Tuesday, July 03, 2007

TATB's third annual Red Sox midseason report card


Fifty wins, 31 losses, and a relatively comfortable double-digit lead in the American League East. Nope, not a bad half at all for your Boston Red Sox. So with a hat tip to Terry Francona for handling his ball club and all the ancillary stuff as deftly as any Sox manager we've ever seen - yep, Tito gets a hard-earned A - let's break it all down, player by player, grade by grade, while hoping the good times continue to roll right through October. (Stats through Monday, Game 81):

LINEUP
Dustin Pedroia (.320 avg., 3 homers, 25 RBIs, .851 OPS):
I haven't been this wrong about a player since I guaranteed in the Maine Campus 15 or so years ago that Jack Clark was born to hit at Fenway. Once an idiot, always an idiot. A-

Kevin Youkilis (.329-9-44, .924): Yooooooooouuuuuk! The best hitter on the team so far, a beast in the clutch, and he's pretty darn good around the first base bag, too. What more could we ask for? Just this: A duplicate performance in the second half. A

David Ortiz (.312-13-49, .977): File this one under All You Need To Know: David Ortiz has as many home runs as Alex Gonzalez. Yes, that Alex Gonzalez. Something tells me that hamstring that was bothering him earlier this season is a lingering injury, because I see no other logical explanation for why he's gone 48 at-bats without an extra-base hit. B (Sorry, I just can't grade Papi any lower than that.)


Manny Ramirez (.288-11-44, .858): It's like we're getting the Bizarro Manny this season. He's running hard almost all the time, he's leading the ball club in games played, he's excited about the All-Star Game, his grandmother and his knees are apparently healthy, he's playing a very good left field, at least at Fenway . . . and yet he's rarely looked like one of the elite hitters of his generation. This dependable Manny is nice, but personally, I prefer the hitting-savant goofball who bats .320 with 40 homers and 125 RBIs while offending all the self-appointed Keepers of the Game by taking pee breaks inside the sacred Green Monster. Maybe it's because Manny has a history of comporting himself like a 12-year-old, but it's easy to forget that he's now 35 and all growns up. Time isn't his friend anymore, and you have to wonder if he's going to be a 25-homer guy (or worse) from here on out. He's always had such a knack for turning a 2-1 game into a 5-1 game with one swing, and the Sox have dearly missed his ability to break a game open. I'm still confident that he'll have a couple of his patented midsummer tears and will finish somewhere around .300-30-110 . . . but then, it's not such a sure thing anymore, is it? C

J.D. Drew (.257-6-32, .763): I've made a conscious effort to ignore his sticker price and try my best to appreciate the player for what he is. So . . . um, well, he's been healthy for the most part, which counts for something, and his swing sure is purty. Now (trying desperately not to mention his contract), on behalf of an eager constituency, where's the freakin' power? D+

Mike Lowell (.292-12-55, .850): Made one of the definining plays of the season so far when he Urlachered the Yankees' Robinson Cano on a double play grounder. Like Bill Mueller before him, he's one of those True Professional types who everyone from the cynics in the press box to the pink hats in the bleachers likes and appreciates. Like Youkilis, however, it's imperative that he avoids his traditional second half slumber. A-

Jason Varitek (.270-8-33, .802): The captain, at age 35, is defying the odds by bouncing back effectively after last season's disaster. He remains one of the two or three most indispensable players on the team. What, seeing Doug Mirabelli every fifth day isn't enough for you? B

Coco Crisp (.262-4-22, .680) Say what you will about his salami bat - and he was coming around at the plate before his recent thumb injury, raising his average 40 points in June - but Crisp has contributed to his share of victories this season, playing the best center field we've seen at Fenway since . . . well, when? Ellis Burks? Fred Lynn? And I'll admit it: There's something about the way he plays the game that makes me really want to see him succeed here. C

Julio Lugo (.189-4-34, .541): Come back, Edgar. We won't call you Rent-A-Wreck anymore, promise. All is forgiven. Hell, we might even welcome you too, Cesar Crespo. Oh, all right, in all fairness, Lugo hasn't been that bad. He has handled his 0-fer-30-something with class and accountability, and getting caught stealing third the other night simply had to be rock-bottom. Besides, he's not going anywhere, so we'd better hope he turns it around. F

STARTING PITCHERS
Josh Beckett (11 wins, 2 losses, 3.38 ERA, 1.10 WHIP): Now that's the cool, cocky ace we thought we were getting. Not a bad trade after all, Larry. A

Daisuke Matsuzaka (9-5, 3.80, 1.23): So he's not Pedro. So what? Don't you realize the Martinez Era at Fenway Park was a once-in-a-fan's-lifetime gift from the baseball gods? The truth is, while the hype upon Dice-Ks arrival and debut was, well, over the top (guilty as charged), except for a few hiccups he has pitched to the level of at least a No. 2 starter all the while adjusting both culturally and professionally. He seems to be more comfortable and more dominant each time out, and while I've sworn off hyperbole with him for the time being, I have no doubt that the next 5 1/2 years with this guy are going to be a blast. B+

Curt Schilling (6-4, 4.20, 1.36): I still say they've sent him away for an intensive midsummer session at fat camp. As you read this, I bet he's either sucking down a junior-sized fat-free yogurt, wheezing his way around the track in the quarter-mile run stride for stride with kids nicknamed "Blueberry" and "Chub," or back in his cabin reading Judy Blume's "Blubber" while nodding his head solemnly. Probably the latter. C+

Julian Tavarez (5-6, 4.39, 1.40): He's a crazy SOB, but he's our crazy SOB. My impression of Tavarez before he came to Boston was that he was a selfish lunatic who didn't care about the team and usually wore out his welcome with an ill-timed temper tantrum or two. My impression now is that he's a lunatic because he almost cares too much about the team, and it drives him, well, looney to let his teammates down. While his numbers aren't much prettier than his headshot, he's been a stalwart as far as fifth starters go. The cat can pitch for my team anytime. B

Tim Wakefield (8-8, 4.31, 1.33): Plusses: Selfless; durable; chews up innings; superior numbers to most fourth and fifth starters; downright unhittable at times. Minuses: When he's bad, he's brutal; can be sailing along, then all of a suddenly loses it quickly; is the sole reason Doug Mirabelli is still leading the big league life. C+

Kason Gabbard: Three starts, two wins. That's fine production for a spot starter on the Pawtucket shuttle. He'd be taking a regular turn for a lot of other big league teams. Incomplete, but grateful.


BULLPEN
Jonathan Papelbon: (0-1, 1.50, 0.87, 19 saves)
He's the closest thing I've ever seen to Goose Gossage, and I consider Goose the second-most dominating closer I've ever seen after Mariano Rivera. You feel like victory is inevitable when Paps is on the mound, and that's the highest praise you can give a closer. One confession: I still fret about the shoulder. A

Hideki Okajima (2-0, 0.88, 0.78, 4 saves): Has there ever been a more pleasant surprise in any Red Sox season, let alone this one? We thought he was here as Dice-K's consigliere, and instead he turns out to be the glue to the bullpen, one of the team's most indispensable players. Whoever's scouting Japan for the Sox (Craig Shipley, i assume) deserves a raise. A+

Brendan Donnelly (2-1, 3.05, 1.16): Moderately effective when healthy, but why do I get the sense we're not going to be seeing him for quite some time? B-

Javier Lopez (1-1, 3.05, 1.35): He's done the job, but the reason is still trying to establish himself at age 30 is because he walks way too many batters (11 in 20.2 innings). B-

Kyle Snyder (1-1, 2.40, 1.30): When your long reliever has numbers that good, you know you have a deep staff. And on a sentimental note, after years of injuries robbed him of his blazing fastball and his phenom status with the Royals, is nice to see him enjoying good health and success in the big leagues. He deserves it. B

Mike Timlin (1-0, 5.59, 1.50): I've been jabbering for about a year now that the Sox should give him a hearty thank-you, a pat on the back, and an appropriate parting gift, like maybe a nice gold watch or a tricked-out assault rifle, and send him on his way, so he can spend the rest of his days pursuing his passion for hunting possum, squirrels, and Democrats. I know he threw well Monday, and Tito finally seems to have realized he can't use him in high-leverage situations anymore, but I still can't shake the feeling that he's gassed. I'd love to be wrong, though. D-

Manny Delcarmen: Love the radar gun readings, still don't trust the command. But who knows, maybe that bases-loaded whiff of Slammin' Sammy was the turning point. This much is certain: The role of the power-armed righthanded setup guy is there for his taking. Incomplete, but hopeful.

Joel Pineiro (1-1, 5.04 ERA, 1.62 WHIP): I'm probably the last remaining refugee aboard the Pineiro bandwagon - hey, his stuff is still above-average, if maddeningly inconsistent - but can you imagine where the Sox might be had they not been prudent enough to move Papelbon back to the bullpen when it was apparent Pineiro wasn't the answer? The Yankees might still have some hope of catching them. D

BENCH
Alex Cora (.282, 2 HRs):
Tito and the RemDawg seem to be having a fawning contest to see who can praise him more, but I've said it before and I'll say it now: He's the best utility infielder the Sox have had in my lifetime (but only because Chico Walker got jobbed by Ralph Houk.) B+

Wily Mo Pena (.224 avg., 4 HRs): It's just not going to happen for him here, is it? He can't pinch-hit. He might be able to recognize a slider away, but he hasn't taught himself to lay off it yet. He's the single worst outfielder at catching fly balls I've ever seen. And it's apparent he needs to play every day in order for his immense, maddeningly raw talent to blossom. The player and the team would be better off if he were a Royal or a Ranger or a Pirate come the trade deadline. D

Eric Hinske (.218, 3 HRs): He's had two memorable games this season - the homer-and-diving-catch game earlier this season, and the game-breaking three-run triple Monday night. Yet like Gabe Kapler before him, he seems to have a genuine appreciation for playing in Boston despite his supporting role, a pretty impressive act of selflessness for a former Rookie of the Year who is used to playing every day. Like I said, he hasn't done much, but that doesn't mean he's not an asset. C-

Doug Mirabelli (.174, 2 HRs): You realize he's hitting 15 points lower than Lugo, right? At this point, he couldn't catch up to Frank Castillo's fastball. F-


Jacoby Ellsbury: Yes, I know he would benefit from playing every day in Triple A. Know what? I do not care. With his speed and aggressiveness, he can help this team, right now, even if it's as a pinch-runner/sporadic starter. I say he stays. Incomplete, but itching to see more.

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