Considering the Red Sox opening schedule, the quality of their opponents, the asinine travel schedule (Tokyo, Oakland, and Toronto before ever playing at Fenway), and the shortened spring schedule, I opined before the season that if the Sox played .500 ball in April, that would be a success. After twenty games, the Sox are 13-7, having won 8 of the last 9.
Granted, the Tigers, Indians, and Yankees are not off to sizzling starts, but still, winning 7 of 10 against them certainly is admirable. When the Red Sox got swept in Toronto, they looked horrible. They looked like a team that had been traveling for three weeks in three different countries—jetlagged, disordered, and lethargic. Since then, they have managed to right the ship and have not lost a series. Moreover, they have done so without Mike Lowell and Curt Schilling, or much from David Ortiz and Josh Beckett.
The main reason the Sox are afloat right now is hitting, and timely hitting at that. Against Cleveland and Texas especially, the late-inning heroics kept piling up for these Sox, making them eerily familiar to the past clubs that have captured the hearts of the fans. Yesterday’s 6-5 win after being down 5-0 in the 7th, and 5-2 with four outs to go, is a page out of the book of last year’s championship team, prompting memories of the Mother’s Day Miracle.
Of the regulars, Kevin Youkilis, Sean Casey, Manny Ramirez, Dustin Pedroia, Coco Crisp, and JD Drew are hitting better than .315. Jed Lowrie is 5-for-12 and Alex Cora is 3-for-3. Julio Lugo and Jason Varitek are doing okay with .260+ averages. Certainly all of them are capable of maintaining those numbers, and once David Ortiz comes around (which he is showing signs of doing; .417 average the last three games, with 8 RBI), the offense will be potent all season.
On the mound, the short spring training took its toll early, but the arms are starting to come around. Lester’s last two starts have shown marked improvement. Daisuke has been excellent since the first few innings in Tokyo, Wakefield has been typically quietly effective, and Beckett is still rounding into form.
In the bullpen, Papelbon is 7-for-7 in save opportunities and, better yet, has been making many of them look easy, not the grueling 25-pitch innings that we saw last year. Timlin has recovered from an atrocious start to pitch effectively the last few outings. Okajima has a 0.00 ERA after eight appearances, Lopez has been okay, and Delcarmen is cementing himself as a very good middle reliever (1.14 WHIP). The biggest surprise might be David Aardsma, who has a 1.64 ERA after 11 innings pitched.
Lastly, it would be foolish to overlook Terry Francona. He continues to keep a calm, focused presence in a clubhouse that is in the midst of the (arguably) craziest fanbase and media in the majors. It can not be underestimated how important it is to have so little drama. The Frank Thomas fiasco in Toronto is an example of how easily situations can become unraveled, and yet you hear virtually nothing in Beantown about David Ortiz’s struggles or any feud between Crisp and Ellsbury. He has even managed to work Joe Thurston into the lineup and still win ballgames, despite injuries to Schilling, Beckett, Lowell, and Cora.
Most importantly, ever since the Craig Hansen debacle, Francona and management have done an extremely good job at grooming and protecting young pitchers. Right now, Buchholz, Lester, Delcarmen, and Papelbon are looking better than any other cadre of young pitchers, including the Yankees’, and without constant hype and worry over every start. Over a marathon season, having Francona and his two rings managing the dugout, and having a veteran club with little turnover from last season, should propel the Sox to another AL East crown.