Thunderstick: A month into the season now and off another successful weekend with the Yanks and I don't think we as Sox fans can be upset one bit about what we're seeing right now, and I don't mean with what a mess the Yanks are. I'm talking about the Sox themselves. Almost every question has been answered positively for Boston that we were asking at the beginning of the season.
Is Schilling too old or will he got some of his form back? Looks like he's got a good part of his old form back. Is Beckett going to evolve into a complete pitcher or just keep giving up home runs by using his fast ball too much? All good there as Beckett has been employing a chance and a slider and has looked dominant so far. Can Dice adjust to the US and MLB? So far, so good. While he hasn't been the phenom quite yet, I think anyone that's watched would say he's got a pretty special skill set and now that he'll see some lineups other than NY, I expect we'll see him get more and more comfortable. Will Waker give us anything? He's been fantastic for a month. We see this from Waker all the time--1-2 great months, 1-2 terrible months, 1-2 decent months. But if we know we'll get that from him, I'll be happy. Lugo as a leadoff hitter? He's been great getting on base so far and I think he's 7 for 7 on steals--he's getting on and Youk and Papi are moving him along. Bottom of the order? Tek and Coco after starting slow have been much better as of late. Lowell looks to be solid. I know we are giving Dusty his shot, but I think we're getting close to Cora-time. Bottom of the lineup has been just fine.
Then the biggest question this team probably had--how do we bridge the gap from the starters to Pap? That's been the nicest answer we've seen so far. It's been done two ways--first, the starters have gotten into the 7th inning on average which is stellar (the Yanks by comparison don't have starters getting out of the 5th on average and their bullpen looks shot--only one reliever has more than 94 appearances in a season and the Yanks currently have 4 guys on pace to go 99+). But the big realization has been Okajima. After giving up a home run on his very first pitch, he's been unstoppable since then. He's stared down the middle of the Yanks lineup how many times already? He's been a revelation. He and Timlin have given us the 2-3 innings that we need every game to get to Pap (much like Nelson and Stanton did in the Yanks glory years recently). That's been key--combine that with nobody in the bullpen really getting raked yet--Romero, Donnelley and Snyder have all been effective--and you got a seriously good bullpen.
So we move into May which is a very hard month for the Sox. May and August look brutal. So we'll see how they play this month, but there's a lot of encouraging signs. We'll see how well these guys keep up. We'll also see if Manny catches fire and what we get out of Drew. Drew started off scorching and has cooled off. I can't help to think that this has to do with Manny not being great so far and getting on base and worrying other teams pitchers. A hot Manny will help Drew. Also keep an eye on Clemens and Lester. I expect Lester will be up by the end of the month. But what will Clemens do? Does he really want to get involved in this Yanks situation? The Yanks will back up a money truck to his house I'm sure. Will he be more enamored with coming in to be the savior or will he want to be part of what is shaping up to be a possibly special team in Boston. Should be an interesting month.
dcat: You do not give me much with which to disagree. Most of what follows will augment your assessments.
I think the key to this team lies in the "fringes," which is probably an unfair word that implies something I do not mean for it to. But coming in to this season i think any Sox fan had reason to feel pretty good about the top of our lineup, about the 1-5 slots. We had lots of reason to be optimistic -- if cautiously so -- about the starting rotation. The injury concern aside, Papelbon moving back to the closer role certainly cleared up what ran the risk of being the biggest problem area. If any of these elements of the team had gone awry we would have been looking at trouble because they were presumed strengths.
But what we did not know -- and what left serious question marks for a team for which a World Series is the only serious goal -- was a host of smaller but still vital concerns. this is what i mean by "fringes." We knew the starters and Papelbon ought to be at least solid. But what about those bridge innings -- especially if one of the goals is to keep Paps from overusage? How do we get from the 6th through 8th? We have that answer and then some -- first off, who in the world could ever have imagined that we could at least make the argument that in the first month of the season our most valuable Japanese acquisition would be Okajima? And yet realistically he has been a revelation. Him coming in and being dominant has established that we have Donnelly-Timlin-Okajima with the possibility of Romero to get us to Papelbon or to keep us from having to use Paps all the time. What was easily the weakest part of the team coming out of spring training is a strength of the team, at least in part because the starters have carried their end by not giving the relief staff four innings to finish a night. Ask the Yankees how important that is.
The other big concern was the 6-9 slots in the lineup. We knew some of those guys would hit. but the key was whether we would be able to get consistent production from enough of those guys that the botton half or third of the lineup did not become a sinkhole. I think we have our answer. Lowell has gotten off to a hot start. Cora appears to have wrested the starting second base slot from Dustin Pedroia, who was a serious question mark in many of our minds, and if Varitek may be on the downside of a nice career, his demise has surely been exaggerated. Crisp and Pena have become a de facto rotation in center, and don't forget Hinske. because of the competition, the bench is a strength of the team, and even Mirabelli seems a bit revived from last year in an admittedly tiny sample size.
So yes. Much to feel good about with a serious hunk of the tough part of the schedule ahead in May. Some of the teams we are about to face in the next 31 days will fade soon enough, but for now, every single team we face in the next month believes they are a contender for a postseason slot. We know a good deal about this team after April. I expect we will know a great deal more after we run the gantlet of May.