Wednesday, July 02, 2003

Red Sox 81-Game Review: Meeting Expectations, So Why Does it Feel Like They're Not?

Halfway home, the Sox are a riddle. They appear to have elite talent, especially on offense. They've been relatively healthy, and they are seem to have pretty good chemistry, if that means anything. I told Whitney before the season that I thought they'd win 95 games. They're on pace to win 94. Seems like I was pretty close, at least through 81 games. Why, then, am I vaguely disappointed?

Maybe it's because they seem to have dropped a disproportionate number of games that they should have won. I say seem, because the losses always stay with me longer than the wins. I recognize that they've won some games that they probably shouldn't have, but losses like last night's, or the season-opener, or the one they blew to Toronto with a 6-run lead, or the loss to the Phillies where they blew three leads after the 8th innings, get the point.

Maybe it's because the offense is so good, and the pitching has been so mediocre. I'm like a broken record on this topic, but even average bullpen results would have meant 3 or 4 more wins, and even average starting pitching in the season's first 6 weeks probably means 2 or 3 more on top of that. Pretty soon, I'll start to really get mad about games they should have won, as the season reaches critical mass.

Maybe it's because I'm more and more convinced that the Yankees are pretty vulnerable, and the Sox have failed to capitalize. Maybe I'm growing less and less convinced that Grady Little's soft-shoe style is right for this professional, but fairly low-key team. Maybe I'm just expecting too much. Anyway, here's what I think:

By the numbers:

Record: 47-34
Standing: Second place, AL East - 4 games behind New York/First place, Wild Card, .5 game ahead of Oakland
Offensive Stats: .299/.365./.496 (.861 OPS) - All 1st in the majors
Pitching Stats: 4.85 ERA (9th in AL), 6.97 K/9 innings, 3.31 BB/9, 2.09 K/BB, 1.46 WHIP

Exceeding Expectations

1. Clearly, I expected the offense to be pretty good, but I had no idea it was going to be this good. It's been sick, flat out sick. The Sox are averaging 6.36 runs per game, best in the league, and 29.7% better than the league average of 4.90. Not only that, but it's an offense geared to scoring in bunches, with no weak spots 1-9, and a roster of batters who take pitches, reach base, hit a ton of doubles, and score, score, score. They put pressure on the opposing pitching staffs from the first inning, which has resulted in an inordinate amount of late-inning explosions as the lineup tees off on mediocre relief pitching.

2. Individual players who have been better than I expected include Nomar Garciaparra (.341, 12 HR, 56 RBI, .959 OPS), Bill Mueller (.323, 5, 34, .910, league-leading 30 doubles), Kevin Millar (.318, 12, 57, .934), Trot Nixon (.311, 10, 47, .926 from the 7 and 8 spots, mostly), Jason Varitek (.291, 13, 45, .914), and Todd Walker (.311, 8, 48, 819). Looking at those numbers makes me even more impressed by the offense, and even more depressed that I can't list a single pitcher in this category.

Meeting Expectations, Mostly

1. Manny Ramirez has been Manny Ramirez. He's got the best offensive stats on the team (.322, 17, 61, .969), and he just chugs along and produces offense. No muss, no fuss. A little voice in the back of my head keeps wondering when he's going to get really, really hot and carry the team for three weeks. He's capable of a .380, 10 HR, 40 RBI, 1.100 OPS month, and I'm waiting for it. (7/3 edit: slap my ass and call me Sally, he went .351, 9, 27, 1.139 in June, really, really quietly. If he ever has a loud month, the numbers could approach .400, 15, 50, 1.500)

2. Pedro has been Pedro, when he's been healthy. He's only 5-2, owing largely to a bullpen that's deserted him on at least 3 occasions. His 2.74 ERA is a little skewed by the 10 runs he gave up to Baltimore early in the season. Without that game, he's at 1.70. He gave up 40% of his earned runs for the season in that game. He's struck out 86 and walked 23 in 82 innings. He's a stud, as usual.

3. Derek Lowe is finally pitching like Derek Lowe. True, his ERA is still at 4.51, but ever since the Yankee start when he scuffled through the first part of the game and then stiffened his back and plowed through the Yankee lineup, he's been great. He's 6-0, 3.28 in his last 9 starts, allowing only 47 hits in 63.2 innings. The fact that he's in this category is a huuuuge improvement.

4. Management has been mostly proactive and creative. Aside from not handling the ongoing bullpen issues very well, Theo's done a pretty good job. The lineup is highly robust, and the Kim for Hillenbrand trade will pay dividends this year and in the future. Now, be a good boy and go get us an arm.

Not so Much Meeting Expectations

1. Do I really need to get into the pitching here? Again? I didn't think so.
2. Although, it's worth pointing out that Ramiro Mendoza has been brutally brutal. And he gets rewarded by starting against the Yankees on Saturday. Yay!
3. Johnny Damon has been an anchor at the top of the order. Frankly, it's another sign of how good the offense is that they haven't let Damon's .256/.324/.402 bog them down. Hey, at least he's a good glove man.
4. The succession of replacement arms - Woodward, Rupe, White, Shiell, Chen, Person, et al - have been, in a word (cue Bill Walton) horrrrrrrible.
5. Jason Giambi is batting .173. Not so good for a guy who can't run or field. He's not bringing much to the table, except for strong knowledge of the grains in the Fenway bench.

Looking Ahead

I said this last week, and I still believe it. One more stud arm and relatively good health for the rest of the season = AL Championship. No improvement of the pitching staff = no playoffs. Let's see how I do.

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