Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Rough Start

OK. I know what you're thinking. "Here comes Jake to tell us everything's going to be alright, even though we're definitely screwed." Well, I am here to tell you everything's alright, that it's too early to panic, and the Red Sox just need to find some consistency. But I'd also be lying if I said the lackluster 3-6 start doesn't cause at least some level of trepidation for me.

Let's start with the good. Kevin Youkilis has been hot since Opening Day, slugging at a .722 clip with a couple bombs to boot. Jason Bay has been similarly solid, hitting .345 with an impressive 10 walks in nine games. For all the concern about Jason Varitek, he hit two homers in the Tampa series from the left side of the plate. As for the pitching, Brad Penny looked solid in his only start thus far, and Tim Wakefield's sterling complete game yesterday provided a reminder of what the old man can do with the knuckler is dancing (his new batterymate, George Kottaras, has also been impressive behind the plate and with the bat). Justin Masterson was terrific in the long relief role on Wednesday, and I feel confident whenever he's in the game. Two of the more unheralded members of the bullpen, Ramon Ramirez and Manny Delcarmen, have combined to throw ten scoreless innings to begin the season. And overall, the team defense has been sterling, living up to every preseason expectation.

So all that is really good. Unfortunately, the list of bad things is a bit longer.

There's no easy way to put this: David Ortiz looks lost at the plate. He got his first extra-base hit of the season yesterday. I'm sorry, but given his skill set in 2009, Ortiz is no good to the Red Sox or any team if he's only hitting singles (although maybe he's transforming since he did try, unsuccessfully, to steal a base last week). He just looks flat-out awful right now. It's not good. I'm not blaming this not having Manny hitting behind him; I just wonder if we've seen the best of David Ortiz. Knowing him, though, he could go on a tear the next few weeks and make all the naysayers look bad. I hope like hell that happens.

Dustin Pedroia (7-for-39, 1 RBI) and Jacoby Ellsbury (7-for-36, 2 R) are yet to get untracked. Given their youth and talent, I'm not worried about how they'll perform over the whole season. I'm a bit more concerned about the likes of Mike Lowell (8-for-35, 5 Ks) and J.D. Drew (7-for-30, 7 Ks) and how this season will treat them. To be fair, both have come up with some clutch hits and each have smashed two homers. But with their age and injury history...I just don't know.

Jed Lowrie started the year 1-for-18 before Terry Francona placed him on the DL with that chronic wrist injury. With Julio Lugo still on the shelf, Nick Green has actually filled in rather nicely. These journeyman types obviously love to be in the big leagues for any extended stay, and typically try as hard as possible to impress when given the chance. Still, I never thought I'd get to a point where I'm itching for Lugo to return.

People are whining about this team's offense, but I've been most concerned about the starting pitching. After wowing everyone on Opening Day, Josh Beckett was mediocre in his second start and the extra-circulars earned him a six-game suspension (totally ridiculous, by the way). It at least appears that Beckett is fully healthy following an '08 riddled with nagging injuries. Whether he can be consistent remains a question.

Jon Lester has struggled in both of his starts thus far. It strikes me as odd because he's got 11 Ks and just two walks in 11 innings, yet he's allowed 18 hits and three homers (he allowed 14 homers all of last year). So it's a good sign that he's still striking people out. My worry is that the load he shouldered last year could be catching up to him sooner than I expected.

I'm not sure I can bring myself to discuss what's happened to Dice-K. I'm completely stunned. Everyone wants to blame the WBC, but it's more than that. I almost don't want to know.

Takashi Saito, Hideki Okajima and Javier Lopez have a combined ERA of 7.20 in 10 innings. Yikes. And what can we say about Jonathan Papelbon? He's been getting the job done, but at what cost? Does he really only have a 94 mph heater with no life? Is this really the same guy? Where's the deadly splitter? Christ, where's that average slider? Give us something, Paps! Meanwhile, Daniel Bard has nine strikeouts in six innings at Pawtucket so far. The Sox ought to cut bait on Lopez, bring up Bard and scare the piss out of Papelbon in the process. Then maybe he'll come to his senses and start throwing some frickin' splitters.

So what are the things I'm really worried about? Definitely Ortiz. He just doesn't look the same. I'll worry about Lester until he stops giving up so many hits. And I'm worried about Papelbon, in general. I'm not quite at that level yet for Drew or Lowell, or any of the eternally-fickle bullpen guys, but it could get there soon.

Otherwise, let's all just calm down. Four games against Baltimore, who's #2 starter is Koji Uehara, might be just what the Sox need. Perhaps they sweep the four games, and life will go back to being just wonderful.

Either way, in my opinion, it's too early to get too up or down about a team. We are exactly 1/18th of the way through the season. There's many more games to be play, transactions to be made, and fun to be had.

Before I go, take a look at the first thing I've written about baseball that I also got paid for: a game recap from an extra-inning affair between Pentucket and Triton. (Do me and everyone at the Daily News a favor and click on that link 1,000,000 times today, please?) It was great to get out there, hope it's warmer next time.

Take care and enjoy the spring. It's awesome to watch baseball every night again, isn't it?

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