As promised, here is the Red Sox first quarter report card for this season after 40 games.
Starting Pitching: A-
The Red Sox starting pitching has been better than anticipated, with the younger pitchers delivering better performances than was predicted. Josh Beckett missed a few starts, but has rounded into All-Star form and seems poised for another run for the Cy Young Award. Daisuke Matsuzaka has made a lot of improvements from his first year in the majors and has jumped out to a 6-0, but, leading the league in walks, he has still been shaky at times. But together, they look to be as dominant as any 1-2 punch in the A.L. Tim Wakefield has had a typical season thus far, and at 41 years old, that is all the Red Sox had hoped for. Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz have both flashed the signs that they are ready to be front end of the rotation starters, but also showed that they are in their first full season in the majors. There is no question about their stuff, but if the Sox want to go deep into the playoffs, they need more consistency from the back end of the rotation.
Relief Pitching: C
And this may be generous. The Sox have had very few arms in the bullpen where they feel secure that they can hold the lead. Hideki Okajima and Jonathan Papelbon have been very good for most of the season, although they are likely being overused due to the lack of any other relievers stepping up and getting outs. Manny Delcarmen was supposed to help with the late innings, but he has struggled heavily and has fallen from Terry Francona’s repertoire for tight contests. David Aardsma has been a pleasant surprise, but has struggled with his command. Javier Lopez has also performed well, albeit in very limited duty as a primarily left-handed specialist. A rotation of Craig Hansen and Bryan Corey (who the Sox traded to the Padres today) has shown that neither was ready for major league duty to this point. Mike Timlin started the year on the disabled list and has shown that he has in fact pitched in more games in the history of the major league with the expectation of about a dozen players. Julian Tavarez has been used very sparingly in long relief and has struggled because of his lack of work. The starters have produced a good number of seven inning starts, but that will not always be the case. Someone needs to fill in the middle innings and pitch when Okajima and Papelbon cannot, and those pitchers have not yet distinguished themselves.
The Red Sox have had the best offense in the majors through the first quarter of the season. Their team batting average is above .290 and they have a very good balance of power, run production and speed. Jacoby Ellsbury is doing everything that a leadoff hitter must do, which is get on base and score runs, and Dustin Pedroia leads the league in hits. David Ortiz was the only player to start slow, but he has gotten his swing back. Manny Ramirez should have been the player of the month, and Kevin Youkilis capped the first quarter by having a ridiculous week that vaulted him into the top ten in virtually every offensive category. J.D. Drew has played better so far, and Mike Lowell has come back well from the disabled list. Jason Varitek is, as he should be, focusing on the pitching staff, and the Sox have never looked for much production from him anyway. Julio Lugo has played better at times, but still continues to undercut expectations. If Ellsbury and Pedroia can continue to set the table, the Sox will have an excellent year offensively.
The bench players have been one of the strengths of the team this year. Coco Crisp has been sharing time with Ellsbury in center, and has played with good intensity and has hit over .300. Sean Casey filled in exceptionally when Lowell was on the disabled list, and his replacement, Jed Lowrie, also showed that he was capable of playing on the major league level. Brandon Moss did nothing wrong during his time, and should be able looking for another call-up before the year is over. Even Kevin Cash has performed very well, both in his first year handling Wakefield’s knuckleball, but also at the plate, batting near .400. It is a very comforting luxury for Francona to be able to look to his bench whenever he needs and still feel confident, and also in the young call-ups in the chance of injuries.
The Sox defense has been good, expect for one man, and that would be Julio Lugo. The Sox have 21 errors, and Lugo has 11 of them. He just seems very reluctant fielding grounders. Most of Lugo’s errors before this season were due to his throws over to first, but this year’s errors have been fielding balls hit to him. Other than Lugo, the rest of the infield’s defense has been good, and Youkilis has been perfect as usual. In the outfield, there have been few mistakes. Ellsbury and Crisp provide Gold-Glove caliber defense and the ability to cover a lot of ground. Drew plays right field well, and Ramirez’s defense in left is sometimes convoluted but for the most part satisfactory. Without Lugo’s errors, the Sox would have a much more respectable overall fielding percentage near the league lead.
They do have the best record in the A.L., and are likely the best team in the majors right now. They get a minus next to that A because the Diamondbacks have a better record, and because their relievers have struggled so much. They have good enough offense and starting pitching to get them through a seven game playoff series right now, but that could change come October. If they can add another reliever at the trading deadline, it would go great lengths to help the Sox out, but we saw that backfire last year. Considering the injuries, the illnesses and beginning the year in Japan, the Sox are sitting in a pretty good spot right now.
I am putting this report card on my blog, which I do with every recap, and you can access at the last link at the bottom of the recap. Feel free to respond to this report card here, or go to my blog.
Concerning tonight’s game, the Sox received their worst start of the year. Tim Wakefield did not make it out of the third inning. While he normally does well in indoor stadiums, he struggled mightly in the Metrodome. His knuckleballs were frequently left up in the zone, and the control of his fastball was off all night. Wakefield threw an astonishing amount of fastballs, or as Joe Morgan aptly called them “straightballs” because, at 74 MPH, they are hardly blistering. One of the home runs he gave up was on one such fastball that was nicely grooved, belt high. But, Wakefield looked like he was laboring from the first inning, and in this case, the knuckleball just did not flutter in the Sox favor.