Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Ordinary World: 25 Games In

Channeling Duran Duran as we take a look at the Sox at the 25-game mark, because...well, just because. You were tired of the whole good, bad, ugly thing, anyway.

The title above refers to the weighty averageness displayed thus far by the Sox. I can't put a finger on it, really, but they've just bumbled along, doing a few things well (they're 2nd in the AL in OPS and runs, and 1st in OBP), doing a few things poorly (12th in the league in reliever's ERA and 9th in overall ERA), and generally not achieving up to the standards they set last October.

The Wild Boys, Matt Clement and Matt Mantei, have sort of encapsulated the season thus far on behalf of their colleagues: loads of talent, flashes of brilliance, and maddening bouts of inconsistency. Clement's also sporting one of the league's worst beards, accomplishing the heretofore unfathomed fashion first of making Kevin Millar's 2004 Abe Lincoln redux look stylish.

Mark Bellhorn's performance in the season's first 25 games has triggered a gag Reflex in most sentient Sox fans. His take, take, take, swing ineffectively, take, amble back to the bench looking like Eeyore routine is wearing thin. Leading the league in Ks is one thing if you manage an .817 OPS at 2nd base with 17 HR. It's a whole different, and much more craptacular, animal when you sport a .682 OPS with no longballs.

June 7 looms as a milestone in the eyes of this jaded observer, a date that I hope will mark the long overdue end of the celebration of last year's championship run and the beginning of a serious pursuit of a repeat. That's the date that the Sox' Girls on Film (Johnny Damon, Jason Varitek, Doug Mirabelli, and Tim Wakefield) appear on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, after taking a few days in Spring Training to let Carson preen over them. I'm tempted to give these guys more grief, but all 4 of them have performed solidly thus far, highlighted by Damon's .404 OBP, Varitek's .610 (!) SLG, the grand slam Mirabelli just launched off Tigers lefty Mike Maroth, and Wake's 2.78 ERA and 1.1 WHIP. The lesson, red-staters, is that gays are people, too.

Speaking of red-staters, I've gotten used to having to Save a Prayer (actually, several prayers and a whole bushel basket of curse words) every time Keith Foulke enters a tight game. The details are sordid; a 7.50 ERA, 4 HR and 20 baserunners in 12 innings, and 2-3 mph missing from his already average fastball. And on cue, there goes another bomb by the redoubtable Marcus Thames.

Sox medics have been heavily involved in the Skin Trade thus far, a departure from last season when no starting pitcher missed any substantive time. Curt Schilling, David Wells, and Wade Miller have made a combined 8 starts, posting a 3-5 record with a 5.44 ERA. That'll change.

To be fair, it hasn't all been bad. Opposing pitching staffs have had a front-row View to a Kill as Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz have pummelled them senseless - without really fully putting it together. Both have .550+ SLG and they've combined to hit 14 homers, but neither has ripped off an extended stretch of ball-mashing. That'll change, too. And I'll get to watch it, thanks to the single best development of the 2005 season - my long-overdue capitulation to the Lords of Baseball (and to Whitney's sniping) and their Extra Innings package. Except for the inanity of the Tigers' announcing crew, MLB EI has been a brilliant addition. Just ask my wife.

All She Wants Is...Bronson Arroyo's hairstylist (while he's pretty happy with the young right-hander's first 4 starts).

The rest of the population of the Sox' corner of Planet Earth has been fairly unremarkable. Bill Mueller's missed a bunch of games due to illness, and been mediocre when he has played, slugging only .333. Kevin Millar has yet to hit a homer. Trot Nixon and Jay Payton have been solid, but certainly not spectacular - though Nixon (.910 OPS) continues to be one of the league's most underrated players. New guy Edgar Renteria has been worse than unremarkable, posting a .631 OPS and making 6 errors. Mike Timlin's cruised along, defying age to the tune of a 1.54 ERA in 11.2 innings, while Alan Embree's been used, abused, and put away wet, appearing in 14 (!) of the season's first 25 contests.

Mercifully winding down, because we're clearly reaching at this point, half of the Durans chipped in on the Power Station's Some Like it Hot, and it says here that the Sox will warm with the weather. It would really be difficult for them to underachieve any more than they have thus far, and it seems clear that Schilling, Wells, and Miller will all be in the rotation before the end of May. I don't expect the hitting to slump, and I do expect the pitching to get better, so I'll save my whining for another day. I'm sure Phillies fans are tired of it, anyway.

I've been trying really hard to work my favorite Duran Duran song, Hungry Like the Wolf, into this ill-advised thematic train wreck, but that's really the problem, isn't it. The Sox have played like they're sated. And I can't really blame them, to be frank. I'm disappointed with the season's early returns, but I'm not a cat-kicking, wall-punching lunatic - I haven't Come Undone, as it were, and I guarantee you that I would have been if the Sox had started 2004 with 13 wins in their first 25 games.

Perspective is a wonderful thing, but like Prozac, it frames everything in a muted, gauzy effect. I sort of want my highs and lows back, if only because I know that the lows are what made the epic highs of last October so much better. There's definitely a lot of ball left, though - more than enough time for me and the Sox to shake off the residual hangover of the 2004 season and ratchet up the intensity. Here's to September.

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