Archive for July, 2008

Halfway through the season

Friday, July 18th, 2008

The All Star break marks the symbolic halfway point in the season (even though the Sox have played closer to 60% of the way) and for now Boston is leading the A.L. East by ½ a game.  The most amazing part of the standing would have to be where they were only a few days before.

As of July 7, they were five games behind the Tampa Bay Rays (who would have thought that dropping the most menacing part of their team, Devil, they were good?).  But with a quick push, the Sox have been able to erase that deficit.

Another amazing part of it is the route that was taken to get there: starting the season a week earlier in Japan, the number of injuries (yes every team has them, but few have to miss an impact player like David Ortiz), and the terrible showing of some aspects of the positions.

The outfield has been great, starting with Drew, a still producing Manny, a great center fielding tandem of Crisp and Ellsbury (offense is better than average and the defense is among the best).

The infield: three-quarters All Star caliber (Youkilis and Pedroia making the starting all star lineup and Lowell should have been considered except his DL-stint kept him at bay).  Then there’s shortstop.

Of course hindsight is 20/20, but I thought that Alex Gonzalez was an awesome player at short.  Sure his batting average was somewhere around the Mendoza line (and heck, it as .255 in the 2006 season), but there were things he did (does) defensively that I had never seen before.  It almost seemed that for every run that he couldn’t produce, he could take one away from the opponent with his glove/range/arm.  But he was replaced with the “offensive upgrade” of Julio Lugo.

Yeah, not so much.  Bad fielding was the known when the Sox got him for a ton of money and years; the terrible offense was free.

But an interesting twist that happened just before the break: with Lugo tweaking his quad, it gives prospect Jed Lowrie a chance to continue to showcase his ability at the major level (he had a stint in the beginning of the season) as he’ll split time with Alex Cora at short for the next six or so weeks.

Catcher: Varitek is having a horrible offensive year, sometimes looking lost at the plate.  But he has had a few game-winning hits.  And his handling of the pitching staff is worth having him in the lineup.  And the slack can be picked up by the rest of the team, especially with any improvement at shortstop.

The starting pitching has been fine.  Beckett hasn’t shown his ace-ness yet, but looks as though it might be right around the corner.  Wakefield has been great despite what his record is.  Lester looks as he’s been improving all season (with a no-no in there), but well see if he can keep the pace of innings thrown.  Dice-K has a great record, but it seems he’s really had to labor just to survive.  Masterson has shown why he’s been coveted by other teams in terms of trade-talks by giving Boston some great starts (we’ll see what he ends up doing as a bullpen guy).

As long as the starting holds form, they should be fine.  Lester and Wakefield will probably come down a bit, but Matsuzaka and Beckett should pick it up.  Buckholz will probably be a decent #5, and can kind of hide there as he gets more innings under him.

And perhaps Schilling could be back by September to get a few starts and get on the postseason roster.

Bullpen: yeah, no.  Papelbon has been fine, but a few blown saves and some losses when entering a tie situation.  So, nothing to worry about there.

But that’s it.  Okajima has been real shaky.  Sure it would be difficult to follow his phenomenal first season, but he’s looked bad.  Especially if he comes in with any inherited runners.

Delcamen, Hansen, Aardsma, and Lopez have one good inning followed by a terrible one or two the next time around.
Hopefully there’s an answer in the minors, like Masterson’s sinker (think D-Lowe), and maybe they’ll think of bringing up Michael Bowden.  Or make a trade for someone (the only significant trade I think they’ll make if they actually do one).

And that leaves the DH, and with Ortiz coming back somewhere at the end of July (the 25th, as of now), and if he’s actually close to his former form, the lineup will be just as strong as last year’s lineup.  But an interesting thing to note about the date of his possible return is that it gives the team a few games to see where he is and pull the trigger on a deal to get a slugger by trade.

But I don’t think that they’ll need to make one.  If Casey could string a few hits (and maybe a few homers that he also seems to be an inches short of), he could fill in decently, batting him sixth and Drew third.

Also, there’s a guy out there that has a lot of career home runs that won’t cost them any prospects and they can acquire him after the trade deadline.  Sure Barry Bonds seems like a hassle, and there’s a ton of baggage with him, but if he was able to fall in line for just a few months it might be worth it in the end.

So, it seems like the Sox are in decent shape to make another postseason run.

But as I say that, they’re staring the “second half” on the dreaded west coast trip for six games, and could easily fall a few games behind the Rays in just a few days.

But after that, they have 34 games left in friendly Fenway, and only 25 away.  Maybe just another thing to tip the odds in their favor.