We are over a month into the Red Sox season and sample sizes are large enough that numbers actually mean something now. One number which means plenty to our readers each Thursday is nine, or the amount of thoughts related to your local team. It’s the weekly edition of the Red Sox Lineup. Enjoy.
1. Much of the buzz at the ballpark early this week surrounded some of the spectacular defensive plays turned in by Dustin Pedroia and Adrian Gonzalez. But it’s the team as a whole that is doing some special stuff with the glove, no matter how you look at it. Sabermetricians will see the Red Sox near the top — entering Wednesday they were second in the American League in UZR rating. Those who rely on old-school numbers will see the same, as Boston had the second-fewest errors and the second-highest fielding percentage in the AL going into Wednesday.
Those who use their naked eye are similarly impressed.
“I actually think we’ve done pretty well, and not just talking about errors, ’cause that’s certainly an indication if we’re not giving teams extra opportunities,” said manager Terry Francona.
It sometimes gets lost in the shuffle of good pitching and good hitting, but playing a solid defense is just as critical. Those who recall the shaky D during the team’s slow start last season will understand. It was, in some of those games, the primary culprit. Not in 2011.
2. One guy who has yet to put on a glove but has given the team plenty to like is designated hitter David Ortiz. It’s funny how unnoticed his quality start has gone, particularly against lefties, because you know if it was another rough April that would be the number one story.
With his second home run off a left-hander this season earlier in the week, Ortiz had bumped his OPS against lefties to 1.113. His batting average in such matchups is .387 (12-for-31). Again, all these numbers are entering Wednesday. Ortiz’s stats against right-handers are not so pretty, but those should normalize over time. It’s his production against southpaws that not only could give the lineup an incredible boost, but could factor heavily into his future with the team.
When lefties blew away Ortiz with hard stuff in on his hands last year, over and over, it looked a bit like one of those age issues, that his bat was just slowing down and he would soon be a legitimate platoon candidate. If he proves he can go a year hammering left-handers, and that his decline in that area in recent years was more aberrational, then perhaps the club re-ups with Ortiz next offseason, hopeful to squeeze out another year or two from one of a handful of remaining full-time DHs.
Ortiz had a club option picked up for 2011. Barring any new developments during the season, he will be a free agent next offseason.
3. And then there’s J.D. Drew, Ortiz’s partner in lefty-on-lefty futility in 2010. Drew has also enjoyed a relative renaissance against same-handed hurlers, but overall he has struggled. There are indications that it might be the same strike zone issues that Drew wrestled with last year. Two of Drew’s three strikeouts Tuesday night were looking, and he has fanned 22 times in only 78 at-bats so far, a rate that is second only to Kevin Youkilis among Red Sox regulars.
“I think he’s still battling the strike zone a bit. Pretty stubborn, got a pretty good eye, but if he doesn’t think he can hit it, he’s not going to swing,” Francona said.
That drives fans batty at times, but that’s the way it is with Drew. Lately, the approach has done nothing for Drew, who was 1-for-18 in a span of six games before being given a night off Wednesday.
4. It’s cliche to talk about the importance of starting pitching, but the Sox have offered up a prime example of how to handle their rotation with kid gloves in order to ensure they don’t run into any issues.
John Lackey, Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka, for one reason or another, have each been given some extra time off due to two rotation shuffles. The primary causes behind the latest shift were Matsuzaka’s elbow issues in his previous start, and a desire to get Beckett an extra couple of days after they club had leaned on him a bit early on.
Also, the schedule is brutal, as it seems to be every year in May. It’s when Boston really gets games bunched up in a major way. This year, there is one scheduled day off between April 25 and June 6.
That’s 36 games in 37 days. Considering that, people shouldn’t get too concerned if some pitchers are given time to recover now and then. There will be four months of baseball, all in the heat of summer, after this stretch. Getting through it with health is critical.
5. One guy who won’t be rested much, except perhaps by being removed having thrown just 93 pitches like he was Tuesday night, is Jon Lester. As good as Lester is, there is one area in which he needs improvement, and he knows it.
This spring, Lester studied film of some of the better left-handed pickoff artists in the game in an effort to improve upon his own. Thus far, it has yet to translate. He has short-armed or been hesitant with several throws to first. None have hurt him, even the one he threw away for an error Tuesday, but he needs to clean that up.
6. Sticking with the topic of rest and days off and all that, we await a day that doesn’t have Pedroia and/or Gonzalez in the lineup. Both have started every game. This is not a surprise given the nature of the two, but they are coming off injuries or surgery. Neither is hampered by those issues. However, this grueling stretch should see them get a day at one point or another. Of course, when Francona tried to sit Pedroia recently he was told by his second baseman that he would be killed if he did so. That was a joke, but emblematic of how Pedroia feels about not playing.
7. Francona was asked Wednesday which minor leaguers he pays attention to, at least of those on the immediate major league radar. His quick response: “All of them.” That would mean that Francona is keenly aware that Yamaico Navarro is hitting .329 with power, and that Scott Atchison, Rich Hill, Felix Doubront and Michael Bowden all have ERAs below 2.00 and WHIPs below 1.00.
The Sox aimed to build depth for the bullpen this offseason. It has paid off in terms of giving the team several options if it needs to make a change. As for who gets the call the next time a fresh arm is needed, that may still come down to who has options remaining. That would leave Atchison and Hill on the outs, at least until the organization knows it wants them with the big club for an extended period of time.
“With the way things are contractually, you’ve got to do those things probably at the right time,” Francona said.
8. A couple of charitable notes for you, and very worthy ones. There are spots left to join the 2011 Run to Home Base, which helps to provide benefits for wounded vets returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with combat stress or Traumatic Brain Injury. The date of the run is May 22.
Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz will have their charity wines introduced at a private party at the House of Blues on Thursday. Those not given an invite can support the pitchers’ respective causes by visiting www.charitywines.com. Proceeds from the sale of Lester’s CabernAce will benefit the Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Sales of Buchholz’s ChardonClay will benefit the Jimmy Fund. Do your part.
9. Shameless self-promotion time. If you ever want to know what a Red Sox beat writer thinks of the rest of the major leagues, check me out every Wednesday in a weekly glance around the league with CBS Sports and the great Lauren Shehadi. Here is the latest offering.
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