all Fenway inflates everyone’s numbers.
Adrian Beltre to the Pats: Name any Patriots defender who fractured the ribs of one player on any play last year, let alone two. Right now it’s 10 ribs and counting that Beltre has splattered in collisions on bloopers behind third base, making him the most-feared defender since Mike Greenwell routinely crashed into outfielders in the ’80s and ’90s. It’s sent Ellsbury and Jeremy Hermida to the DL and the only question left is how long before it happens to Daniel Nava?
Still Want to Trade Buchholz for Adrian Gonzalez? Remember all the folks who were begging for this deal last winter? Not me, though — as I said Clay Buchholz will be better than Lackey by next year. Turns out he’s ahead of schedule, as after Sunday’s win when he pitched 6.2 shutout innings against the Dodgers he’s tied for the American League lead in wins with 10 and his 2.47 ERA is third best. That puts him on pace to win 23, which is four more than Lackey has ever had. And best of all, he no longer has a panic attack when a guy reaches first. Meanwhile, San Diego is one of the baseball’s big surprises in leading the NL West, where Gonzalez is having a nice season by hitting .310. But to steal a line from Lou Gorman, where would they play him? Because while his 15 and 47 power numbers are solid they are mirrored by the players Gonzalez would need to displace. So as they say, sometimes the best trades are the ones not made, as Buchholz is only going to get better.
The Return of David Ortiz: The first clue Papi was going to come out of it was that Dan Shaughnessy wrote in the Globe that it was over and Theo needed to release him — lending credence to the notion that, outside of picking the C’s over Cleveland, he’s ALWAYS wrong. Admittedly it was gruesome on May 1 when he was hitting .143 with one home run and four RBI. But it turned around almost immediately after the Globe pronouncement by hitting .366 with 10 homers and 27 RBI in May — which was good enough to put him back in the three hole that was once his exclusive property. The power numbers are now 15 and 47, which project to a lot better than the 25 and 85 I had him before the season.
Reminder of How Good Tito Really Is: Almost everyone had an opinion about Ortiz, yet Tito stuck with him. Just as he did with Dustin Pedroia three years ago when most said he was too small and couldn’t play at this level. Throw in the Mike Lowell saga, the aforementioned injuries and the issues created by the six-man rotation and he’s had his hands full. So for all my complaining about being mother Francona and babying the pitchers, this year reminds how perfect he is navigating the ship amid the insanity of Red Sox Nation.
Dave Long can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.