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The Baseball Notebook


June 16, 2010 2:02 PM

Boston Battles Back

My apologies to Notebook readers for the brief delay in posting. I was traveling and didn't have the Internet access I anticipated. The next two days we'll get down to business by looking at the two teams the Notebook picked for the World Series, but would be out of the playoffs if the season ended today--Boston & Philadelphia. We'll also look at the All-Star races at third base. Today's focus will be the Red Sox and the AL hot corner.

After a terrible start that threatened Boston with a quick burial, the Red Sox have steadily righted the ship. Though they have the twin powers of baseball, Tampa and New York, setting the pace in the AL East, Terry Francona's club is 38-28 and within striking distance at four games. This has been a direct result of key offensive players finding their equilibrium. David Ortiz and Victor Martinez are hitting the ball and have pulled their numbers up, each slugging over .500. They are part of a Big Five that hit for power and get on base at very high rates. It may surprise observers to learn that Dustin Pedroia isn't in that group, though his offense is hardly poor. But when you look at the production given by Kevin Youkilis, Adrian Beltre and J.D. Drew, along with the aforementioned two hitters, Pedroia is definitely the sixth-best offensive threat. Which shows the depth of this lineup. An oft-commented irony is that the offense was supposed to be the weak point in the new run prevention era of Boston baseball, but that has hardly been the case. The Red Sox keep ringing up the runs, even with Jacoby Ellsbury still out.

The problems with the Boston pitching staff have been as oft-commented as the surprising strength of the offense. And it is no exaggeration. Josh Beckett was awful before going on the DL. John Lackey has struggled to get in rhythm and still sits on a 4.54 ERA. Only Jon Lester and Clay Bucholz have pitched well, with Bucholz having already won nine games and sporting a dazzling 2.67 ERA, considering where he pitches and who he pitches against. The bullpen has its strengths--Daniel Bard and Manny Delcarmen are doing well in setup and Jonathan Papelbon has closed 14 of 15 chances. But Ramon Ramirez and Hideki Okajima have been disappointing, while Papelbon's ERA is high--at least for him--at 2.77.

Overall though, the Red Sox have little to complain about. Despite a poor start, they're in thick of it and they have plenty of reasons to hope things will get better--from healthy returns by Beckett & Ellsbury to improvement by Lackey. For those of us who either root for them or picked them to win it all (or both, as is the case here), there's reason to be nervous, but no reason to back down.

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Third base in the American League is also a position dominated by the trio of AL East powers. And like the playoff race, it's marked by a surge coming out of Boston to join the contenders in the Bronx and in Tropicana. Adrian Beltre is dialed in and is posting superior numbers to Alex Rodriguez in both OBP and slugging. But Evan Longoria is superior to both, and as such merits the Notebook vote. I would also be gravely remiss if we did not point out the work of Texas' Michael Young, who is virtually dead even with A-Rod in production and the career body of work he's produced suggests he'll outpace Beltre before it's all over. Young has long been one of the underappreciated players in the league, at least apart from baseball junkies and with his team possibly headed for October, it could be the year he gets his due on the broader stage.

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