There is a chance that when the Red Sox take the field Friday to host the Toronto Blue Jays that every team in the majors will have at least twice as many wins. Take a moment to consider that. Pretty remarkable, don’t you think?
It has been a rather miserable first two weeks for the boys from Boston. Needing something to help turn things around, they are hoping to use their Wednesday rainout together with the off-day Thursday to regroup, get in some extra work and perhaps start anew against the Jays.
As they go through that process, here are nine thoughts involving the current state of affairs at Fenway, your weekly edition of the Red Sox Lineup.
1. It didn’t take long for the Jed Lowrie–Marco Scutaro situation to heat up. In a sea of struggling stars, Lowrie has started 2011 just as he ended 2010, carving up opposing pitchers. It was a matter of time before Lowrie began to get more regular playing time, at any of the infield positions, but he figured to steal most of his starts from Scutaro when left-handers were on the mound, as Lowrie has always performed well against lefties.
However, he has begun to balance out his splits, which will make it very hard to keep him out of the lineup. Lowrie has five hits in his first 10 at-bats vs. right-handers this year to go along with a pair of walks. As he proved in his effort against Tampa Bay lefty David Price on Tuesday, he will continue to hammer in those situations. If he can improve on a .226 career mark against righties, he’ll be in there five times a week.
The lineup card before Wednesday’s rainout had Lowrie in there instead of Scutaro against Rays right-hander James Shields.
2. Speaking of Tampa Bay, leave it to their ever-optimistic manager Joe Maddon to offer up hope for the Red Sox, even if he didn’t intend to. When asked about his team’s slow start Monday afternoon at Fenway, Maddon painted a picture of the American League East that would make any suffering Bostonian feel a bit better about things, and that was before the Rays won two straight over the Sox.
Maddon said: “You’ve got the ascension of the Blue Jays and the Orioles, which was expected, but you don’t know how that’s going to turn out over the long haul. If it was the Red sox and Yankees just running away with everything right now, it might be a bit disconcerting. The fact that we’re a little bit stacked is a little more promising. … When we went to the World Series [in 2008], we had two seven-game losing streaks in that season, so we’ve lived through that before.”
Actually, the ’08 Rays lost seven in a row just once, but they did have two four-game skids and five of the three-game variety, all while trying to cling to a tiny lead over Boston. Maddon’s point is well-taken. New York isn’t running away and hiding, and Baltimore and Toronto will have their share of struggles. When you consider the nuances of the division race, it makes the “it’s early” quotes ring a little more true.
3. On the note of whether it is still early or not, everyone has opinions. Some might feel it’s over already for the Red Sox, citing all of those “no team that started 2-9 has ever … ” statistics. Others may wait until after the All-Star break or the trade deadline to throw in the towel. In the interest of spurring debate, here is a date to throw into the mix: June 5. At that point, there will still be 101 games left on the schedule, but an opportunistic portion of the schedule will be gone.
Currently, Boston is in the early part of a stretch that will see the club play 34 of 55 (62 percent) games at home. Included in the 55-game chunk are 11 series (out of 18) against teams that failed to record winning records in 2010. The road dates come fast and furious after that. If the Red Sox are still seven games below .500, any thoughts of a late run will be that much more difficult.
4. The newsy item from Wednesday’s rainout came in the shuffling of the rotation. What was lost in all of that is how it might impact the catching tandem of Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jason Varitek. The blame for the poor start by the pitching staff should not all fall on Saltalamacchia, but it would not be a shocking development if Varitek begins to take an extra start a week until Salty settles in a bit more. The staff ERA with the captain behind the plate is 3.46, compared to 8.06 for the youngster.
So, if you’re looking to get Varitek in there a bit more, the conventional wisdom is to pair him more and more with Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka, both of whom have flourished when throwing to him. That was more difficult before the rotation makeover because Beckett and Matsuzaka were back-to-back. Now, they are staggered by a day, allowing Terry Francona, if he wants, to use his backstops when they may have the most impact and not have to worry about three straight for Saltalamacchia and two straight for Varitek.
Francona would never admit to such pairings and the nature of the schedule would never allow for a strict pattern, but there is now an increased opportunity for Beckett and Matsuzaka to throw to their first choice.
5. Matsuzaka’s next start, and perhaps a chance to throw to Varitek, will be Patriots’ Day against Toronto. You can already see the headlines pairing “Matsuzaka” and “Marathon,” can’t you?
There are so many questions surrounding what’s next for Matsuzaka, whose ERA since his standout 2008 season is 5.24. He doesn’t deserve much credit for many efforts along the way, but he was at least up front when he apologized to the fans and said, in so many words, that he wanted to make amends for being booed Monday night. Matsuzaka’s career ERA in day games is more than a half-run less than it is at night. Maybe starting a game in the morning will be even better, and give him a chance to avoid another round of boos.
6. One of the many guys who has struggled at the plate is Kevin Youkilis, but perhaps nobody has worked harder than the Red Sox third baseman. Not only has he hit a handful of balls right on the screws without being rewarded, but Youkilis has excelled in one area where some members of the team have not — entering Wednesday he was one of only three players in the major leagues with as many as 13 walks. Adrian Gonzalez and Dustin Pedroia rank second on the team with just five apiece, and they’ve each been given one of the intentional variety, giving them only four hard-earned bases on balls. That’s as good an indication as any that Youkilis is having some better at-bats. The hits will come.
7. The club hopes that will be the case with Carl Crawford, who is batting .152, the lowest mark for any of the starters. With only one extra-base hit and two walks in 49 plate appearances, his OPS is an even uglier .378 and his OPS+, for those of you who follow such things, is just 6. If it’s any solace for those growing frustrated by Crawford’s extreme lack of production, he has always been a slow starter. For his career, Crawford is a .274 hitter before in March/April. He is remarkably consistent thereafter, batting between .296 and .305 in every month thereafter. Group his career trends with the pressure of living up to a massive contract and movement up and down the lineup and you have a perfect recipe for something like this.
8. While Crawford struggles, the new left fielder in Tampa Bay (no, not Manny Ramirez) is quickly becoming a cult hero. Sam Fuld, the New Hampshire native who was acquired in the Matt Garza deal, has become a spark plug for an offense that really needed one. His 4-for-6 effort in the Rays’ 16-5 win at Fenway Park came in front of friends and family members from his hometown of Durham. It also spawned a Twitter movement and prompted Tampa Bay to recognize the superpowers of their new leadoff hitter.
9. One aspect of the Red Sox’ offseason overhaul involved establishing pitching depth at the minor league level, something which the organization lacked last season. It’s early (there’s that phrase again), but the crew of experienced hurlers at Pawtucket is doing its part to reinforce that mission. The eight PawSox pitchers with major league experience have combined to allow just nine earned runs on 28 hits in 40 2/3 innings, good for a 1.99 ERA. They are a combined 3-1 with one save, picked up by Michael Bowden.
Notable on the list is Scott Atchison, who has nine strikeouts and no walks in 7 1/3 solid innings, and lefty Rich Hill, who threw 8 2/3 scoreless innings during spring training and has eight K’s in 4 2/3 frames for Pawtucket.