Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Vanilla Ice

Still a bit freaked out by the sight of Jonathan Papelbon giving up a homer to Jeff Spicoli, but we’re soldiering on to uphold MLC’s grand tradition of excellence.

After 25 games, the Red Sox own the American League’s best record and lead the AL East by 3 ½ games. The pitching staff, from top to bottom, has been nothing short of outstanding. The offense, despite my nearly constant protestations, is fourth in the league in runs, OPS and slugging, and third in on-base percentage. Not world-beating, but adequate, and capable of doing better.

So why can’t I sit back and enjoy what appears to be a good team that’s bordering on very good? I blame the encroaching scourge of global warming.

The heat makes Al Gore uncomfortable

If (knock, knock, knock) the pitching staff remains healthy, it may well be the league’s most efficient, top to bottom. Save for the question marks in the 5th slot, the Sox rotation has been lights-out. Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Tim Wakefield have posted a 3.15 ERA and struck out 115 batters in 137 innings. They’re also averaging 6.5 innings per start, which has contributed to the bullpen’s stellar start. Even with last night’s meltdown, the Sox’ pen has the league’s best ERA by nearly a run (2.49 to the second-place Twins’ 3.39). Papelbon is arguably the league’s most dominant closer (and you’d remove that arguably if this was written yesterday afternoon). Hideki Okajima, the Sox’ best Japanese pitcher, has been scorching, posting an 0.66 ERA in his 13 2/3 innings.

David Ortiz is a one-man climate-changing force, the balls screaming off his bat causing atmospheric disturbances and mini-tsunamis. Still carrying a 1.000+ OPS despite not really having a hot streak.

Last night notwithstanding, Papelbon sucks the oxygen out of the room nearly every time he takes the mound. I think the guy that recorded 15 Ks and allowed 2 hits in his first 8 appearances is the one we’ll see more often than not.

Daisuke Matsuzaka takes one-inning vacations to conserve energy, but is otherwise very, very good. His 4.36 ERA is slightly misleading, but I’d take it over the course of the next 200 innings or so.

As noted in the post that precedes this one, Okajima may in fact be a robot. Solar-powered, let’s hope.

Even Laurie David and Sheryl Crow would consider wearing fur

Wily Mo Pena is a planetary force, capable of destroying a baseball, but only if it’s served up to him on a silver platter. Otherwise, not so much. Any pitcher caught throwing WMP a strike should be immediately sent to AAA in a Prius.

Dustin Pedroia requires less energy than any other Sox player, but his output unfortunately reflects that thus far. He’s got a .516 OPS, with only 5 hits in his last 48 at-bats. That Alex Cora, Pedroia’s backup, is slugging .800 in 25 at-bats complicates things a bit, despite the fact that Cora’s production is clearly a small sample size-aided mirage.

James Inhofe thinks this is okay

The wacky Senator from Oklahoma disputes reports that Manny Ramirez is actually hitting .215 with a .641 OPS to date, noting that the Sox’ leftfielder’s statistics have not been scientifically proven. Right or wrong, MLC agrees with the distinguished (and clearly batshit) Senator’s point that Manny’s production will ultimately approach his always-sublime career norms.

Jason Varitek’s best offensive years are behind him. That’s not a surprise to anyone, but it does come with it a recognition that others need to pick up some slack. Tek’s .647 OPS is down even from last year’s disappointing .725.

Coco Crisp and Julio Lugo jointly represent both the hopes and the fears of Sox fans. If both produce at pace with expectations, the Sox offense will flourish like equatorial flora. If they play like they have thus far, picture a more Siberian scorescape. Lugo posted an .871 OPS in Tampa Bay over the first half of 2006, but is scuffling along at .656 with abysmal power numbers with the Sox. Crisp’s issues in 2006 have been well documented, but the early weeks of 2007 don’t offer a great deal of hope for even a return to his career .741 OPS.

Just a 75-degree Spring day in Boston

Kevin Youkilis and Mike Lowell are adequate major league hitters who will have their good and bad stretches. Would I like to see more overall pop from the corner infield positions? Uh huh. Can the Sox win with Youks and Lowell? Sure, as long as Lowell remembers where he left his glove.

J.D. Drew can play baseball. This statement may in fact be as controversial to the media covering the Sox as anything out of Mr. Gore’s mouth. Drew’s skidded a bit over the past few weeks, but he’s shown this impartial observer enough to be sold.

Jon Lester’s on his way back to Fenway sometime in the next few weeks. That pushes Julian Tavarez to the pen, and gives the Sox some hope in the 5th slot in the rotation. If Lester can translate the control and command he’s shown in his rehab starts to the major league level, the Sox’ starting staff will be capable of melting an ice cap. If not, as long as he’s adequate, he’ll still give this team a chance to win.

With all those ifs, ands, and buts, the Sox carry a .640 winning percentage into tonight’s game with the A’s. I think I’ll go burn some fossil fuels, leave a bunch of lights on, and check back with you in 25.

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