Red Sox Monthly Review: An April to Forget

Sidelined by elbow tightness, Matsuzaka is a question mark once again (Krupa/ AP)

This is simply not going according to my plan.  I thought I was pretty clear in terms of what needed to happen against the Orioles and Mariners, but instead of following that blueprint, the Red Sox dropped two of three in each of the series.  Was I not clear when I said that the team needed to win four of the six and get back over .500?

Apparently it was too much to ask.  The bats went silent in Camden Yards, and were practically non-existent against the Mariners at Fenway.  The team collected a grand total of 23 hits and 7 runs over the weekend; hardly the type of offensive production we expected.  And what excuse is left by this point?  It’s no longer a slow start, but something much more problematic.  I’ll get back to that in a minute.

In case you missed the Seattle series or were busy with the NFL draft, Friday’s game was a 5-4 loss in which Daisuke Matsuzaka was less-than-stellar before leaving with arm discomfort.  The team is calling it “elbow tightness” for the time being, and is withholding judgment on what might need to be done.  It’s possible that Dice-K will miss a start as he recovers.  On Friday, he left after four innings having allowed three runs (one earned) on three hits and four walks.  It was a more typical performance than what we had seen in his previous two starts; those fifteen scoreless innings still feel like an aberration to me.

Boston scored four runs off of Seattle’s Jason Vargas, and did have a lead for much of the game.  But Bobby Jenks took care of that, allowing a pair of seveth-inning runs.

Wakefield rescued the Seattle series, and earned 30,000+ salutes in return (Dwyer/ AP)

On Saturday, Doug Fister was Mr. Lucky for the M’s.  Despite putting ten men on base (five hits, five walks), he departed after 5.2 scoreless innings.  John Lackey pitched fairly well but alos put too many runners on; two earned runs in six innings with seven hits, four walks, and three Ks.  It was a game of wasted opportunities for both sides, but Seattle managed to convert just enough to win 2-0.  More on this in a moment.

And so the series’ lone win for Boston came on Sunday against Felix Hernandez.  The one game I expected to lose ended up preventing the sweep.  Tim Wakefield made a spot start and was quite effective.  The ageless knuckler allowed three hits, one walk, and one run in 5.2 innings.  King Felix was dominant, giving up a pair of runs in seven innings while striking out ten.  But the Sox rallied in the final frame and pushed a run across for the 3-2 win.

I picked on Wakefield earlier this year, and have said several times that he’s longer a viable or reliable option in the rotation.  But he proved me wrong one more time.  And I’m glad he did.

Still, four more losses this week pushed the Sox to 12-15 overall and only 6-6 at Fenway.

*****

Let me get back to the issue of stranded runners.  Boston currently ranks dead last in the A.L. and second-worst in all of baseball in terms of runners left on base (LOB).  The team is averaging 7.70 stranded runners per game, and that increases to 8.42 at home.  It’s atrocious.  Call it bad luck if you want to, but the Sox are failing to capitalize when they have men on base.  It’s that simple.  And if it continues, then there will be no comeback this season.

Along with the early-season starting pitching woes, this lack of timely hitting has been Boston’s biggest problem.

Now, getting back to the season-long struggle…as I said, this is now more than a slow start.  Here are the cumulative numbers for the first month of 2011:

A slash line of .243/ .331/ .380
An OPS+ of 101 (almost exactly league average in terms of hitting production)
4.12 runs per game, good for 18th out of 30 teams
4.35 runs allowed per game, good for 17th out of 30
Team ERA of 4.16, good for 19th

I could go on, but you get the picture.  Boston hasn’t done anything particularly well.  After such lofty expectations, this reality is tough to take.

The stories of the young season? Stranded baserunners and mediocre numbers (Dwyer/ AP)

Now May has started off with a win, and perhaps the team can turn things around.  The Sox need to make April a distant memory if they want to have a prayer of making the playoffs.  The good news is that the gap in the standings has remained at five games back.  So all is not lost.

But stranding nearly eight runners per game won’t work.

I’m still concerned about the rotation.  Perhaps it’s not as bad as the first weeks suggested, but neither is it as good as the mid-month hot streak.  The truth lies somewhere in the middle, and regardless of the specifics, Boston’s arms will still need some additional bat support.

I’m willing to shake off the April showers and hope for some May flowers, but this team, once anointed as the A.L. World Series reps, now needs to thoroughly prove itself.

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