Feels good to say, I swear, try it. I’m not here to gloat, or put any other teams in the division down (Blue Jays, i’m looking at you), but it’s nice to have battled through over half the season already without really leaving the first place slot in the Al East. The Boston Red Sox’ currently hold a 2.5 game lead over Tampa Bay and have the most wins in the majors. There have been a lot of good, some bad, and a few awful moments in the 2013 campaign for the Boston Red Sox and it’s time to assess what has gone down. So without further ado…
Starting rotation: A-
This year’s rotation is a tricky one to grade. While some guys are having career years, others haven’t quite hit their marks yet, but all in all, they’ve done well enough to earn a A-.
While Clay Buchholz looked Cy Young-esque before he went down (9-0, 1.71 ERA), John Lackey is my MVP of the rotation without a doubt. Lackey stands at 7-6 with a nifty 2.78 ERA. He is on quite a nice stretch of late, going at least 7 innings or more in his last six games while giving up two or less earned runs in those six starts. Lackey has also taken a liking for Fenway Park, here are some of his numbers at home…
- 4-1 record
- 41 innings pitched
- 1.32 ERA
- 0.95 WHIP
- 43 strikeouts
- opponents are hitting just .208
It all seems to me like the Lackey of old is back in action (The Lackey of old meaning 2007, not 2011). Who would have thought he would be the most important aspect of the Sox’ starting five? That’s not to say there haven’t been other standouts, but he’s been the most consistent start-to-start.
From there on, you have Felix Doubront, Jon Lester, and Ryan Dempster rounding out the rotation. Doubront has been the best out of the three, and may finally be reaching and/or realizing his potential has a big-time left-hander. His problem was always pretty easy to point out, he didn’t understand how to pitch to lineups the second and third time around. There was always one blow up inning somewhere in the middle. He didn’t put hitters away when ahead in the count and tried too hard to paint the corners instead of trusting his stuff. This resulted in his pitch count being exceptionally high by about the fifth inning and him never being able to pitch deep into ball games. Ever since a clutch start in New York on the 1st of June, Doubront appears to have found it, whatever it is. He’s lowered his ERA down to 3.91 and has been getting deeper into games. (Remember the 8 inning performance where he could have gone the full 9?) Truly encouraging stuff out of ‘Prince Felix’.
Dempster hasn’t been the worst, and he certainly hasn’t been the best, he’s kind of as advertised, if you know what I mean. I expected an innings eater and a guy who was going to keep us in ball games and he’s sort of done that. He’s thrown 110 innings with an ERA around 4.00. His WHIP is a bit higher then i’m comfortable with at 1.43, but i’ve really got no complaints with what Dempster has been doing on the mound, as long he never, ever pitches like he did in Seattle over this past road trip because that was pathetic. As far as Lester goes, he wins the award for biggest dud. I just don’t know anymore with this guy. I don’t think it would be as bad if I wasn’t expecting as much out of him, I expect him to pitch like a number 2 guy and he hasn’t even come close. Aside from his first handful of starts, it’s been a season-long struggle for Jon and i’m simply going to leave it up to Juan Nieves and John Farrell to help him gain his confidence back because i’m not getting through to him.
Yup, the best grade that can be given has been given to the best hitting team in the major leagues. There’s really no way to argue with hit. If someone were to disagree, I would simply throw these stats in their face and ask for an apology…
- The Red Sox lead the league in runs scored with 498.
- Second in the MLB with 934 hits.
- First in doubles by a good amount with 215 (Thank you Green Monster).
- First in RBI’s with 481.
- First in BB’s with 357.
- Second in team average at .277.
- First in OBP at .350.
That’s pretty good, huh? When you look at Boston’s line up 1-9, you see where all this comes from. It’s a well balanced pitcher’s nightmare. Guys are going up to the plate and making the opposing pitcher work. You can look at stats until you pass out to prove your point, but just watch a game sometime and look at how hard they battle. It’s a strategy to get to the other team’s bullpen as fast they can that has proven beneficial.
Pedey’ and Ortiz are the clear-cut best hitters on the team. Pedroia has collected 119 hits on the year and has shown a fearlessness at the plate, even when behind in the count. During those situations, he is hitting at a .362 clip with 15 RBI’s. Essentially that stat says that Pedey excels in two strike counts, an undervalued trait to have, especially late in games. His move to the three spot in the lineup this season has been seamless. He drives in runs (56 RBI’s), and gets on base (.396 OBP) to set up for Big Papi. Speaking of Big Papi, he’s having one hell of a year. Solidifying the middle of the line up as an imposing 250 lb. beast, Ortiz hit the ground running as soon as he came back from the DL. The big number for him is that he is slugging at .606. I still think he is one of the best pure hitters in the game, but the fact that he’s hitting for average and still making pitchers feel like they’re throwing to the Dominican Barry Bonds is incredible.
Of course, the real secret to success of this year’s offense is the input from some not so flashy guys: Daniel Nava, Victorino, and Mike Carp. Just baseball players in the purest sense. Nava basically played his way into a starting left field job, and deservedly so as he’s hitting .288 with 52 RBI’s. He’s just one of those players that you don’t necessarily plan for, but they are important pieces to a winning team. Mike Carp has just been ruthless. People barely batted an eye when the Sox’ signed him late in the Spring. He played parts of 4 seasons over in Seattle, his last being a dreadful year in which he hit just .213. But the change of scenery has done him well. In 132 AB’s this season, he has 8 HR’s, 27 RBI’s, and mirrors Ortiz’s slugging percentage at .606. He provides some much needed pop off the bench and ought to be a useful member of the squad heading into the second half.
The hidden facet throughout the entire lineup is the speed it possesses. So check off the big three: power, contact, and now speed. Boston is third in the bigs in stolen bases with 73 of them. Now, Ellsbury is to thank for nearly half of them (36), but Victorino (11), Pedroia (13) and hell, even Ortiz (3) have contributed. It takes so much pressure off of everyone when you don’t have to rely on one way to win. The 2013 Boston Red Sox are not falling back on hitting homers to win games, they aren’t waiting for their pitching staff to dominate, they are winning in every single way imaginable. When you have a guy like Ellsbury, who gets on and immediately grabs second base to put himself in scoring position, you kind of overlook it. But just take a peek at some of the teams in the bottom half of the league in scoring runs and ask them how much it would mean if they had a player who could manufacture runs with his legs. Everything this offense has been doing in the first half is everything Sox’ fans could have expected. They are a machine, top to bottom.
The Boston Red Sox’ bullpen, with all their injuries, get a B out of me. They total a 4.10 ERA as a group and are 7th in the majors in wins with 17.
When we began the year, Joel Hanrahan was our brand new closer who was going to make us all forget Papelbon even existed. It turns out, that didn’t last too long as he pitched just 7 1/3 innings before being placed on the DL for the remainder of the year. Andrew Miller was our best left-handed reliever striking out 48 batters in 30 2/3 innings, but that doesn’t matter anymore either because he is on the DL for the remainder of the season as well. Franklin Morales still isn’t right, and Andrew Bailey has already seen the DL and a demotion. So yes, there have been some bumps on the way to earning a B, but this pen’ has been helped out by some good starting pitching, and some tough characters.
Starting with Koji Uehara, what a pick up for the Red Sox over the off season. You couldn’t ask a guy for more (aside from possibly growing that beard i’ve heard my colleague Alex Peters talk about, which i’m also in favor of.) He’s got a 1.70 ERA in 42 1/3 innings out of the bullpen and started the year as the automatic 8th inning guy. He and his splitter are now serving as the closer, which he may or may not hold onto for the remainder of the year, but has notched 8 saves while doing so. Without question, he is the most important member of the bullpen, and the biggest thing the Red Sox’ need to do is keep him fresh. Above all else, do not fatigue Uehara’s arm. I repeat, DO NOT FATIGUE UEHARA’S ARM. As a reliever, the most innings he has pitched is 65, so just a number to keep an eye on going forward.
With Uehara leading the way, the guys in the next tier are Miller, Tazawa, and Breslow. I touched on Miller earlier, but he did indeed have a superb year for the Sox’. Sometimes it takes a little longer to find your true calling on a baseball diamond and for Miller, he finally had settled into a role that seemed to be clicking for him. Coming out of the bullpen and utilizing his arm strength for a few batters or an inning, rather then starting games, was working. He dropped the high leg kick from his delivery that helped with his control and he was primed to be a key piece moving forward. I guess the only thing to say is that Sox’ nation wishes him a speedy recovery and we can expect big things from him in 2014.
Junichi Tazawa is the second member of this excellent bullpen trio. After emerging last year with the stuff to pitch in pressure situations, he has been given the keys to them this year. With Uehara in the closer’s role, Tazawa is the first guy out of the bullpen when the game is on the line late. He’s got a 3.02 ERA and 16 holds, but his best numbers are his 5 walks to 47 strikeouts. When you don’t have to worry about a guy throwing strikes, it makes it really easy to put him out there in the 7th or 8th inning with runners on base where hitters are only hitting .093 off of him with runners in scoring position. Breslow is another lefty and a guy the Sox’ got last year midseason. I didn’t know much about him previously, but the word on him was that he was as consistent as anyone out there. So far, so good. The 32-year-old from New Haven, CT has an ERA sitting at 2.81 with lefties hitting .255 off of him.
There are still opportunities for the bullpen to improve internally though. Andrew Bailey was getting closer to normal on the west coast trip and if he can come back and fulfill either the closer, or setup role, that could be a potential big boost. Also, Franklin Morales could really take on some innings if he can get back to full health. I don’t want to do him the disservice of comparing him to Aceves, but he’s that type of pitcher where he can come into a game in the 4th and give you five good innings. Managing a major league bullpen after the All-Star break is the equivalent of trying to conserve your phone when it’s on 3% battery. You try not to use it if possible, but you know that at some point, inevitably, you will drain the battery until there is nothing left. So good luck to John Farrell on that one.
Overall Grade: A
There you have it folks, The Boston Red Sox receive an A for the semester, signed by, yours truly.