Tuesday, July 8, 2008

2008 Red Sox at the halfway point

We’re almost at the All-Star break. We now have an excellent sense of who the 2008 Red Sox are and what their prospects for September/October may be. I’m not all that worried about Manny Ramirez, Coco Crisp (aren’t you glad he didn’t get unloaded?), Youk or Rookie of the Year candidate Jacoby Ellsbury. They’ll all be fine. However, there are some players that need to be looked at carefully.

JD Drew: This is the guy we vastly overpaid for a year and a half ago. His torrid June (.331, 12 HR, 29 RBI) was critical in large part because he filled the gaping hole in the lineup created by David Ortiz’s presence on the DL.

Mike Lowell: Day in and day out, he is a pro’s pro. Great offense, and the best defensive 3B you’ve ever seen. I can say that last sentence with confidence because of the following stat: Did you know that Mike Lowell has the best lifetime fielding percentage of any 3B in the history of Major League Baseball? It’s true. Better than Brooks Robinson. Better than anyone. Mike Lowell.

Dustin Pedroia: No sophomore slump. The kid is hitting for more power, and still playing as good a defensive 2B as anyone in the business. Barring injuries, you can pencil this 5 foot nothing, 170 pound sparkplug into the lineup for the next 10 years.

The starting rotation: Jon Lester: A no-hitter is just the most glittering highlight of his 7-3, 3.21 (8th best in the league) first half. Josh Beckett has a 5:1 strikeout to walk ratio. Dice K may have had some shaky games (I was in attendance when the Cardinals lit him up for 7 runs in 1 2/3 IP), but he’s still 9-1 with a 2.84 ERA. When he's on, as he was against the Twins this week, he's damn impressive. Tim Wakefield has been by far the most consistent starter, and still eats innings like no other.

No David Ortiz. First, a paralyzing slump, then a torn tendon sheath in his wrist. His loss to the lineup and the clubhouse can’t be quantified.

Jason Varitek’s offense: I say this with great trepidation, as there is no other catcher in recent memory with Captain ‘Tek’s work ethic, study habits or knowledge of his own staff and the entire league he faces on a daily basis. Still, though, he’s become an offensive black hole. If the bottom of the order weren’t such an atrocious sea anchor (see Julio Lugo), #33’s lack of average and on base percentage would be totally forgiveable.

Julio Lugo: Julio Lugo has no redeeming qualities whatsoever. He’s worse defensively than anyone in recent memory (ok, Edgar Renteria was pretty bad in the year he was here, but I’d posit that Lugo’s worse). In contrast with Renteria, Lugo is utterly worthless at the plate. He has no power and a terrible sense of plate coverage. He can’t move runners along, much less knock them in. And worse, yet, he’s not easily tradeable, since everyone in organized baseball knows he sucks, and he’s got a 4-year, $36 million contract which nobody in their right mind would want to take on. Lugo stands as one of Theo Epstein’s unmitigated failures, joining Byun Hyun Kim, Jeremy Giambi and Tony Clark. Why, in the name of Rick Burleson, did we walk away from Alex Gonzalez for this stiff? Bad doesn’t even begin to describe this loser.

The bullpen: All the above weaknesses can be overcome (though I’d rather dump Lugo and install Jed Lowrie right now). The fatal flaw in this roster is the gap between the starters and Jonathan Papelbon. Javier Lopez is meat. He should be released, or traded for a bucket of baseballs. Manny Delcarmen is talented, but badly inconsistent. Craig Hansen is getting there, but he’s not The Man yet. Mike Timlin’s gas tank is running low, and numerous injuries are making the inevitable transition to his retirement look like a matter of sooner rather than later. The real head scratcher is Hideki Okajima. This is very clearly not the same guy that was damn near automatic in 2007, and some of his appearances, particularly when looking at inherited runner situations, are dreadful. They need help here. Whether it’s new blood like Brian Fuentes or a new and improved reliever version of Justin Masterson, once Clay Buchholz returns to the rotation, something has to be done, and soon. The bullpen is hemorrhaging games in damn near every series. This has to stop asap if there’s going to continue to be hope of another Red October.

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