In less than a week, the streaky Boston Red Sox will return home, a quarter of the season completed. What will they have established for their own self-confidence and for their loyal fan base? It has really not been what the pre-2011 hype suggested.
Fandom was sold a bill of particulars that included the bombastic signings of Adrien Gonzalez and Carl Crawford. These two superstars, both in their prime years were guaranteed to inject high octane into the offense. So far,Gonzo has lived up to the hype with a .317 average and 25 RBI. Especially comforting is the recent targeting of the Green Monster. Crawford experienced a forgettable April, and a flurry of hits has him batting just above the Mendoza Line, but two walk-off hits on the recent homestand might be the boost Crawford needs.
New support was trumpeted for the bullpen, including Matt Albers, Dan Wheeler, Alfredo Aceves, and Bobby Jencks . They would be the infrastructure for Daniel Bard and a rejuvenated Jonathon Papelbon. Jencks, supposedly the seventh inning bridge to Bard is on the disabled list after being an early season disaster. Albers has been excellent with twelve strikeouts in twelve innings. Wheeler is in the same category as Jencks, while Aceves despite his solid 2.70 ERA has been on the Route 95 South shuttle to Pawtucket. Who will end up as the core of this group is anyone’s guess. Bard, despite being 0-3 is carrying a 2.70 ERA and has looked like the pitcher who dazzled in 2010. Papelbon, so far has kept the fandom away from their prozac stash, striking out 19 in 12 innings with five saves.
Injured players Jacoby Ellsbury, Jason Varitek, Dustin Pedroia, and Kevin Youkilis had missed months of action a year ago and were all poised for a return to normalcy and have done so with varying levels of success. Ellsbury’s season a year ago was a total 18 game waste. Now he is in the midst of a 17 game hitting streak and among the leaders in stolen bases. Pedroia and Youkilis have struggled to regain their batting strokes, while Varitek, sharing catching with Jarrod Saltalamacchia is batting a dismal .157, but his receiving continues to keep him in the line-up. Salty has the bullseye painted on him because management chose him to be the starter, rather than trying to sign free agent, Russell Martin. Now he’s back to serving an apprenticeship.
Since spring training we’ve a wary eye open for the projected battle at shortstop between Jed Lowrie and Marco Scutaro. Scutaro, a gritty ex-utility player who became a starter late in his career, earned the respect of his Bosox peers for not giving in to a bad shoulder in 2010. Lowrie, once a prime prospect, showed flashes of skill last year after nearly three years of injury and illness.But GM Theo Epstein refused to give up on Lowrie and for the month of April, he (.331 BA) and Gonzo consistently sizzled
Veterans David Ortiz and J.D. Drew, huge contributors to the 2007 championship, were beginning to sound like triumphs from the distant past, and being in the final years of their contracts, what could they be expected to contribute? Drew, too often has stood like a Michelangelo watching called third strikes, but “Big Papi” has been steady, hitting .280 with four dingers.
And of greatest import, what of the starting pitching? Could Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz build on their cachet of being two of the finest pitchers in the major leagues? A combined thirty-six wins and consideration for the Cy Young Award in 2010, made expectations high for the 2011 season. What possible upgrade could be expected from John Lackey? He was a guy we loved to hate when he pitched for the California Angels. As a Bosox last year, despite fourteen wins, fans and talkshow hosts, alike, dumped on him. To be fair, the bullpen coughed up a lot of his good outings, but a 4.41 ERA is not indicative of a good season, not at Lackey’s price tag. Dice-K Matzusaka with his maddening tendency to walk everyone and throw 100 pitches by the third inning, was, simply, being relied upon to be a dependable number five pitcher, nothing more. Could he even do that?
The biggest question was about erstwhile ace, Josh Beckett. At his best in 2003 as a young, fearless gunslinger for the Florida Marlin, and again, for the Red Sox in 2007, he was the marquee/ top of the rotation pitcher. Batters loathed to face him and had no chance when they did. After an atrocious 2010 season, Beckett, at least healthy again, was penciled in as a number four starter. Wither the pre-juiced Roger Clemens clone at 30 years old?
So far, Lackey has not been effective, Dice-K has been divinely unpredictable, but Lester has been as good as any lefty in the game, Buchholz has slowly regained his groove, and Beckett has been, well, Beckett, a 1.99 ERA and 46 K’s in 46 innings.
And as the beloved Bosox head to Toronto and New York for a five game road trip, they need a 3-2 slate to come back home at a mediocre 20-20. And the faithful after seeing a 2-10 start would be content after being hyped that this was The Greatest Team In Red Sox History.