Saturday, April 27, 2013

Red Sox Digest

In honor of the old Red Sox pregame show Red Sox Digest.  We are going to digest a few Red Sox topics this morning.  The Red Sox are off to a 16-7 start and have a 2 game lead in the AL east over the Baltimore Orioles.  With three games left this month the Red Sox have a chance to set a new team record for wins in the month of April.  The record sits at 18 and the Red Sox can tie it if they sweep the Astros this weekend.  Which would set up a chance to break the record in Toronto on Tuesday.

In the weeks leading up to the season it was clear that the Red Sox needed to get off to a good start, in order to erase the bad memories of the last two seasons.  Red Sox fans everywhere were hoping that would happen, but most felt that it was just hope and not likely to become a reality.  Well, through 23 games the Red Sox have surpassed even the most optimistic fans wildest dreams for a good start.

Some will point out the fact that it's early and it's only 23 games and say we shouldn't get too excited.  They would be right, but for those who have been paying close attention there's more going on with this team than just a 16-7 record.  These guys are really confident right now.  They believe in each other and that's more important than whether anyone else believes in them or not.  One of the most encouraging signs is that there seems to be a different hero every night.  The team is getting key contributions from everyone right through the 25th man on the roster.

The question on my mind today is...what's going to happen next for the Red Sox? The first month is nearly at a close, but we should wait until Memorial Day or so to decide if the Red Sox are for real or not.  So let's digest a few crumbs about each positional group: C, IF, OF, SP, RP, Bench and try to decide if this team is going to continue to compete for a spot at the top of the standings.



Starting Pitching:
There was no doubt entering the season that this group would be the key to the Red Sox season just like it would be for every other team.  We all knew that Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz were talented and capable, but the team is undefeated in their ten starts.  That's impressive.  I doubt that the two of them will continue to have a 100%  winning percentage, but they are both capable of winning between 15-20 games this year.  There are bound to be bumps in the road for these guys, but with John Farrell/Juan Nieves guiding them I am confident they are both going to be in the top 10 for AL Cy Young voting.

The Red Sox are also undefeated when Felix Doubront starts (3-0).  Just as I said in the RSM podcasts #5 that previewed the AL east, Doubront is who he is.  He continues to give the Red Sox between 5-7 innings per start (and between 5-7 BB's).  The question for Felix is can he be more efficient with his pitches and be able to get into the 7th and 8th inning more often.  Right now Buchholz is the only pitcher getting to the 8th inning and they need 1-2 more starters to be able to do that on a fairly regular basis.

That leaves Lackey and Dempster.  Dempster has been better than I expected so far.  He's had a little bit of tough luck, but he's in the top 5 in K/9 and his offspeed pitches have looked unhittable at times.  John Lackey's one start was exceeding expectations big time when he left the game with an injury.  He's expected to pitch tomorrow against the Astros.  Lackey gets an incomplete.  We all need to hope for the best here, but I for one am not feeling confident.  Lastly, Alfredo Aceves is right where he belongs as Chad Finn pointed out.

Overall, we should feel good about the Red Sox rotation going forward, while also expecting a little bit of a regression from Buchholz and Lester at times.  This group does need to start giving more innings so the bullpen does not get run into the ground by the 4th of July.  The depth of the rotation seems to be in good hands with Allen Webster waiting in the wings.

Bullpen: Andrew Bailey and Junichi Tazawa have been lights out.  Andrew Miller has struggled and he will likely have major competition for his job when Craig Breslow and/or Franklin Morales come back.  Koji Uehera has been excellent as well, but he's already starting to show signs of overuse.  They really need to monitor his appearances to keep him healthy and effective for the season.  Uehera is best suited as a 6/7 inning set up guy, but not the 8th inning man that he has been recently.  Clayton Mortensen has not pitched well and is likely headed for designation or a phantom DL visit.  Alex Wilson has been very good and looks the part of a major league pitcher.  I'm sure he is destined to ride the shuttle between Pawtucket and Boston as needed this year.

For me, Joel Hanrahan is the difference between this bullpen being a dominant one all season and one that will get worn out from overuse and not be effective all season long.  If he can get healthy and become the dominant closer the Red Sox thought they were getting then that stretches the bullpen back out to their original roles.  Bailey can be the 8th inning set-up/bullpen ace who comes in when the game is on the line during innings 6-8.  Tazawa can pitch in set up, but not get overused.  Uehera goes back to pitching the 6th/7th inning when the team has a lead.  Then Miller/Breslow can be the 6-8th inning left handed guy.  Hanrahan's health and performance is the key.

Catching:  Both of these guys have lived up to their billings.  Despite some very early season optimism that Salty would be more of a disciplined hitter and improve his OBP, he has not so far.  But he provides a little pop and he's maturing as a team leader.  David Ross has come as advertised defensively and with game calling.  His ability to throw out baserunners has been a sight for sore eyes.  Ross may be the best back up catcher in the AL. This duo is good enough to get the job done.

Infield:  The infield as a whole has been up and down.  As an example, Mike Napoli is having a record breaking type month of April and Will Middlebrooks is hitting under the Mendoza line.  Napoli is certain to cool off at some point and here's to hoping that Middlebrooks and Drew will get hot and help pick up the slack when that happens.  Dustin Pedroia has been solid, but hasn't had one of his hot streaks yet.  Here's to hoping that the three hits he had last night is the start of one.  The infield defense has been above average (even with Drew instead of Iglesias).  In particular I give credit to Will Middlebrooks playing good defense while not getting it done with the bat.  He looks much more confident in the field this year than he did last.  Stephen Drew has had a couple of big hits recently that have quieted the Jose Iglesias cries.  A lot has been said on this topic and all I'll say is that Drew will be solid over the course of a long season.

Outfield: Jacoby Ellsbury has been quietly outstanding while getting on base at a very good clip.  Shane Victorino has been solid when healthy.  Let's hope that his back heals up soon.  Daniel Nava has been the feel good story early in the season.  Jonny Gomes made a great diving catch last night and also got his first RBI.  I don't have any stats or clutch moments to point to, but I am totally sold on this guy being a key part of a winning team.  He's becoming my favorite role player on the team.  Even Jackie Bradley Jr. did what he needed to do which was spark the team to a couple of early season wins to help get the ball rolling.  Once Mike Carp finally got an opportunity he's been hitting the ball hard too.  The only down fall at this position is the depth on the 40 man roster.

Designated Hitter: David Ortiz has been playing for less than a week, but his impact has already been out of this universe.  Both with the microphone and with the bat.  Kudos to Gomes, Nava, and others for filling the DH role very well while Papi was out.

Bench: Pedro Ciriaco, David Ross, Mike Carp and Jonny Gomes/Daniel Nava have each contributed to wins in this first month of the season.  This bench is outstanding and will continue to be.

There you have the breakdown of the team so far.  Players who have been good in the month of April are bound to have their slumps, pitchers included, but this team is for real.  We knew that this division was going to be filled with parody.  That hasn't changed.  What has changed is my belief that this team is going to compete for a post season berth right to the end of the season.  Before the season started I was hoping they would make it, now I am very confident.  I BELIEVE IN THIS GROUP.

Here's to 19 wins in the month of April!!


4 comments:

  1. Two things jump out at me as I read Barry's positional breakdown. First and foremost, as we said all the way back to last winter " as Lester and Buchholz go, so go the Red Sox". And it is still true, if the Sox are to contend it is on the backs of these two. I agree that they will "regress" but only to the degree, they obviously are not gonna go undefeated. Yes, they can each win between 15 to 20 games ( hell for 15 they only need another 10 and 11, respectively).

    The other thing that stands out to me is often when a last place from one year, with low expectations again, starts very well the next year, it is concluded that "everything" has gone right for them. Reviewing Barry's recap, I would submit that only Napoli and to some degree, Victorino have given 100% ( or more) of expected performance on offense. Drew was hurt and has not hit yet, Middlebrooks is not hitting ( except one day in Toronto), solid but not out of this world games from Pedey and Ellsbury. Maybe add Nava to the 100% club, too. And of course, Big Papi is hitting out of this world, but he missed the first 3 weeks, so that is not "everything going right" either. And even with the outstanding pitching, the staff has had to endure injuries to a starter and their closer, both with DL trips. Also some depth guys have been on the DL so far (Morales and Breslow). And they did have to endure Alfredo Aceves, but probably not anymore.

    To sum up, what I am trying to get at there are many places where very reasonable expected performance can be had to offset any "regression" ( as long as its not Lester and Buchholz crashing to earth) This team can certainly contend in the AL East and for the pennant.

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  2. Happy Maine Day Red Sox Fans! The Red Sox go for the 4 game sweep of the Houston Astros today with a chance to tie a team record for wins in the month of April. Go Red Sox!

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  3. Good writeup Barry. Whatever happened to the Red Sox Digest program, anyways?

    What jumped out at me in your write-up is casually mentioning that Hanrahan will come back into his closer role, and the rest of the bullpen will slide back down the order, with Bailey going back to the 8th inning. I'm pretty sure I agree with you that that is what will happen, but I'm torn as to whether or not that should happen. Hanrahan will have a ton of pressure on him to perform and lock down saves right away. He will not be given the leash most MLB closers get. There will be a lot of bellyaching about moving Bailey from the closer role as he has been so good, and that belly aching will turn to boos quickly if Hanrahan struggles at all. Here's hoping that the big guy comes back, is given his closer job back (that's what they got him to do, not be a 7th or 8th inning guy), and is lights out. But I wouldn't mind seeing them give him a couple of low-pressure situations first before going right back to closing. Worth keeping an eye on.

    Another subplot not mentioned is Daniel Bard. You have to feel for the guy. It's looking more and more likely that he will never again re-capture his mechanics enough to be a major league reliever again. You can see so much stress he's putting on himself, but he's not even close to throwing strikes. He can't be trusted in a close game at the major league level. Too bad.

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    1. You are absolutely right about the return of Hanrahan. I was trying not to be too long winded so I kind of skipped over the details of Hanrahan getting worked back into his closers role. What I meant was that this bullpen would be at its best if Hanrahan returns to his All Star level as a closer and the other guys can go back to their original roles. It just makes the bullpen deeper, just like Big Papi made the lineup deeper when he returned. There is no question that Hanrahan's first couple of save opportunities will be very key. He needs to have some success right away to get his confidence back, and to cool down the heat that will come if he struggles. If he struggles than this team has a closer's controversy that it doesn't need.

      Daniel Bard got optioned back to Portland after the game tonight in anticipation that Hanrahan will be activated on Tuesday. It is becoming very clear that he is never going to be the same pitcher again. Whatever the reason, and there's plenty of theories, he is lost right now both mentally and physically. His quote after the game last night about his mound visit from Juan Nieves basically summed it up. He basically said, and I'm paraphrasing, "Nieves said that my tempo was too slow, and that may have been true, but it was my arm slot that was off". The guy is thinking too damn much and that quote makes it seem like he is kind of defiant right now. It's also clear that he was called up because he was the only healthy pitcher on the 40 man roster who could pitch out of the bullpen. The only question remaining is how long will the Red Sox be patient with him? Will they let him go soon or let him rot in the minors?

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