So, April is finally (mercifully) done. Overall, it was a disappointing month that started with 100-win potential and aspirations of a world championship and ended with an 11-14 record, including four losses in the last five games to the Orioles and Mariners.
In between Opening Day in Texas and last night’s frustration on offense, there was a six-game losing streak to start the season and an extraordinary string of performances by the starting pitchers that brought the team to within a game of .500 before the end-of-month struggles against two of the league’s weak sisters.
On May Day, we hope the next five months will improve significantly. For now, here is how I grade the Red Sox roster on its April performance:
The Starting Rotation
Josh Beckett: B+
He started the month with a so-so outing in Cleveland and ended it with a disappointing effort in Baltimore (in which he surrendered a pair of home runs), but the three outings in between were brilliant (23 IP, 3 ER, 8 H, 5 BB, 24K) and reminded Red Sox Nation just how good he can be when he is “on." The question is which Josh Beckett will show up in May—the guy who shut down the Yankees, Blue Jays and Angels, or the one who lost to the Indians and Orioles?
Clay Buchholz: D
In spring training, I predicted that Buchholz would have difficulty repeating last year’s performance… alas, even I expected he would be better than this to start the 2011 campaign. He surrendered fewer than three runs in an outing only once in five starts, and even then he allowed 10 base runners (6 H and 4 BB) in just 5.1 IP in a 5-3 win in Oakland. His struggles stem from control—both in/out of the strikezone and within the strike zone. He has walked 16 batters in 27 IP, and opposing batters are hitting .312 against him (34 H) with a .950 OPS (seven doubles and six HR in 109 AB).
John Lackey: C
Lackey’s numbers (2-3, 5.65) are deceiving. After an especially brutal start to the season, he has been outstanding in his last three starts. He surrendered 15 earned runs on 17 hits in 8.2 IP against Texas and NY, but in the three starts since then he has been just about what he was advertised to be when the Red Sox signed him as a free agent—in spite of his 1-2 record in those games (20 IP, 3 ER, 17 H, 6 BB, 12 K). It’s not his fault the Red Sox have been shut out in the two losses.
Jon Lester: A
With Lester, you always worry about how he’ll perform in April, which has been the second-worst month of his career (August being first), but not this year—he flourished this April with a 3-1 record and a 2.52 ERA. After allowing five earned runs in 5.1 IP in a horrible outing in Texas on Opening Day, he allowed a total of six earned runs in the five starts since—with 35 K in 34 IP.
Daisuke Matsuzaka: B
Dice-K allowed more than three earned runs in just one of his five starts in April—a disastrous performance against the Tampa Bay Rays at Fenway Park (2 IP, 7 ER). Since that start, he has allowed a total of one earned run in 19 IP (two wins and one abbreviated no-decision in his last outing). He was pulled from his outing on Friday night after four innings with a sore elbow; after the month he had, we can only pray it is nothing serious.
Alfredo Aceves: Incomplete
Aceves was with the team at the start of the month before being sent to Pawtucket to join the PawSox rotation as insurance for the starting rotation. Though he was with the Red Sox for only three weeks, Aceves showed why the front office signed him during the offseason. In six outings, he held the opposition scoreless five times and compiled a 2.25 ERA—allowing just five hits in eight innings pitched. He gets an incomplete because his ultimate destination seems to be the rotation—if and when the Red Sox have a need for his services.
Matt Albers: Incomplete
Albers gets an incomplete because he missed some time with an injury and made only five appearances in April, but the early returns are pretty good—five games, six innings, one earned run, three hits, four walks and five strikeouts.
Daniel Bard: B
His 0-3 record is as misleading as an 0-3 record gets. He was awful on Opening Day, but he was also just a hair away from avoiding disaster when David Murphy dumped a fastball down the left field line that hit on the outside of the foul line, helping to lead to an unfortunate four-run eighth inning.
Otherwise, he has allowed a total of two runs—one earned—in 11 outings. It’s just that the Sox have lost all three games in which he has allowed a run, and he’s been the losing pitcher in each of those contests. Think about it—he caught the loss in a game in which he didn’t allow a hit, and a loss in another game in which he allowed an unearned run. In his other nine outings, he has allowed just four hits, issued one walk and styruck out ten batters in 9.2 IP. That’s just unlucky.
Bobby Jenks: F
I hate to say it, but maybe Ozzie Guillen was on to something? Either that, or there really is something to the theory that closers are unable to perform unless the game is on the line in the ninth inning. If Jenks weren’t a former top-end closer, he would already have lost his job. He started the month smartly, stringing together a quartet of hitless, scoreless one-inning outings. Since then, he has been horrible—“earning” two losses and allowing runs in four of six outings. In those six games, he has allowed eight earned runs on 12 hits in just 4.1 IP.
Hideki Okajima: Incomplete
He started the year with Pawtucket while the Sox pursued the failed Dennys Reyes experiment. When he was promoted to Boston, he was overcome by nerves in his first game (3 ER in .2 IP) but has not allowed a hit in three subsequent games (3 IP, 2 BB). It is possible he may have discovered his old self; if so, that would be pretty darned good.
Jonathan Papelbon: A
Speaking of guys who may have found themselves, Pappy has been extraordinary in the first half of the season. He has allowed two meaningless runs (both earned) in nine outings thus far—one in which the club was losing by three runs in the eighth inning and the other on a game they led by three runs in the ninth inning (a game in which he recorded the save).
In his other seven games, he has surrendered three hits and issued one walk while striking out eight in seven innings. His strikeout rate on May 1st is 11.6 – and if he were to finish the season at that rate it would be the second-best K-rate of his career. Five save opps, five saves. What more can anyone ask of him? That said, this will still be his last season in a Boston uniform.
Dennys Reyes: F
Is there a grade lower than “F” that I can assign? Truth be told, he didn’t get much of a chance to show what he could do (just 1.2 IP in four games), but he was not very good in his brief tenure, so it was best to turn the page.
Dan Wheeler: B
Another guy who, while his numbers are ugly, has been better than the stats would suggest. He allowed runs in three of his first four outings as a member of the Red Sox bullpen, but he has held the opposition scoreless in four of his last five appearances (5.1 IP, 1 ER, 2 H, 0 BB, 6 K) and is starting to show The Nation the reasons he will be an invaluable sign as the dog days of summer are upon us.
Tim Wakefield: B
As with a couple of his teammates, his numbers look bleak because of one especially bad performance. Aside from allowing five runs (four earned) in a blowout loss to Tampa Bay on April 11, he has actually been pretty good in an undefined role (8 IP, 3 ER, 3 H, 1 BB in the other six games).
Mike Cameron: C-
His grade was a “D” until his two-homer performance the other night reminded all of us why he holds a place on this roster. Manager Terry Francona has not used him to his highest and best usefulness. We were told in spring training that he would get a lot of ABs against left-handed pitching, yet he got just 27 AB in the entire month—this in spite of the fact that Carl Crawford has struggled (.155 BA) and JD Drew has hit just .217 against left-handed starting pitchers—inconceivable in consideration of the fact he has an .856 OPS against righties over his career.
Carl Crawford: F
Who would have thought a guy as talented as CC would ever get through a month hitting .155—but he did. That said, it can only get better, right? He entered the season with a career .296 batting average, 105 HR and 409 SB in nine seasons. I still believe that when all is said and done, he will finish the year hitting .280+, with 8-10 HR and 40 SB +/-. When he breaks out of it, he will almost certainly break out of it with a vengeance. But at this point, he is one of the major reasons the offense has struggled thus far.
J D Drew: C-
If Cameron gets a C-, then Drew gets a C-. While he is hitting .269, he has just one home run and five ribbies and 18 strikeouts in 67 AB (79 PA). It seems likely he’ll prove the old saw that the trouble with big-money contracts comes in the last year or two of a deal, not the first several seasons. Thank goodness this is the last year of his five-year, $70 million contract—next year we will get to enjoy Ryan Kalish (or maybe Josh Reddick) in right field.
Jacoby Ellsbury: B
He hasn’t been especially good, nor has he been especially bad. He has shown more power than would be anticipated (4 HR) but also produced fewer stolen bases (6) than expected. In addition, he continues to reach base at a lower rate than is desirable (.337 OBP), and that has resulted in his frequently being relegated to the lower third of the batting order. While he hasn’t been the solution to the club’s offensive woes, he certainly hasn’t been the cause, either.
Adrian Gonzalez: B+
Do you remember when everyone at your fantasy auction expected he would hit 45+ home runs and bid his salary up into the $35-$40 range? Do you remember when the one guy picked him second in your fantasy draft and said he’ll be the league MVP? Do you remember when I warned all of you to lower your expectations for 2011 because it would be at least two months before his surgically-repaired shoulder would be strong enough to produce the kind of power everyone expects he will eventually provide? Well, he has just one home run in 105 AB thus far. Still, he is hitting .314 with 15 RBI. It will get better—much better—but not until mid-June or July.
Jed Lowrie: A
He might even deserve an A+. I mean, what more could he have done in a part-time role? He hit .368 for the month, finished third on the team in home runs (3) and fourth in runs batted in (12) — all in just 68 AB. He can play all of the infield positions in the field and also serve as your DH. He has even inspired addle-minded pundits to speculate whether he makes Kevin Youkilis expendable in a trade (I told you the guy is addle-minded!)
Darnell McDonald: Incomplete
The fifth outfielder can’t accrue many ABs on any team, let alone one that has designs on a world championship. The fact that he has hit .115 in the limited chances he has had almost bought him an “F”, but I’ll give him a little latitude for now.
David Ortiz: B
April of 2011 was much better than April of 2010, but it still wasn’t especially good. He hit .267 but showed a deplorable lack of power and production (2 HR, 11 RBI) throughout a month when the club desperately needed some power and production. He hit homers in each of his first two games of the year and has not homered since. He drew 15 walks in 102 PA. Most promising, he hit .379 against southpaws (thanks in large part to an enormous amount of film work in which he came to understand that he was getting himself out, more often than not). Based on his 2009 and 2010 campaigns, you have to think that he is just about to get untracked.
Dustin Pedroia: C+
I hate giving Pedey a “C+”, but his performance thus far certainly doesn’t warrant anything higher. You have to wonder whether the broken foot (or time missed because of it) is having any lingering impact on his productivity. He is hitting just .255, and more troubling has been the lack of power (2 HR) and inability to get the big hit (8 RBI). The hitting skills are still there (as is apparent from his 18 BB in 118 PA), but he is paid to produce runs—and up until now he really hasn’t done that. He has been outstanding in the field, as you would expect (the fourth-best UZR/150 as a second baseman in all of baseball).
Jarrod Saltalamacchia: D
There were a lot of misgivings across Red Sox Nation when the team announced it was handing Salty the starting role on this club. We had a glimmer of hope during spring training when it looked like he might actually be able to hit his weight, but those hopes now appear to have been fleeting. He was once such a highly-regarded prospect that he was the centerpiece of the Mark Teixeira trade. Now he seems a shell of his former self. His story underscores why the Red Sox were right to trade for Adrian Gonzalez—because prospects are just prospects until they prove they can produce in the big leagues.
Marco Scutaro: D
Scutaor’s stats look remarkably similar to Saltalamacchia’s stats, except for the strikeouts. ‘Nuff said.
Jason Varitek: F
If the Red Sox had a catcher worth his salt, the team captain would be getting NO playing time. He hit just .111 in April, with one RBI and 13 K in 36 AB—even Salty’s batting average is more than twice as high!
Kevin Youkilis: C-
Yes, he has five HR and 15 RBI, but he is also carrying a .218 batting average at the end of the first month. He hit just .185 with nine K in 27 AB with runners in scoring position. He is as responsible for the team’s offensive struggles as anyone else on the roster, Crawford included. Once again, ‘Nuff said.