April 2009: Sox start off 14-8
May 5, 2009 2 Comments
After a slow start, the Boston Red Sox got off to a scorching April, winning 11 in a row and 12 of 14 to finish the month. They did it with timely hitting and a great bullpen, and find themselves right where they want to be in the early standings. Despite an embarrassing 13-0 drubbing at the hands of Matt Garza and the Rays in the final game of the month, things look optimistic for this year’s club.
The Sox sustained a big blow in losing Jed Lowrie plus a rash of minor injuries, but still produced enough (.275/.364/.463) to be the 3rd best offense in the AL at 126 runs scored. The offense was really carried by Kevin Youkilis (.395/.505/.697 with 5 HR and 15 RBI) and Jason Bay (.324/.490/.634 with 5 HR and 19 RBI), with some timely hitting by Mike Lowell (.310/.341/.571 with 4 HR and 23 RBI).
The pitching staff allowed 107 runs, good for 7th in the AL; the rotation was not as impressive as hoped (5.52 ERA in 122.1 IP), but the bullpen was excellent (2.88 ERA over 75 IP) and their steadiness allowed Boston to come back and overcome deficit after deficit in April. Ramon Ramirez hasn’t been overly impressive, but he’s done a rock-solid job so far, and proven to be a reliable part of the 7th/8th inning squad. I love the way Hunter Jones threw in his innings, and Javier Lopez could find himself out of a job before long. Tim Wakefield (2-1, 1.86 ERA in 29 IP) has been the surprise anchor of the staff, and Justin Masterson (2-0, 2.70 ERA in 16.2 IP) also pitched in two key starts. At least the pitching depth was validated when Daisuke Matsuzaka went on the DL and Josh Beckett was suspended for throwing at Bobby Abreu.
You know all about David Ortiz’s struggles, but I still think he’ll come around. Boston got great production out of some hitters, but only a combined .221/.322/.455 out of their catchers and .224/.314/.329 from their shortstops. The bottom of the order is not expected to be great offensively, but we could use a little more out of these guys; at least take a walk! Speaking of guys who need to take a walk, Jacoby Ellsbury has looked good in center and on the basepaths, but his .320 OBP is not going to cut it at leadoff for a championship team. If he can’t bring that up to about .350, I’d advocate for Dustin Pedroia or J.D. Drew to lead things off; Ells could drop down to number nine and still be a terror on the bases.
The rotation should be more stable once Dice-K returns, but the Sox need Beckett (2-2, 7.22 ERA in 28.2 IP) to be Beckett if they’re going to have a shot at winning it all. Surprisingly, Jonathan Papelbon (6-6 saves, 1.74 ERA in 10.1 IP) has been allowing a lot of baserunners and making things a little more dramatic than we’re used to in these parts. The velocity is still there, but the command has been a little off, and he’s using that slider more; it’s possible he’s just experimenting some early on.
The defense has been overall decent but the Sox have suffered some embarrassments this season, while they should be one of the better defenses in baseball. Shortstop, especially, is a concern here. That’s why Lowrie’s successful return is critical to a stretch run.