It is time for the Red Sox' first visit to Yankee Stadium in 2011. There is rain in the forecast for much of the weekend, which should offer up the chance for some marathon evenings in the Bronx. And that should offer up plenty of time to think about all that's going on with the team from Boston right now.
To help you along in that pursuit, here is the latest edition of the Red Sox Lineup, nine thoughts, predictions and tidbits surrounding the local nine.
1. Not too many of us expected the Red Sox to rank ninth in the American League in runs scored roughly one-quarter through the schedule, but that's where they are. To anyone who has been watching, the primary problem has been production with runners on. Boston's .224 average with runners in scoring position ranks 12th in the AL.
One interesting byproduct of the relative mediocrity is a complete lack of runaway wins. Boston's biggest margin of victory was eight runs in a 9-1 win over Toronto on April 18. Those nine runs also represent the highest scoring total all year, which means the Red Sox have gone 46 games dating to last season without reaching double figures in runs scored. It is the second-longest such stretch for the team since 1993, and if the club fails to reach 10 runs in the first two games in New York, it will be the longest run since that year, during which Boston went 57 games scoring nine runs or less. Pretty incredible, considering all the crooked numbers we envisioned this winter.
2. One guy who could use about 10 runs of support right now is John Lackey. He has allowed eight or more in three of his seven starts, and six in another. On Wednesday in Toronto, his issues popped up on and off the mound, his postgame briefing with reporters showing that there is much more than a few poor pitches that are bothering Lackey right now.
All the bluster over Lackey "showing up" Carl Crawford with another one of his woeful fits of poor body language should pale in comparison to what he said about Toronto infielder John McDonald after the latter got to Lackey for a home run and a two-run double in Wednesday's 9-3 loss. Lackey has done what he did to Crawford to fielders before, perhaps not so demonstrably, but he has done it. It's part of who he is, whether you see it as showing up your teammates or being incredibly competitive. But to say the things he said about McDonald was uncalled for. McDonald, a career .238 hitter, would probably agree with Lackey, but he is a veteran who does a ton for the Blue Jays with his versatility and baseball acumen. No need to take a shot at a guy just because he beat you.
3. Lackey will not be pitching in New York, which sounds like an ideal scenario right now, both for him and the team. Boston will have its top trio of Clay Buchholz, Josh Beckett and Jon Lester going in the three-game set. It is interesting to note that the first two have given up 52 runs in 81 career innings in the Bronx (both stadiums), good for a 5.78 ERA. Lester, meanwhile, is 4-1 with a 1.99 ERA in seven career starts at New York. Buchholz and Beckett are great when on their game, but that disparity alone says all you need to know about who the ace really is.
4. On the subject of the Yankees, their offense has also had its fair share of struggles and the rotation, while very effective early on, is like a house of cards with either aging or unproven guys filling in the back end. One area that figured to be a strength was the bullpen. As a whole, the relief corps has done well (New York's bullpen's ERA is 3.26 entering Thursday, fifth in the AL). But the news that setup man Rafael Soriano has elbow inflammation is not necessarily good for the Bronx Bombers. The bullpen figures to become more taxed as time goes on and Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia no longer last seven or eight innings each time out. If everyone in front of Mariano Rivera is bumped up a notch, it could expose, or create, a soft middle relief. Soriano is only expected to miss a few games, but if it crops up again then one of the team's commodities could become an issue.
5. And then there's Adrian Gonzalez, the one constant in an otherwise inconsistent year for the Red Sox. His six home runs in nine games are notable, but just the latest in a long line of similar runs for a guy that can get pretty streaky, at least when it comes to his power numbers. Here is a look at some of his home run binges over the years, many of which were sandwiched by extended droughts:
2010: Separate streaks of four home runs in four games, four in five games, four in seven games and five in eight games.
2009: Three in three games, four in four games, four in six games, six in eight games, six in five games and eight in 14 games.
2008: Five in six games, four in five games and 11 times homered in consecutive games.
Gonzalez is a good hitter all the time, but he can be downright dominant at times. This is one of those times.
6. We are now 37 games into the season and still nobody knows where to hit Carl Crawford. Perhaps it is time to stop thinking about it, and just hope that the Red Sox have the best No. 8 hitter in baseball. That may not satisfy many people who see his price tag and wonder whether it was worth it, but there is still merit to having someone at the bottom of the order causing problems, especially if the catching position continues to lack production.
The Red Sox will be a different team in the coming years. J.D. Drew may be gone after this season, and David Ortiz could follow him out the door. Who knows what will become of the catching tandem and the shortstop position? Outside of the first four in the everyday lineup, there are uncertainties going forward, so it isn't as if Crawford will be a No. 8 hitter through the life of his contract. But for 2011, or at least a good portion of it, we might just have to live with it. If he continues at his current pace, he'll win a lot of games down there.
7. The organization opened its season with incredible depth and potential star power at Triple-A Pawtucket. While most of the pitching staff remains intact and serves as a solid insurance policy in case additional arms are needed, the position players continue to suffer injuries. While Ryan Kalish continues to rehab a left shoulder injury, two others were lost for extended periods of time this week. First, Juan Carlos Linares, who was extremely impressive during spring training, was lost for the year after left ankle surgery to repair torn ligaments suffered in a slide. Then, budding infielder Yamaico Navarro suffered a strained oblique and was sent to Fort Myers for an extended rehab. He could miss more than a month.
Not only did those two represent options for injury replacements at the big league level, but they were also at the top of the list when other teams came looking for prospects for which to trade. That could severely impact the efforts of general manager Theo Epstein as the trade deadline approaches.
8. Much has been made of Dustin Pedroia's recent slump. Since April 22, he is batting .155 (11-for-71) with 17 strikeouts and just one extra-base hit, a double. Perhaps he has been concerned over the whereabouts of his cleats. Now that they've been found, expect Pedroia to take off.
9. When possible, we like to leave you on a charitable note, and there are few more worthy right now than the partnership between the Red Sox Foundation and Massachusetts General Hospital, which has teamed up to create the Home Base Program. It is a philanthropic endeavor which helps veterans returning from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who have traumatic brain injuries and/or combat stress disorders, individuals who need, and deserve, your help.
There is still room to join the Run to Home Base, which crosses a finish line at Fenway Park and delivers all of its proceeds to the Home Base Program. For a sampling of some of the individuals who will benefit from this mighty cause, click around on some of the profiles contained here.