Are Things Looking Up for the Red Sox?
The Boston Red Sox weathered the slow start, guys we knew could play better started to do just that, the balls started to bounce their way, they now hit well with runners on base...so it's smooth sailing now, right? They've ironed out their problems and Boston just needs to keep after it and chip away at the 4-game deficit New York and Tampa Bay currently enjoy over them. Perhaps the hole they dug themselves may prove to be too big, but they're out of their rut.
But are they? I'm not so sure, and here's a handful of reasons why.
1) John Lackey continues to look awful.
Yes, he's 3-1 in his last 4 starts. Yes, the ERA is coming down. But it's June 16th and Lackey currently has a 4.87 K/9. Of the 61 starters in the American League who have tossed at least 60 innings, only 9 have posted a lower K/9. Only 2 pitchers have a less impressive K/BB.
But he's pitching better of late, no? It's hard for me to see that he is. Amazingly, that 4.87 K/9 is actually DOWN to 3.42 over this 4-start "good" stretch for Lackey. His ERA sits at 4.54 while his xFIP is 5.21. He's been bailed out by a superb Red Sox defense and some good balls-in-play fortune.
John Lackey's far from out of the woods, and it's hard to see how the Red Sox fulfill their goals for this season without an effective Lackey.
The Daniel Nava story has been a blast. Darnell McDonald has filled in admirably. Bill Hall has really come around of late and his ability to play more or less every position, albeit badly, has been invaluable. Felix Doubront has been great in the Minors this year and it will be fun to watch him take the hill Friday night. Tim Wakefield's ability to fill in and make a start whenever needed is huge.
But let's be honest with ourselves. Scott Atchison started a game last Saturday. Nava led off while Hall played shortstop last night. The depth, the scrambling, the fill-ins, it's all great fun but it will also catch up in due time. The Red Sox need strong aggregate contributions from the likes of Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Jacoby Ellsbury and Mike Cameron if they are going to be the team they can be in 2010.
3) Adrian Beltre will not keep this up.
I love the guy. He's been the best 3rd baseman not named Evan Longoria in the American League. He's raking, and like he always does, he's playing defense. The Red Sox and Scott Boras could not have scripted this any better. It's June and Boston has already got its money's worth out of Beltre while Boras licks his chops as Beltre once again will hit the free agent market after the 2010 season.
It's not going to last, though. Beltre is hitting .333 on the strength of a .367 BABIP, a figure he almost definitely will not be able to maintain. Beltre's ZIPS projection on his Fangraphs page for the rest of 2010 has him at .293/.337/.473 while he currently sits at .333/.366/.524. The drop-off might not feel precipitous, but the Red Sox will begin to get less and less out of Beltre.
4) Clay Buchholz is having a 2008 Daisuke type season.
In 2008, Dice-K was 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA. As Larry David might say, prett-AY prett-AY good. But beneath his win-loss record and earned run average, Matsuzaka had a pedestrian K/BB ratio and a downright awful 5 walks per 9 innings. Somehow he maintained a .260 BABIP-against for a full season and a ridiculous strand rate.
Fast forward to 2010 and Clay Buccholz is 9-4 with a 2.67 ERA. Ostensibly, Buchholz looks like a Cy Young candidate. But like Matsuzaka in 2008, his peripherals don't seem to line up with those of a great pitcher. He's posted just a 1.71 K/BB, and his good fortune shows itself in his .281 BABIP-against and his incredible, unsustainable 3.9 HR/FB%. Some of those fly balls Clay is giving up will begin to land on the other side of the fence, and some of those grounders will find more holes.
5) The Bullpen
In February, while many touted the Boston bullpen as a real strength, I expressed concerns. Hideki Okajima, Ramon Ramirez and Jonathan Papelbon all slipped in the 2nd half of 2009. Manny Delcarmen was more or less awful all season long. Daniel Bard seemed to be the only real sure bet in the pen.
Sure enough, it's more or less how 2010 has played out. Bard's been excellent, Papelbon somehow ekes by with seemingly weaker stuff, and the other three have been awful. Nobody has more appearances in the American League than Bard, so Boston will need others to step up before long, or else they will need to acquire another arm. It's likely that they will need both to happen, but it's hard to see a quick fix on the horizon.
The storyline for the Red Sox this season has been that they have been able to battle through a slow start, some crippling under-performance and terrible injury luck to crawl back into playoff contention. All of these things are true. What I wanted to highlight in this post was that there are two sides to that coin. The Red Sox have also been the beneficiaries of unlikely performances, while there may not be a quick fix to some of the problems that continue to plague the team.
All in all, I would say the problems above are easily offset by the potential a healthy quartet of Beckett, Matsuzaka, Ellsbury and Cameron offer. But if those four cannot provide a boost down the stretch, look for items discussed herein to sink Boston's hopes.