Perhaps the majority of you are thinking hockey right now. Hard not to be. But if you recall, there's a pretty good baseball team in town, and it's on fire right now. In case anyone wants to get their mind off Game 7, here are nine thoughts related to the crew from Fenway, our weekly edition of the Red Sox Lineup.
1. Remember when we wondered whether the Red Sox would have another black hole at shortstop? And then a few weeks into the season it was the catcher position that everyone was worried about? Well, how about right field, which has received very little from J.D. Drew and not too much from his sometime fill-in Mike Cameron.
Entering Wednesday, Boston right fielders had combined to hit a major league-low .201, 16 points lower than the next lowest mark in baseball. Their 19 runs scored are tied for the lowest in the game, and the 16 RBIs second only to San Diego's paltry 14. Throw in the fact that the assumed replacement to the aging veterans, Ryan Kalish, is injured at Triple-A, and you currently have a rather notable hole on the depth chart.
Drew and Cameron make a combined $21.75 million. It would be very hard to unload one of them without paying off some of the remaining contract. And now Drew has a strained hamstring. Not many places to turn except to hope for a turnaround from the two vets.
2. Drew has been the No. 6 hitter most of the time this year. Perhaps one solution to the problems in that spot is moving up Carl Crawford. Terry Francona has told anyone who will listen that he intends on moving Crawford up in the order at some point. He has never said where, of course, and the search for a suitable spot has not been easy. I mean, where do you put him without moving Dustin Pedroia?
Perhaps a modest bump of two spots is all you need, and Crawford's 4-for-4 effort in the sixth spot on Wednesday should give Francona something to think about.
3. The guy who got a shot in the No. 2 spot when Pedroia was out Tuesday night was Jed Lowrie. He has been fantastic overall at the plate, but has fallen off his torrid pace from last month. After being the only starter without a hit in the 14-2 win at Cleveland on Wednesday, Lowrie's average was down to .300 for the first time since April 6, and he is batting just .224 (22-for-94, with 28 strikeouts) against right-handers.
Now, we know Lowrie was not going to hit .400 or even .350 and may not even stick around .300 much longer, but it's worth wondering if he is a bit gassed. This is a guy who has never been this much of a regular at the major league level, aside from his run at the end of 2008, in which he also struggled at the plate down the stretch. Suddenly, because of the Marco Scutaro injury, he has started 24 of the last 25 games, including 12 straight.
It shows how important Scutaro's return is, because Drew Sutton may be needed more to spell Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis with those two dealing with lingering physical issues right now. Until Scutaro is around, Lowrie will have to power through any fatigue he might be feeling, and the Red Sox will have to hope that isn't what is affecting his decline at the plate.
4. As for Sutton, he's made quite an impact right off the bat. It was a matter of time before the team was going to need a multi-positional utility player, as long as Lowrie was tied up at shortstop. Sutton fit in rather well playing with the big leaguers throughout spring training and could end up fitting that Bill Hall mold if some guys start to go down or need more days off. Hall was invaluable in his ability to play around the infield and in the outfield, something Sutton can do and perhaps with a bit more defensive proficiency at a few spots.
5. If you are into sabermetrics and have longed for more measurements of baserunning, fangraphs.com has added a nice tool to analyze such things. It is not all speed-based, but measures advancements and other items on the bases based on each situation. Looking at some of the numbers involving the Red Sox, it's interesting to note that they rank as the 29th-worst in the category, better than only the Cubs.
Plodders such as David Ortiz, Adrian Gonzalez and J.D. Drew have the worst figures. No surprise that Dustin Pedroia, ever a heady guy on the paths, leads the team. It's a small sample size and the metric can swing on a bad decision here or there, but it's worth checking out, especially in years past — Jacoby Ellsbury ranked in the negative in 2009, when he stole 70 bases.
6. Have you looked at the standings today? As muddled as the American League East has been, and how inconsistent some teams have been, the cream has most certainly risen to the top. Entering Thursday, the New York Yankees own a half-game lead on the Red Sox, who are one game ahead of Tampa Bay.
And then you have Toronto and Baltimore below .500. While most preseason predictions had Boston ahead of New York, that arrangement is just about how many people saw the teams lining up at the end of the year. Doesn't mean much right now, except to highlight the fact that the Red Sox are just 12 days away from another trip to The Bronx, and each time the two rivals meet going forward will have that much more oomph as long as they are neck and neck in the standings.
7. For a weekend, the Sox had a spicy little rivalry with the Chicago Cubs. Good thing they got their beanball war settled by the end of the series. Wouldn't want that to fester for another six years, would we?
The series did, however, serve to expose one issue for the Red Sox. Regardless of how well Matt Albers has pitched, if Francona has to pull back the reins on Daniel Bard going further, as he did in the middle game of the series, the absence of Bobby Jenks will be felt more and more. Certainly, Boston fans are not high on Jenks right now, but having him healthy and effective would allow the team to stay away from Bard a bit and not have Albers be in too many big spots.
Bard is the key to the bullpen. His support, in a lot of ways, is Jenks. In Bard's recent struggles, you are seeing the effect of not having the "other setup man" in the fold.
8. The Cubs series brought out plenty of talk of ancient baseball history. Those who like that sort of thing have to be overjoyed by this development.
9. From the past to the present with a look at the future, the Sox gave minor league promotions to a quartet of outfielders. Among the more notable was the movement of Bryce Brentz to advanced Single-A Salem. Brentz was hitting .359 with 11 home runs in 40 games at Greenville. In his first two games at Salem, he had four hits, two of them home runs.
That's the good news. The bad is that Brentz suffered a wrist injury in batting practice Tuesday and went to Boston for tests on Wednesday, according to Evan Lepler, the voice of the Salem Red Sox. There is no immediate word on the nature of the injury, but hopefully it doesn't derail what has been a mind-blowing season at the plate for Brentz.