When Johnny met Manny... happier times - never! (courtesy of Boston.com)
Tonight marks the return of JD to Fenway, as the Yankees and Sox meet for the first time this year. On paper, the two teams are fittingly tied for first place in a competitive division, but on the field, they're going in very different directions. It's only one month into the season, and I'm worried - very worried.
The Yankees are playing the kind of baseball that won them championships a few years back, while the Red Sox have gone into a black hole that I have no idea how they'll get out of. They return home after a disastrous 3 and 6 road trip - first time in 3 years they've dropped 3 series in row.
The first game of that trip was right here in Toronto, and it may have set the tone for the rest of the season. Going into that game, things were going smoothly, and the Sox were looking like the team to beat. They were cruising along 6-2 in the 8th inning, and Beckett was looking like the guy we wanted when we signed him. Then the wheels came off, and the Jays made an inspired comeback to tie it, and outlast the Sox to win it in 12. Beckett was shelled even worse next outing Cleveland, giving up 9 runs in like 3 inninings. Huh?? The only good that came out of that trip was Manny ending the longest homerless drought of his career.
It's the nature of a Sox fan to worry, and there's plenty of reason right now. I think everyone is happy to see Theo Epstein back, but the roster overhaul is not giving us the team we need. Just a few things to consider that are not working out yet as planned...
- Coco Crisp - should, and probably will be right move. But he's been hurt, playing only 5 games so far. So, nothing there, and we don't have that table-setter to get those big rallies going. So far, it doesn't look like Damon has missed a beat in NY - he's brought so much to their game, and they sure look strong now.
- Josh Beckett - a bit of a risk, but a key move to get a second ace for the rotation. Had a great start, but has totally flamed out the last 2, and he faces the Yankees tomorrow night. What, me worry?
- Tim Wakefield - has actually pitched very well, but Josh Bard can't handle the knuckleball, and he's losing games he normally wins, and all those passed balls are costing us games. To boot, having Varitek sit every fifth game to have Bard's weak bat in the lineup is a bad idea. Can someone please make a deal to get Mirabelli back?
- Giving up Arroyo for Pena - these are the kinds of bad moves the Sox used to make. What looked like a strong pitching unit has turned out to be anything but, and Arroyo is sorely missed. He's shining in Cinci, and is even keeping pace with Manny in the HR department. To think that he took below market value to stay with the Sox, and we then shipped him to the NL... To boot, Wily Mo is a strikeout machine and a liability in the field. He did come through yesterday, but he's left a lot of men on base. So, the Sox have taken two steps backwards on this deal.
- Manny who? What is he waiting for? You have to wonder if he's feeling overshadowed by Papi and doesn't like being second slugger. Manny being Manny - that never changes, but we need his bat, big time.
- Mark Loretta - his defence has been good, for sure, but he's barely hitting .200. Should he really be hitting second? We need something better in this spot to set the table for Ortiz and Manny.
- Matt Clement/David Wells. If these guys pitched well, the Sox have perhaps the best rotation in baseball. Of course that's a big if. It looks like Wells is done, and Clement has quickly reverted to form for the second half of last year, which was awful. He does give you innings, but when he loses it, we lose. Why can't we have the Matt from the first half of last year when he was a deserving All Star?
- Pitching roster is looking very shaky overall. On paper, we have 5 quality starters, which should carry you a long way. Wakefield will never be fully effective until the catching situation is fixed. Right now, we only seem to have one reliable starter in Schilling, and the middle relief is just a disaster. There's NOONE in that group who can come into a game and stop the bleeding. This is where the Sox are losing games - in the 6th and 7th innings, before they can bring in their good arms. Again, this is where Arroyo would have been so valuable.
- Where's the offence gone? Aside from Ortiz's superman numbers in April, there's nothing shaking here. Nobody else is coming up with clutch hits, and they can't get any rallies going. They must be leading the league with runners LOB, and near the bottom for homers and stolen bases. Time after time they've got good hitters coming up with men on base, and they're just not cashing in. It's costing them games, they're losing ground to both the Jays and Yankees who definitely have a knack of bringing their runners home.
- Finally, what you see is the team we've got. It's not like the Sox are racked with injuries. Aside from Coco and Wells, the team is pretty healthy. The offence just has to improve or we're going nowhere. The pitching has been problematic, but good hitting and offence will negate a lot of that, especially when you've got a great closer.
So, there's LOTS of room for improvement. Of course, there have been some bright lights so far, and that's at least given them a winning record in April. Papelbon has been perfect, and is preserving the wins that Foulke was giving up so painfully last year. That's huge. It's been a while since the Sox have had anyone they can trot out to shut down the Yankees and counter the all powerful Rivera. That said, Foulke has pitched well, but even he knows that Papelbon is the man right now to close.
Schilling has also been great, and really does look to be back in winning form. The Sox have to have that to be contenders. Same goes for Beckett, but now he's got to prove his mettle after his last 2 train wreck starts. He'll have his chance tomorrow night.
Of course, Ortiz has been even better than hoped for, but it's very troubling to see Manny not feeding off this to raise his game.
Finally, the new look infield has been a huge upgrade, and the Sox are right at the top alongside the Twins in team defence. Again, they're saving games that guys like Renteria were throwing away for us last year. Gonzalez has the good glove, and we can live with his low average in the #9 spot - so long as the guys ahead of him are hitting a lot higher. That's not really happening right now, and the bottom 4 of the order is too weak for a contender.
So, a lot of problems are compounding each other, and the good things are being overshadowed by problems that weren't supposed to be there. Well, they've been laid bare, especially on this last road trip. This mini-series with the Yankees will be a big reality check. Is it too soon to be screaming Mayday??? Hopefully not. The Sox have a way of picking up their game against New York, but if they get blown out, I can guarantee you, the alarm bells will be ringing by Wednesday.