Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Games 48 through 51 - Red Sox/50-Game Review
Summertime, and the Living's...Not Bad

Red Sox 8, Seattle Mariners 4
Mariners 5, Red Sox 4
Red Sox 9, Mariners 7
Orioles 13, Red Sox 4
Record: 31-20

Sitting in a puddle of beer, grilled meat drippings, and coleslaw, slowly shaking off the aftereffects of a long Memorial Day weekend:

Quickly, the Sox' holiday was a lot like mine - lots of good times and great weather mixed with some stumbling around. The series win over Seattle was keyed by David Ortiz' grand slam in the first game, and David McCarty's (!) walk-off homer in the third contest. McCarty saved Curt Schilling and Keith Foulke, who were unable to hold a 5-1 lead in the game. Andy Dominque's first major league hit tied the game at 7 after the Sox gave up 6 tallies to the M's in the top of the 8th in that contest.

The losses could not have been more opposite in terms of the taste left in the Nation's collective mouths. The Sox scrapped their way back from a 5-4 deficit in the middle tilt against the M's, falling just short after spotting Seattle a 5-0 lead in one of Tim Wakefield's least effective outings. The Memorial Day bludgeoning at the hands of the Orioles was yet another in an increasingly long and concerning string of impLowesions by the Sox' no. 3 starter. The difference between Wakefield and Lowe in terms of their handling of adversity is enormous - Wake fought through two tough innings and gutted out 6 2/3 while keeping his team in the game, while Lowe simply self-destructed in the face of adversity and couldn't get out of the 6th inning.

We'll get back to Derek's issues in this installment of the Sox' 50-game review:

The Good:

1. Let's start with the easy stuff - the Sox have the best record in baseball despite losing more games to injuries through 51 games than they lost all of last season.

2. A big reason for no. 1 above is the fact that nearly every member of the 25-man roster (and numerous in-season callups) has contributed. From David McCarty winning two games with his bat, to Andy Dominique tying Sunday's game with his first major league hit, to Pokey Reese playing great defense and even hitting over .250, to Mark Bellhorn leading the American League in walks, to Kevin Youkilis reaching base in 12 of his first 13 big league games, to stellar efforts from Anastacio Martinez out of the pen, and on and on, the role players have - nearly to a man (and we're looking at you, Cesar Crespo) - done their jobs in big situations.

3. Couple no. 2 with the fact that the big names (Ramirez, Ortiz, Damon, Schilling, P. Martinez, Foulke, Timlin, Varitek) have performed well, the Sox have the makings of a pretty damn complete ballclub.

4. Conspicuously absent from no. 3 above are the names Garciaparra and Nixon. And, yes, I'm considering this a good thing because if the Sox are thriving in their absence, how good can they be with 5 and 7 in the lineup? Nomar went 2-for-3 last night in Pawtucket, and may play with the Sox as soon as next weekend. Giddyup.

5. The current league-best record has been achieved despite no single dominant performance (with the possible exception of Keith Foulke). Manny leads the league in HR and OPS, Ortiz is tops in RBI, and Bellhorn is 2nd in walks. Schilling, Wakefield, and Pedro are all in the top 20 in ERA, while Schilling and Pedro are 1-2 in strikeouts. All of those things are great, but none of those guys is dramatically exceeding expectations - you could argue, in fact, that Pedro is performing well below his potential. One or two of the Sox' stars really begins breaking out, and it could carry the team to a monster month.

6. The new Manny is a joyous thing to behold.

7. For the first time since 1998, the Sox don't lead the American League East outright on June 1. Leading the division on the first of June hasn't worked, so I'm heartened by the fact that the Sox intentionally dropped yesterday's game to avoid the jink. And, no, I'm not superstitious at all.

And, Not So Much

1. I could very easily just steal directly from last year's early-season Derek Lowe worryfests and paste them into this space. The sentiment would be the same - what the hell is wrong with DLowe? 4-5, 6.84 ERA, 103 baserunners in 51 1/3 innings. Ugh.

2. Pedro's not been Pedro, even though he's been one of the league's top 20 pitchers. We're used to him being the clear alpha dog in the American League. He's at 5-3, 3.82 and allowed 9 HR in 70 2/3 innings. Good enough, so far, but not Automatic Pedro. I like Automatic Pedro.

3. And, frankly, that's all I've got on the negative side of the ledger. Not much to complain about, until the Orioles go into the Bronx this week and roll over like dogs. They appear to be playing the role of the 2003 Minnesota Twins to some critical fanfare.

Quick and dirty, because this season doesn't seem too complicated. Sox are playing well, overcoming a lot of injuries, but they have the potential to be really, really dominant for long stretches. Nomar and Trot back in the lineup soon, and it'd be great if they find Derek Lowe's confidence laying around somewhere between Pawtucket and Boston and pack it in their carry-on bags. Carry on, boys, long season still ahead.

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