Oh well, I was still breathing and the squaw was still looking beautiful as ever, even if she did have her arms crossed, tapping her little foot demanding that I do SOMETHING productive!! So I logged into MLB.TV to watch the Sox - Twins game that was played earlier (shameless plug here, I LOVE MLB.TV!!) and off she stormed to go and finish her college homework. Regardless of the headlines, the world was still turning and the Apache on the war path would calm down later on.
I put off writing this blog until this morning. I've looked back over this past week and have seen a lot of positives in our beloved Sox. The team is still in first place, still healthy minus Mike Timlin (get better soon), and Hideki Okajima wins Rookie of the Month for April, not too bad. The pitching is holding up well, extremely well. Beckett and Schilling have been masterful in their outings, Wakefield and Tavarez have been providing some consistency, and Matsuzaka...well he is adapting and learning.
Now let's break some things down. The starters are currently 17-9, with better run support in Wakefield's and Tavarez's starts, they could well be 22-4. 17-9 is nothing to sneeze at but the fact that you can break down four games and say if we had some offense to speak of in those games the starter would be 22-4? Wow! Josh Beckett is 6-0, overcoming a lot of the issues he had last year by adjusting his delivery point off the rubber. Curt Schilling has pitched well, and should be 5-1 but for the same reason, run support. As already mentioned, both Tim Wakefield and Julian Tavarez have been consistent in giving the Sox some good outings and burning up innings. With better run production, Wakefield could be 5-1 or 4-2 instead of 3-3 and Tavarez could have been a bigger surprise, easily being 3-1 instead of 1-3.
Now the question that everyone is asking; "What is wrong with Dice-K?" Well, nothing. I mean nothing serious. He is just adjusting to the differences between Japan and the majors. There is a difference in balls used in MLB and in Japan. If I understand correctly, the seams on the balls used in Japan are more pronounced which in turn helps to create more movement on the ball. This is taking some of the break off of his slider and causing some negative influence on his confidence. This is the BIG issue. He has got to realize that he can pitch with command and dominance in the majors. If the trend continues, it may be a long summer for Dice-K and for us. The bullpen is still getting the job done and it is no longer a scary sight to see the bullpen door open and dread which log is being brought in and thrown onto the fire! They took their first loss of the season on the 1st, not a good omen for the month, but they have shaken it off and recovered quite nicely. Looks like we won't be getting Lester back until June sometime as he experienced some cramping during his last minor league start. I have to admit, the first name that came to mind when I heard that was one Dave Dravecky. Does the name not ring a bell? Probably won't for most of the younger fans, the under 30 crowd. What a great guy. I had the opportunity to hear him speak back in the late 90's, what an absolute positive force to be around. Fortunately, there is a huge difference in both the circumstance and type of cancer each suffered through, and the course of treatment that was required.
Let's talk offense. Lot's of talk in April about the Sox being in a slump. I said in my last post that if these guys were slumping, it would be great to see the fireworks go off when they came out of the slump! Currently they trail the Yankees in Runs, Hits, Homers, RBI, TB, OBP, SLG, and Avg. The Sox (90) are also ahead of the Yankees (87) in XBH, but they are behind the Blue Jays (116), Devil Rays (94) and Orioles (91) in that category and they rank behind the Jays and Rays in Total Bases. If this trend continues, the pitching staff is going to have to have a sub 2.00 staff ERA. Plus they have left a total of 233 LOB, with 117 of those being RLISP w/2 outs. This is where the run support issue rears its ugly head (I'll post an update that will highlight this in more detail on Wednesday). They have got to come out of this "slump" or first place may be what we are looking up to instead of in. All of this and they still have the second best record in baseball behind the Milwaukee Brewers. Did I just say that?!? Second best record behind the Milwaukee Brewers?!?!? Oy, I need an Alka-Seltzer.
Julio Lugo is continuing to struggle with a .221 average and a .301 OBP which does not bode well at all. Of the current starters, he is last in average and next to last in OBP. We need to see a great improvement in those numbers or it may not matter what the 3-4-5 hitters do. Kevin Youkilis is faring better hitting .287 with an OBR of .400 and is second in walks. If he can at least keep the current consistency going he will have a good year, maybe hitting over .300 by seasons end. Big Papi, have I said enough? As odd as it is to say, production is off slightly but he is still the dominant force to be dealt with in the line up. Of course the reason for that is Manny. Manny looks like he may finally be getting in a grove at the plate but it will not really matter unless they can get some runners on in front of him and Ortiz. J.D. Drew looks to have cooled a bit from the tear he got on late in April so we need to look for a good bounce back from him to guarantee that Manny has to be pitched to. Mike Lowell seems to have picked up where he left off last year and is providing some much needed spark from the lower half of the order. Varitek looks like he may be coming around and will hopefully continue to show improvement through the month. Both Coco Crisp and Dustin Pedroia have struggled at the plate though each has delivered some key hits when needed. While there is an alternative at 2nd base with Alex Cora, the alternative of Willy Mo Pena in CF is absolutely frightening! 17 strikeouts, 3 base on balls, and an absolute inability to hit the breaking pitch. I trying to see the silver lining in trading Bronson Arroyo for Pena, but all I see is a rusting scrap metal heap.
So what does the week ahead hold? Well Beckett, Matsuzaka, and Wakefield will take on the Blue Jays in Toronto followed by a trip back to Fenway to take on the Orioles with Tavarez, Schilling and Beckett set to go in that series. I can see no reason not to seriously expect the Sox to sweep each of these series. Dice-K pitched well against Toronto the last time he faced them giving up 2 runs in a losing effort (Can you say RUN SUPPORT?). Tavarez, ever the wild card in this rotation also pitched solid ball in a losing effort in Minnesota when the Sox left 12 men on base with 6 RLISP w/2 outs. I don't want to jinx them but the team should be sporting a 26-10 record by this time next week.
Has anyone else noticed the surge being displayed by the Yankees? I said before that they are a dangerous team and that they would become even more dangerous when they got healthy. Twice this past week their starters have taken no-no's into the 7th inning. They are now just one game below .500. Let's hope Roger Clemens doesn't become Roger F*****G Clemens during the next 4 - 5 months. It took New York a mere 6 days and 6 games to go from last to second in the division, even if just barely. While I would not trade the Sox lineup for anything, these Yankees do bring a lot of power to the plate and with their rotation getting healthy, well; the results will speak for themselves. The Yankees finish off a 4 game set against the paltry Mariners tonight before the Texas Rangers come to town for a three game series. They then travel to Seattle and sweep the hapless Mariners. Sorry folks, I'm realistically seeing a 7-0 stretch for the Yankees, at worst 6-1. The only think we can hope for is for the Rangers Team that took two out of three from the Sox in April shows up to play the Yankees.
On the horizon:
May 21st through the 23rd, Yankee Stadium
June 1st through the 2nd Fenway Park
Games 7 through 12 in the clash of the titans. Here is the chance for the Sox to pad their lead by 6 games!