Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Easy Stretch/Tough Stretch

Back on April 22nd, the baseball gods and the weather gods cooperated on giving Red Sox Nation a  much desired rain out at Fenway vs. the Yankees  one day after the embarrassing blowing of a 9-1 lead, which became a 15-9 loss.  At that time the Red Sox finished a brutal opening portion of their schedule featuring games with all of last year's AL playoff teams plus the Jays, with a record of 4-10.

At that juncture, we all looked forward to a long "easy" stretch in the schedule. The upcoming 22 games would be completely played versus teams who finished 2011 under .500.  So how did it go?  First the good news, the Sox began the stretch with 6 straight wins on the road and finished with 5 consecutive wins at home. Now the not so good news.  In between those two win streaks the Sox went 2-9, for an overall 13 wins and 9 losses for the "easy" stretch.  And pending tonight's other results will be 4 1/2 or 5 1/2 games out of first, still in fifth place.

So they did not make up all the ground we were hoping for. However, they did play at a .591 clip, which is a pace that if carried throughout an entire season would give a team about 96 wins.  96 wins will very likely win the AL East this year.

One other fallacy of the "easy" schedule also came into play.  Just because a team is under .500 one year does not keep them from being a contender the next.  Also, at any given time of any season, any team can play well.  For example as of May 15 two of the so called bad teams we just played are in first place, one in our own division: Cleveland and Baltimore.  In addition, Oakland is over .500.



Now the Red Sox enter an even longer "tough" stretch of the schedule.  The next 24 games are all against either winning teams or expected strong teams who are slumping. Starting tomorrow ( May 16) all the way to June 13 the Sox play eight games on the road: Rays, Phils, Orioles, a 7 game homestand vs. Rays and Tigers( 4 games), followed a quick 3 game trip north of the border to play the Jays, and back to Fenway for  the O's and Nationals.

And realistically you could really say the Red Sox have a tough 39 game stretch( that is basically 1/4 of the entire slate) because the 24 mentioned above are immediately followed by a 6 game DH-less trip to Miami and to Wrigley Field to play the Cubs, followed by a nine game homestand with the Marlins, Braves, and Jays. This stretch beginning May 16 goes all the way to last series of June!

 The last time through the Red Sox rotation, they have appeared to have righted the ship.  With this more than a month of tough games ahead that had better be true.  I really believe we will know by June 27, the end of this stretch,  if the 2012 Red Sox are contenders or looking to be sellers a month later at the trade deadline.

By continuing to play well the Red Sox will not only have a chance to show their mettle against some of the better MLB teams, but the longer they can survive (or thrive) through this part of the season, they will be ever closer to, if not at, the returns of Jacoby Ellsbury, Carl Crawford, Dice K, and maybe Andrew Bailey.  It is also very plausible the Kevin Youkilis/Will Middlebrooks scenario will play itself out to some conclusion by the end of June, if not sooner.

Now as discussed above, some times easy opponents are not, but sometimes tough foes turn not to be either.  Readers may notice I have included six games with Baltimore in the "tough" portion right after including the earlier three with the O's in the "easy" portion.  Hey, they are in first and have beaten up on all of the other AL East teams, so for now the are a tough foe.  But when does the Oriole chariot turn into a pumpkin?  next week, July, not until they are in the playoffs ? Perhaps, the Sox can hasten the transformation back to pumpkins by taking 4 or 5 of the 6.  Then the Phillies, the have pretty much mirrored Boston's season: high expectations followed by a 17-19 last place start.  Are they tough or not?  Lacking a DH playing in the City of Brotherly Hate, will not help, but another "who knows" series. Also the Cubs, Marlins, and the banged up Nats are difficult to label as of May 15th.

At this point, despite sitting in fifth in the AL East, we know Boston has the offense (second to the mighty Rangers in AL runs scored), and on paper have the starting rotation.  The bullpen seems to be rounding into shape, with guys finding their roles and lefties Rich Hill and Andrew Miller helping.

Early season and small sample size excuses are over.  It is time beginning in St. Pete for the real 2012 Boston Red Sox to step forward, please.


5 comments:

  1. Great breakdown of the schedule. We should create a new term for the science of studying a baseball schedule and give the Deacon a Ph D in schedulology.

    Good point about judging this years teams off of last year's records and assuming that teams like the Phillies are good teams based on past records and vice versa. Ultimatley it comes down to which team plays better on a given day and really which team's starting pitchers perform the best. Here's to hoping that our starting 5 keep on rolling.

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  2. I like the class in Schedulology idea. I agree that by the time June 27th rolls around, Red Sox Nation will know whether we are cheering for a pennant contender or a rebuilding project. A few burning questions will most likely be answered by then as well, including:

    - Who gets bumped from the rotation when Dice-K returns? All reports indicate that Bobby V badly wants a chance to prove that his Japanese experience will translate into success with the National Treasure, so when Dice-K is ready he will be in the rotation. The question is who gets bumped. Clay Buchholz had better keep up his stretch of better starts or it may be him. Otherwise, it most likely has to be Bard going back to the bullpen.

    - The report is that when Youk is ready to return to the DL, Middlebrooks will be sent back down to AAA. There will be unbelievable pressure for Youk to perform with the specter of Willie Middle hanging over him and the knowledge that if he does perform, he is likely only improving his chances of getting shipped out of town to the highest bidder.

    - What will the Red Sox' lineup look like in National League stadiums? Adrian Gonzalez was reportedly taking fly balls in right field before yesterday's game. So it looks like the Sox are going to try him out there for at least one of the games in Philly this weekend. If I had my druthers, I would give Papi and Gonzo each one day off with the other playing 1B, then have Papi play 1B and Gonzo play RF for one game. This conundrum gets interesting in the long term with the Astros moving to the American League next year. Next year's schedule will presumably contain more interleague play, so the Red Sox may need to make these lineup shifts more often.

    Sox go for 6 in a row tonight against the Rays! Look for a Maineiacs live chat right here at 7:00!

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    1. These are all very intriguing questions that will have to be answered going forward.

      1. Since when did Bobby V start getting what he wants around here? Dice K going to the rotation is not a sure thing. They will probably try to work him in as a 6th starter like they did with Cook, but hopefully it works out better this time, until Bard reaches his innings limit as a starter and gets moved back to the bullpen. I still believe that the front office has a plan for how many innings Bard will go as a starter before going back to the bullpen, but May is too soon. After the All-Star break is more likely.

      2. I think that Youk will be put back on the roster after the Philly series this weekend and Middlebrooks will be sent down to Pawtucket. If Youk is going to be traded for something close to equal value he's going to have to be productive at the big league level first. There is no harm in sending Middlebrooks back to Pawtucket to play everyday. With Youk's injury history it will only be a matter of time before he is needed again. If they don't need him again than that means that Youk is playing great and that's a good thing for us too. Now if Youk starts off in a 2-25 slump then hold on to your shorts!

      3. Interleague play. The lineup conundrum is an interesting one. I agree with Brandon here. Papi and AGon each get one game off, one game at 1B and one game with Papi at 1B and AGon in RF (or maybe we're just trained to think that way after 8 years of Tito Francona). Here's the twist I don't think that Bobby V feels that way and with the OF injuries this year who can blame him. I think you are going to see them both in the lineup all 3 games barring injury or defensive disaster. Then the question becomes who do you take out of the OF mix? Nava has been on fire I leave him alone in LF and I platoon Sweeney and Ross in CF.

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  3. After reading this blog entry by BrianMacP:

    http://blogs.providencejournal.com/sports/red-sox/2012/05/valentine-on-matsuzaka-i-dont-think-hes-all-that-close.html

    It seems like the Dice-K situation is getting murkier. It seems like Bobby V and Dice-K himself both think he is still a long ways away from being able to return to the majors. Dice-K still seems uncomfortable with his mechanics and surgically-repaired elbow.

    Personally, I don't care how much money the Sox are paying him, I wouldn't replace any of our current five starters with him unless he can show he is lights out on rehab starts. Unfortunately, he only gets two more rehab starts until he has to be re-activated or placed back on the DL. This is starting to look like a big fat mess.

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    1. One way they could dodge this situation is to put him back on the DL for 15 days, let him go back to Ft. Myers and rest/build up his arm some more and then he can start another rehab assignment when ready.

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