Okay, perhaps my last post was a bit harsh.
Though the Red Sox still stubbornly occupy the basement in the AL East, they also sit only 3 games out of first place. Peter Gammons has predicted on NESN that the pennant race will really start sometime around the end of July. I was reminded in comments that we're still missing two pretty decent outfielders who will hopefully have made their way back by that time. So perhaps I was also a bit premature in my declaration that "these are your 2012 Boston Red Sox, for better and for worse."
But for every outing like Clay Buchholz's complete-game gem last night, there seems to be a historic day of reckoning for someone like Daniel Bard, whose start last week in Toronto was so awful he was demoted almost immediately from the Red Sox rotation to Pawtucket. For every game like yesterday's 7-0 laugher, there seems to be a game like Tuesday's fizzle in extras or Wednesday's exercise in frustration.
Now they head into interleague play, which will only muddy the waters further. There'll be greater potential for meaningless victory against non-division / league opponents, as well as puzzling losses due to Unknown Lefty Syndrome and the like. (I didn't really mind in the past, but I am starting to understand all the cantankerousness among veteran fans about interleague play.)
So Gammons is probably right as usual -- we won't really know what's up until Crawford and Ellsbury return, the crowded outfield gets sorted out, the rotation settles down, and the trade deadline is at least near if not already past.
In the meantime, your outlook will depend on your general disposition, because there is both good news and bad news for the Sox.
In Good News:
- Clay Buchholz seems to be righting the ship -- As Brian MacPherson notes in his excellent recent case study on Buch, "he has allowed three or fewer earned runs in four of his last five starts — a span during which he has a 3.98 ERA. It’s a far cry from the 9.09 ERA he had before that." MacPherson chalks it up to a returning feel for the changeup and the discovery, along the way, of a splitter, thanks to some tutelage by Josh Beckett, and generally that article is really worth a read if you haven't seen it already.
- Daniel Nava and Jarrod Saltalamacchia are nice to have on our team right now After a decent but not earth-shattering run with the Sox in 2010, Nava returned from Pawtucket this year a changed man. His average over 110 plate appearances (in '10 he had 188) so far has been .306 as opposed to .242, his OPS .951 vs. .711. Salty has also been stepping it up big time; this year he's hit 11 homers in 155 plate appearances, while last year he hit 16 in 386. Bleacher Report points out this puts him on a record-setting pace for a Red Sox catcher. The best thing about these two guys kicking ass is that they're not the guys who were necessarily expected to do so when the season began, but as some of the top asskickers have succumbed to injury, they've helped keep the team's head above water.
- They're over .500! .509 to be exact, but winners of 6 of their last 10 and owners of a 15-12 road record (This is supposed to be Good News, so I won't mention the home record).
In Bad News:
- Dustin Pedroia's injury When I heard about this, I almost kicked the TV into a million tiny pieces. The Sox have proven remarkably resilient against injuries to big names so far this season, but this is one player they can't afford to even have compromised, let alone out for any period of time. So Pedroia, ever the tough guy, has returned to the lineup with a brace to protect his thumb, which has a torn muscle in it. This is a guy who played in the World Series, and mashed, with a broken bone in his wrist, I'll give you that, but it's only early June, and he's already banged up in a critical area. It's unknown how it'll affect his hitting the rest of the year and in general it still makes me want to throw a tantrum. So. There's that.
- About that home record... It's 14-16, just FYI. Generally, the Red Sox are built to win at home. They count on winning at home. When they don't win at home, it's, well, bad news.
- They can't seem to hang with the rest of the East -- In 25 games so far against the rest of the division, the Sox are 11-14; a surprising 5-3 against the second-place Tampa Bay Rays, but 3-3 against Toronto, 0-2 against the Yankees, and the Orioles are really killing them, at 3-6. They're 18-14 against the rest of the league so far.
Me, as if it wasn't obvious by now, I tend toward the pessimistic side. As George Will put it, "The nice part about being a pessimist is that you are constantly being either proven right or pleasantly surprised." I'm not expecting miracles from Carl Crawford, who's just beginning to throw again, and I just plain don't know what we can expect from the ever-delicate Mr. Ellsbury upon his return. Daisuke pitches tomorrow, and I'm not sure if that's a good thing. The bullpen has done a remarkable job so far, but will they regress to the mean? And I'm sorry, but I just don't trust Bobby V. Guy's always smirking. Even when there's nothing to smirk about. Gives me the creeps.
Anyway, what do YOU think?