Daniel Nava has led the Red Sox’s surprise start this season, but can he and the Hometown Heroes keep it up?
If you’ve paid any attention to America’s Past Time in the first month of the season, you’ll know that the Red Sox not only lead the American League East, they also have the best record in the American League and, even further, all of baseball. At 18-7, the Red Sox have already tied their own club record for most wins in April. A 19th win today would produce the best start the team has ever had in over 100 years of existence. After the misery that has followed this team like a black cloud follows Eeyore, this is no small accomplishment.
In the past three Aprils, the Red Sox haven’t managed more than 11 wins in any season, going 11-11 (2012), 11-14 (2011), and 11-12 (2010)
It took the team until May 17th to get to 18 wins in 2012, May 13th to get there in 2011, and May 11th in 2010.
This season is a bit different. Pitching, shaky at best for the past several seasons – especially in the early going – has been much better overall. A solid bullpen has formed in former uber prospect turned Tommy John recoveree Junichi Tazawa, journeyman set-up guy in Koji Uehara, and the rejuvenated and finally healthy Andrew Bailey closing games for the Red Sox.
The starting pitchers have been even better, as Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz have both re-found their inner ace in April, going 9-0 in 10 starts and giving up only 13 runs collectively. Ryan Dempster has been a nice surprise, as many considered him maybe a 4th starter as the 35-year-old has historically struggled in the American League. He owns a 3.30 era through 30 innings and five starts this season, while also striking out 43 batters. The only Red Sox pitcher to ever strike out more batters through 5 games to start the season was Pedro Martinez in 1998. He finished second in Cy Young Award voting that year. Red Sox pitchers as a whole have struck out 248 batters in April, a Major League record.
Further, the team has scored the third most runs in the American League, allowed the third fewest in the AL, have the third best era in the AL, and lead Major League Baseball with a +40 run differential.
They’ve led or tied the Division every single day in April. Again, a Red Sox record.
So how could I possibly sit here and say the team isn’t good? It’s easy: I’m a Red Sox fan.
I’ve seen the good. I was poisoned by 2003, 2004, 2007 and 2008. I was pseudo-shocked by 2009, convinced until the bitter end 2010 was “the year” again despite all the injuries derailing the season, I believed the 2011 Red Sox could be the best team ever, and that 2012 would leave them bouncing back into happiness. I supported Bobby Valentine for a solid 3 and a half months, roughly 31/4 months longer than anyone else. I know what it’s like to be over confident, absolutely sure of your team, full of Blind Obedience to a team you love so dearly.
What I’m saying is, it’s easy to be fooled, especially growing up in the era of Red Sox Lore that I did.
I love this Red Sox team. I think they could have the best personality since 2004, I’ve said it since Spring Training, and will hopefully carry us charismatically all summer long and well into October. But I won’t be fooled…yet.
Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, and Ryan Dempster have pitched well in the first month of the season. Lots of pitchers have pitched well for a month over the long history of this league, and lots of hitters struggle in the early going. These three in particular have a lot to prove.
The bull pen doesn’t have really anything to prove outside of Joel Hanrahan, but again, it’s a long season.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia has started roughly as many games as David Ross, which is probably bad for both. Ross thrives in limited action, but the 35-year-old will struggle as the season progresses. Salty is just an enigma no matter what happens – he slumps too much when playing every day, can’t hit a watermelon if he doesn’t, and is too lost inside his own head to figure either situation out.
Mike Napoli, while mashing 28 hits and driving in 27 runs in April ( more than his previous two Aprils combined 26 total – 12 in ’11, 14 in ’12), isn’t a sure thing. He’s got the ultimate Fenway Swing, but you’ve got to think a lot of his home runs were helped by the warm air in Texas and Los Angeles. And really, there’s a reason the team changed a 3-year, $39 million deal to a 1-year, $5 million deal. When is his hip going to break down?
David Ortiz has raked since rejoining the team, batting an even .500, slugging at .912, and sporting an overall otherwordly 1.425 OPS with 3 home runs, 8 extra base hits, and 2 walks. He’s also 37 years old, coming off a season in which he missed just under 50% of the games because he ruptured his achilles, and he and his wife are getting a divorce.
Mike Carp is leading the team in batting at .455 (outside of Ortiz in limited play), and Daniel Nava has 4 home runs and a .310 average, which is really, really awesome and has Dan Duquette writhing in jealousy in Baltimore, but does anyone think this will pan out over 162 games?
Stephen Drew has hardly hit the ball, although he’s been good in the games he has. He’s in a contract year, trying to re-establish himself with his 1-year, $9 million tender (think Adrian Beltre circa 2010). He could be an offensive juggernaut and a terrific signing that will inevitably leave via free agency. He’s also Stephen Drew, so he could spend 4 months on the D.L. and show everyone why he’s the kid brother of J.D. Nancy Drew.
Will Middlebrooks, hitting a measly .202, is a stubborn young kid currently not willing to change anything in his approach and only swinging for the fences.
Bottomline: there’s a lot of questions. These Red Sox look great right now. The team is guaranteed to finish April with the best record in baseball. But they were also projected to be better than the 1927 Yankees in 2011 and blew a ginormous lead in September in one of the most epic collapses in MLB history. They were also supposed to lose to the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS when they trailed 3 games to 0.
Confused? Me too. Think you know anything about this team yet? Think again. Only time will tell, and so far we’ve only had 30 days and 25 games to say anything, which is to say the Red Sox haven’t really said anything at all.
Readers can follow Pat on Twitter at @PatBradleyUSCHO