Now Playing, The Boston Red Averages

This post first appeared on BaseballDigest.com

Sometimes, when baseball articles that are written in Spanish are translated to English, the Boston Red Sox become the Boston Red Averages. This is due to “Medias” in Medias Rojos having multiple meanings. In addition to meaning “socks”, it’s also “median”, as in statistics.

Keeping with double meanings, I’m referring to the Boston Red Averages as a team that’s lacking special distinction. A team playing rather ordinary baseball that has them sitting near the bottom of the American League East standings.

With 40 or so games of the 2010 baseball season completed, the Boston Red Sox have positioned themselves into a hole and could possibly wind up with a very long season being the mediocre disappointment that the season has been to this point.

There are a number of factors that have contributed to the Red Sox 20-20 record on the season.

How About That Offense?

Throughout the off-season, when the Red Sox acquired John Lackey, Mike Cameron and Adrian Beltre, the constant stream of discussion surrounding the Red Sox focused on pitching and defense while acknowledging the perceived drop in offensive power from the lineup with someone like Jason Bay no longer in the heart of it. For the record, this writer said back in early March that the Red Sox offense would show up in 2010.

With the Red Sox stumbling around .500, a lot of fuss has been made that the pitching and defense plan has crippled their postseason dreams before they could even be considered. The problem with this stance, is that despite the pitching and defense focus, their offense has not been nearly as quiet as some doomsayers had envisioned. At least not yet.

Entering last night, the Red Sox rank among the top five in the American League for batting average, on-base percentage, slugging, and OPS. They have the most hits in the AL, and have hit more home runs than any team aside the Toronto Blue Jays. A lot of this can be attributed to the hot bats of the emergency reserves that arrived with the loss of Jacoby Ellsbury and Mike Cameron. They will not likely stay hot, which leads us to the next big question for the team that hovers around .500.

So, What About That Pitching Plan?

To say the Red Sox pitching staff has hit a few bumps along the road this season would be an understatement. Through 41 games, the starting rotation has just two starters with sub-4.00 ERAs. Josh Beckett, who landed on the Disabled List this week, and Daisuke Matsuzaka, fresh off the Disabled List, both have season ERAs north of 7.00.

More concerning than the starting rotation is the musical chairs that make up the relief corp. There have already been changes with the shifting of the Scotts, Atchison at the end of April and yesterday with Schoeneweis.

On the surface, Manny Delcarmen and Daniel Bard appear to dominate the opposition with their miniscule ERAs that hover around 2.25. However, both pitchers have struggled mightily to keep inherited runners from scoring. Between the two, they have allowed 10 of 23 inherited runners to score, good for over 40%. By comparison, the league average for allowing IR to score is 30%. With the changes made so far, the team has already begun to lower the number of runs they’ve allowed by relievers. Delcarmen and Bard have shown in previous seasons an ability shut down an offense and kill a rally, and if the Red Sox have a chance to succeed this season these two players will need to revert to their career norms when it comes to holding runners.

An alarming concern at the anchor of the bullpen is Jonathan Papelbon. A quarter of the way into 2010, the Sox closer has already allowed more than half the number of earned runs allowed in all of 2009, while his strikeouts per nine innings and strikeout to walks ratios have plummeted. In short, all of the wrong numbers have risen for Papelbon since the 2008 season. Without a bonafide closer like Papelbon of yore, the 2010 season will undoubtedly remain stagant.

The assumption here, and it’s not a safe bet since the season this far has gone against conventional wisdom, is Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, and eventually Josh Beckett will continue an upward trend and begin to right the ship of 2010. The development of Daniel Bard and the bullpen corp in general will have a lot to say in whether this season is turned around. With recent moves made, it appears the team is willing to make changes to improve the ‘pen.

Where’s That Defense?

During the off-season, a great deal of focus was put on the acquisitions of Adrian Beltre and Mike Cameron, and how they were going to shore up the Red Sox defense. With Cameron in centerfied and Ellsbury in left, the Red Sox would be covering a greater area than previously with Ellsbury in center. The fans of the newfangled sabermetrics raved about the potential of the Red Sox defense.

Since then, Beltre has come as advertised aside from a few games that featured bad cases of the yips. However, the Red Sox outfield of Ellsbury, Cameron and J.D. Drew lasted just 6 games before Ellsbury went down with injury, and only 11 games featured Mike Cameron.

If there is any glaring hole that one might infer the Red Sox didn’t consider and has made itself widely known, it’s the backup plan for the unexpected loss of both Ellsbury and Cameron. While respectable at the plate, Darnell McDonald, Jeremy Hermida and Bill Hall handcuff the Red Sox as defensive replacements over an extended amount of time. Whether it’s the fault of the fielder or the shifts put on by the coaches, it’s not really clear, but there is without a doubt a noticeable difference between Mike Cameron and Jacoby Ellsbury in the outfield compared to the men who have filled in.

The lingering concern is what happens when Cameron and Ellsbury return? If the players don’t return at full health, will the subsequent defensive questions remain? If there is hope for a strong push in the remaining 121 games, the Red Sox will need these questions answered.

A Few Bright Spots

To start the season David Ortiz hit .185 in April, with just one home run to go along with 21 strikeouts. Entering late May, Big Papi has emerged from his early season slump in a big way. In his last 19 games, Ortiz is hitting .309 with 8 home runs. In his last 6 games spanning 24 at bats, he is hitting .417 with 4 homers while slugging a robust .917. Ortiz may play a huge role in turning the season around.

After an April that saw his earned run average push near 7.00, Ramon Ramirez has quietly made adjustments. In 6 appearances in May, Ramirez has allowed just one run over 5.1 innings while striking out 11.

Where Do They Go From Here?

For all the doomsayers who have written off the Red Sox season as a bust, it’s worth noting that 121 games is a great amount of time to adjust a roster as eeded and string together a few winning streaks. However, the wins must begin piling up soon if they don’t want to find themselves in a giant hole a month from now.

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