Friday, May 11, 2007

Long Time No Write...

Hey everyone. I'm sorry that I haven't written in this space as often as I originally promised (like, at all in the last three weeks or so), but I've been very busy with end-of-the-semester-crush ordeals and doing other important things like sleeping as much as possible. Next Wednesday, I will be home for the summer, and you can expect daily posts from me. This time, I promise.

There is really not much at all to complain about when it comes to the Red Sox these days, except I just wish Sox players would give a simple "No comment" when a reporter uses the words "Barry Bonds" in a question. They've just wrapped up a tremendous road trip during which they won five of six and made the Blue Jays look like they belong in the Eastern League. Their only losing effort was a game that Julian Tavarez actually out pitched Johan Santana, only to have the Sox offense sputter in run-scoring situations. While I think it's safe to say the Sox hitters as a whole are nowhere near their peak, they've been winning because of how consistently they have been pitching.

As a team, the Sox are third in the majors in ERA, second in WHIP, lowest in runs allowed, second-lowest in opponent's batting average, and fourth-lowest in home runs allowed. They have gotten quality start after quality start from all five starters. Tim Wakefield has truly been a revelation, and after his relatively effortless outing last night, he is the surprise AL ERA leader. I cannot imagine many people in preseason would have pegged Timmy Knucks to be leading the league in ERA on May 11. I can't personally figure out what the change in him has been, since his K/BB numbers aren't out of whack, and he's still giving up his fair share of hits. However, to this point Wake has only given up 2 homers, hit just one batter, and is yet to uncork a wild pitch. The Sox haven't been scoring runs in his starts, and let's hope they can keep last night's eight-run performance is a harbinger of things to come.

Matsuzaka-san was excellent Wednesday night, pitching lights out and putting the collective mind of Sox Nation at ease. I think it makes a lot of sense to allow Dice to do exactly what made him successful in Japan, hell, that performance made the Sox invest in him so heavily in the first place, right? I think much of his success this first year in Boston will depend greatly on his level of comfort. We had the expectation out of the gate that this guy was going to be lights-out, but with the hype and adjustments in lifestyle, I don't think we can blame the guy for trying to do too much out there. Just give it some time, and I think we will see the Dice-K that dominated the sport in Japan soon enough.

Of course, the biggest of all the Sox starters, and certainly the number #1 contender for AL Cy Young right now is Josh Beckett. His easy delivery and methodical approach to pitching in this division has changed Beckett from the disappointments of 2006 to utter domination in 2007. No, Beckett's not going to go 35-0, and he'll probably lose a game sooner or later. But that doesn't change the fact that he's looked truly unbeatable to this point. When Beckett came out of prep school in 1999 with the second overall pick in the draft, everyone had huge expectations. It's taken eight long seasons, but Beckett has finally become the pitcher we all thought he would become back then. Working with new Sox pitching coach John Farrell has worked wonders (as much as I loved Dave Wallace when he was here, it's obvious the team made the right call in letting him go and bringing in Farrell instead. I mean, did you ever see a pitching staff like this under Wallace?), and Beckett appears on the fast track to being the true ace of the staff. His numbers speak for themselves: 7-0, 2.51 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 40/10 K/BB. I can't wait to see what he can do over this full season.

Schilling continues to be Schilling, and Julian "Nacho Libre" Tavarez continues to keep the seat warm for Jon Lester. I wouldn't be surprised to see Tavarez on the trading block once Lester is deemed ready for the bigs, and I've heard Tavarez linked with the Rockies recently and in the past. The bullpen has also been a revelation so far for the Red Sox, mostly because the starters have been so good and the relievers haven't been taxed at all. Through 33 contests, the Boston bullpen has only thrown on average two innings a game, a staggering statistic that bodes very well for the unit's productivity over the course of the season. Think about how screwed the Yankees are with their over-reliance on relievers and how none of those guys are going to be effective come September and October as a result. The Red Sox are not likely to have that problem. Anyone who knows me knows how much I hate relief pitchers, so the less I see of them in Red Sox games, the more I'm going to enjoy this season.

The rest of the month of May should present some challenges for the club, including contests against the AL Central-leading Indians and Tigers at Fenway, the first Interleague bout of the year at home versus the strong Braves, and six games on the road at the Yanks and Rangers. It's hard to make concrete guarantees before Memorial Day, but if the Sox are still seven games up when Roger Clemens makes his likely return to Fenway during the June 1-3 series, it may just be a forgone conclusion that the Sox will win their first division title since the Rocket himself was on the club (by the way, in 1995 Erik Hanson and Wake were far and away the two best starters on the Sox, with Clemens, his groin problems, inflated salary, ego, belly, and overall asshole-ness a distant third).

Good luck to everyone on their finals and I look forward to seeing some of you in the coming weeks back home in the MWV.