An entire lineup could be assembled out of members of the Boston Red Sox who have struggled with either injuries or inconsistency in 2009. Such problems could derail a season for many major league teams, yet the Red Sox just continue to win games.
They currently sit at 20-12, second in the American League east behind the surprising Toronto Blue Jays. And that record is a testament to the Red Sox’s excellent combination of depth and resilience.
All-star infielders Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia have dealt with injuries since the middle of the World Baseball Classic, most recently Pedroia’s strained groin Sunday night. Shortstop Jed Lowrie will be out until at least June with a wrist injury.
Daisuke Matsuzaka will rejoin the team very soon, but landed on the disabled list with arm fatigue after pitching Japan to a championship in the WBC.
Outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Rocco Baldelli have also spent time out of the lineup for various injuries. And it should only be a matter of time before J.D. Drew suffers some sort of injury himself.
In addition to injuries, the Red Sox have also dealt with inconsistency in their rotation. Going into the season, the rotation was considered one of their strengths, and one of the best in baseball. But through Sunday, Tim Wakefield remains the only Red Sox starter with an ERA under 5.00 (2.93).
Combined, Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Matsuzaka, Brad Penny and fill-in Justin Masterson have a 10-9 record with a 6.54 ERA.
So how do the Red Sox keep winning games despite being ravaged by injuries and getting a Jekyll & Hyde act out of almost the entire rotation? The saving grace thus far has been the outstanding relief work from the pitching staff.
Jonathan Papelbon, Ramon Ramirez, Manny Delcarmen, and Hideki Okajima have combined to allow just ten earned runs in 63 innings, a 1.43 ERA. The only Red Sox reliever to take the loss in a game this season is Javier Lopez, who is 0-2.
The great work of the bullpen cannot be ignored, but neither can the offensive production the Red Sox have gotten from guys who have had to pick up the slack. Jason Bay has been one of the league’s most productive hitters, with a .324 average and 34 RBI in 32 games.
He has also made a natural transition to the cleanup spot while Youkilis has been out, and most recently hit a double Sunday night to drive home the eventual game-winning run.
If David Ortiz can’t solve his current power outage (zero, I repeat zero, home runs through 116 at-bats), he may need to move down from the third spot in the order. If I were in charge, I’d put Youkilis in the 3-hole and keep Bay batting cleanup.
But Big Papi’s reputation will keep him in that spot for as long as he needs to hit his first home run of the season…Whenever that is.
Despite Bay’s scorching start, also not to be ignored is Mike Lowell, who has played tremendously coming off hip surgery. Thought to be a question mark in the Red Sox lineup entering the season, Lowell is batting .312 with six home runs and 28 RBI in 31 games.
What remains to be seen is whether Lowell can maintain this kind of production. The power is unlikely, but he proved a lot of people wrong in 2007 by maintaining a strong batting average and RBI total throughout the season. They are especially going to need his production if and when Ortiz and Drew go down with injuries, or simply can’t hit (like right now).
For the Red Sox, first order of business is to get Pedroia healthy again. The last thing they need is to miss the defending AL MVP for an extended period of time. The injury is only a strain, so a DL stint is unlikely at this point.
But being without both him and Youkilis in the lineup puts the Red Sox at an immediate disadvantage, as they stand to face some strong pitching on this week’s west coast road trip. Jered Weaver and Joe Saunders await in Anaheim, and the rejuvenated Erik Bedard will go Saturday in Seattle.
Perhaps the most important part about this Red Sox team is that manager Terry Francona is not letting them make any excuses. Baseball is a marathon, not a sprint, injuries are part of the game, only wins and losses matter, etc. One can roll out several cliches in this situation. Francona is making sure all of them remain in the Red Sox vernacular.
“We’re a little beat up, that’s for sure,” Francona told Ian Browne of RedSox.com. “I think we’d rather win and be beat up then lose and be beat up.”
Francona is absolutely right. Forgive me for recycling a cliche, but in the end, all that matters is wins and losses. And if the Red Sox can win with make-shift lineups, an entire rotation with ERAs above 5.00 and a growing list of injuries, then something is being done right in Boston.