The Red Sox Aren’t Good

Nava high 5s

Daniel Nava has led the Red Sox’s surprise start this season, but can he and the Hometown Heroes keep it up?

…Yet.

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.

Stay tuned

 

Readers can follow Pat on Twitter at @PatBradleyUSCHO

Why I Love Sports: The Day The Terrorists Lost

Sports is usually our escape. Our getaway. Our sanctuary.

Monday in Boston, it was our crime scene. Just after the four hour mark of the Boston Marathon, two bombs went off at the finish line, killing at least 3 people and injuring hundreds others.

The Bruins and Celtics both canceled their games, and the Red Sox were on their way out of town. In a season where there is often 3 Boston teams playing on any given night, there were none. And that was okay. Sports took a backseat to life in our neck of the world, as we tried to piece together what had happened hours before. What followed, however, is a reminder of why we love sports in the first place. The games are our comfort, their events a distraction. We hate other teams and players so we don’t hate our own, and we rally around one cause that brings us together so passionately.

Despite the hated rivalries across professional sports that Boston maintains, sometimes events and people transcend sports. Yesterday’s tragedy at the Boston Marathon is one such instance. Several teams, athletes and news outlets have taken to different forms of media to express their sympathy and prayers to the city of Boston and all those affected by it’s rivalries. Below is a montage of just some of the outpouring of love and respect the sporting world has shown us in our time of need.

Probably the coolest, most touching gesture of them all: late Tuesday afternoon the Yankees tweeted “We stand united with Boston” with a picture

A touching display outside Yankee Stadium from typically hated rivals

A touching display outside Yankee Stadium from typically hated rivals

The team later announced that they would play “Sweet Caroline,” a song that is a staple of Fenway Park at every game, after the third inning following a moment of silence before the game. Here’s video from the Yankees Network of the stadium during the song.

Yankees fans also came out to the ballpark in support of Boston

Scenes like this were not uncommon Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium

Scenes like this were not uncommon Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium

The acts of kindness didn’t go unnoticed

Neil Diamond

thanks ny

The Yankees weren’t the only ones showing their support though. Across the NBA, NHL, and MLB, Moments of Silence were observed before most games. Across baseball, the Marlins, Cubs, Reds, A’s, Indians, Yankees and Braves all played Sweet Caroline at some point during their games. The University of South Carolina, Jackie Bradley Jr.’s old stomping grounds, played the song during their game as well. The Brewers played the theme song to “Cheers!” a  famous TV show about a Boston bar.

The Montreal Canadiens, the biggest rivals of the Boston Bruins, were one of the teams to salute Boston with a moment of silence and a Twitter shout out.

Canadiens Tweets

In Chicago at the Blackhawks game, a moment of silence was held. Right at the end, a fan somewhere yelled “we love you, Boston!” and the crowd erupted in cheers that continued straight through the National Anthem. Typically a silent event, Chicago fans decided to cheer through the powerful rendition of the Anthem just like fans were cheering at the finish line of the Boston Marathon when the bombs went off.

Today’s edition of the Chicago Tribune paid tribute to Boston as well, saying “We are Chicago” with the five major Boston sports logos underneath.

The cover of the Sports section of the Chicago Tribune

The cover of the Sports section of the Chicago Tribune

In Philadelphia, Phillies closer and former Red Sox pitcher Jonathan Papelbon expressed his sorrow and disbelief over the situation. Papelbon used to live in a building right above where one of the bombs went off.

“I used to live right above where one of the bombs went off,” Papelbon said. “It’s kind of surreal. I don’t know man, it’s crazy. It’s hard to even think about.

“I lived right above Abe and Louie’s,” he said referring to a steakhouse in the area. “It’s sad, man.”

Papelbon wasn’t the only Phillie to respond to the situation. Outfielder Ben Revere wrote the words “PRAY For Boston” on a piece of tape that he placed on his glove. Then, he made the catch of the year.

A touching display from Ben Revere followed by the catch of the year

A touching display from Ben Revere followed by the catch of the year

Everyone’s support endured.

Torey Smith tweets

Ravens Wide Receiver Torey Smith

NBA superstar and Celtic arch-nemesis LeBron James

NBA superstar and Celtic arch-nemesis LeBron James

Carmelo tweet

Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony

cory Schneider

Vancouver Canucks and former Boston College goalie Cory Schneider

Jets tweet

The New York Jets

MWP

Lakers Forward and longtime Celtics rival

Kobe Tweet

Lakers Superstar Kobe Bryant Tweeted out a picture from Instagram, shown below

Kobe Instagram

And then in Cleveland, a touching display of welcome and support from the city, highlighted by this card from one of  Cleveland’s little tikes.

inside dugout

from our city to yours

Will Middlebrooks, the Red Sox Third Baseman, summed it up best, shown below in an infographic from Comcast Sports Net New England

CSN Middlebrooks Tweet

The Red Sox themselves had their own tribute in the dugout, a jersey with the words “Boston Strong” and the numbers “617”, Boston’s area code, on the back.

Boston Strong Jersey

April 15th, 2013 will never be forgotten in Boston. The acts of the terrorists who planted the bombs have tragically changed our lives forever. But this week will not be remembered as the time that Boston fell.

This will be remembered as the day our city came together and saved each other.

This will be remembered as the day the good guys won.

The day the terrorists lost.

Welcome to Boston.

Sports Illustrated cover

  yanks buds

Hug those you hold dear. Don’t forget to say I love you. Never give up, never back down, and always Keep the Faith.

Pray for those who lost their lives, pray for those who were hurt, and pray for the city of Boston.

May God have mercy on us all and hold us in his graces through this difficult time.

Thanks, America. We love you too.

#BostonStrong

Red Sox Spring Training Notes: Lackey Back, Pedro’s Praise, and Gator Hunting

Lackey SPring Training

John Lackey has a lot to prove this spring

John Lackey took the mound today in the first Red Sox Spring Training game against Major League competition. For Lackey, who missed all of last season recovering from Tommy John surgery, this was his first start in any real game action in about 18 months. Typically pitchers recovering from TJ surgery struggle with the command of their pitches, while their velocity seems to find an added boost from their robo-arm. So, basically, I wasn’t expecting much from John Lackey, but was excited to see him out there anyway. There’s a lot riding on this guy if this team is going to finish anywhere above .500% or being in playoff contention. No pressure, right?

Lackey started just as I figured he would: a 5-pitch walk to start the game. His continued to struggle with his control, as he let a high, meaty fastball sail right Desmond Jennings’ wheelhouse, though he fortunately missed it and hit a hard single through the left side instead. Lackey capped up the top of the order disaster by hitting Matt Joyce, a lefty, on the shoulder to load the bases with no outs heading into the heart of the Rays order.

The good news? Lackey recorded 3 straight outs to follow this, with a nice sequence to strike out Jack Cust, a Sac Fly to right that scored Ben Zobrist, and a fly out. So, with no outs and the bases jacked, Lackey escapes with only one run in. Impressive, given the circumstances.

Lackey spoke to NESN’s Jenny Dell in the dugout following his inning of work.

“It felt great,” he said referring to his pitching arm. “It was good to be back out there. [I] threw a lot of fastballs, arm felt good. It’s good to be back.”

You’ve got to imagine there were some nerves for Lackey as well, who threw 10 of his 20 pitches for strikes. Only time will tell what Lackey will contribute to this team, but all in all, it wasn’t a terrible first outing of the spring.

Ruby de la Rosa Reaction

Apparently the soon-to-be 24-year-old is turning heads down in Fort Myers with his stuff. It prompted Pedro Martinez, who has known de la Rosa for years and watched him evolve, to compare him to some of the greatest pitchers ever in a conversation with WEEI.com.

“He has an opportunity to be someone special. Not just a regular player, but special. When you see someone like de la Rosa you think someone special, like a Clemens, a Juan Marichal. You think about elite players. That’s the type of stuff he has.”

Coming from one of the greatest pitchers ever himself, that’s incredibly high praise.  Ruby de la Rosa grew up admiring Martinez in the Dominican Republic, and the two are actually cousins. Pedro’s role on this team could very well be purely to turn this guy into the next Pedro Martinez, and if that’s the case, the future will be bright for years to come.

Lineup Preview?

There’s been lots of speculation as to what the Red Sox batting order would look like this season, and we may have had our first glimpse at the top of the order today. Jacoby Ellsbury led off, followed by Dustin Pedroia, both familiar spots for the Red Sox vets. Newcomer Shane Victorino stepped up in the 3-hole followed by Jarrod Saltalamacchia batting cleanup, Johnny Gomes in the 5 hole and Will Middlebrooks batting 6th. Absent from today’s lineup were David Ortiz and Mike Napoli, so nothing is set in stone quite yet, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Napoli take over that clean up spot and Ortiz bat fifth, moving everyone else down. It’s also reasonable to think that Will Middlebrooks could hit cleanup if he’s comfortable doing so. It’s still plenty early though, so it’s something to keep an eye on.

Gomes and Ross gator hunting

Ironsides and Blue Wolf get ready to hunt some gators

Return of the Idiots

Okay, so Johnny Damon is walking through that door, and frankly no one wants him to. But if there’s one thing we’ve learned in the past decade of Red Sox baseball, it’s that clubhouse chemistry, more than anything, will determine how far this team can advance. On paper, the 2011 and 2012 Red Sox should have been record-setting winners. Instead, we’ve received two of the most storied seasons in history – for all the wrong reasons.

The team needed an overhaul of fun, loose veteran experience, so that’s what they got. Two of the new guys, OF Johnny Gomes and C David Ross, are bringing that lighter, enjoyable atmosphere to the team already.

Gomes and Ross, who have nicknamed themselves “Ironsides” and “Blue Wolf”, respectively, decided to dress up and go gator hunting yesterday. The two went out on a professional airboat tour and got to see real gators in their natural habitats. When they got back to dry land, the two even held baby gators. While some may cry foul at their players going out in search of Alligator-induced fun, there’s nothing wrong with some safe, guided goofiness to get a chuckle out of everyone from the clubhouse. At least they aren’t drunk in the clubhouse yet, right? These two might be just what the doctor ordered.