In every major league spring training season, a time when hope springs eternal, there are inevitable twisting and turning stories of inspiration, perspiration, reclamation and consternation. The Red Sox have had no shortage of the good, the bad and the ugly as they turn the corner toward the stretch run in the final two weeks before opening in the Bronx on April 1.
Two Heads Are Better Than One, Just Not In These Cases
Alfredo Aceves and Stephen Drew have had problems with their heads this spring but for very different reasons. Alfredo Aceves continued his long, strange trip yesterday by drilling Tampa Bay Rays second baseman Sean Rodriguez after he’d previously tagged him for a single and homer. Logic would dictate that it wasn’t intentional. Boston was up 3-2 in the fifth inning. Still, after becoming a Tyson Gillies punching bag during a World Baseball Classic brawl last week and getting the attention of both Sox manager John Farrell and pitching coach Juan Nieves during a bizarre first day of batting practice in February, all bets are off when it comes his stability.
Drew’s head issue is physical and presents Boston with the same questions they’re asking about David Ortiz. Drew was hit in the head on March 7 and has been suffering concussion symptoms ever since. He said yesterday that things still felt “wavy” and it now looks like he won’t ready for opening day. The curse of Boston’s revolving door at shortstop continues. Jose Iglesias and Pedro Ciriaco are the two most likely to players to see action in Drew’s absence. In my opinion, Ciriaco should get the lion’s share of the starts with Iglesias as a late inning defensive substitution. Iglesias continues to fuel the fire of critics that say he can’t hit. Farrell has given him the opportunity to prove he can make it at the major league level but his anemic slash line of .220/.256/.439/.695 when compared with Ciriaco’s line of .333/.323/.400/.723 puts him back in the hole that he’s been trying to get out of for the last two years.
Pitching, Pitching, Pitching
The single biggest turnaround with the 2013 Red Sox in stark contrast two the previous two years is their starting pitching. As BSI writers Earl Nash and Aidan Flynn have recently pointed out, it is dangerous to put much stock in spring training statistics. In aggregate, however, Boston’s pitching staff has pitched well enough to compete, which is a damn sight better than they’ve been in quite some time. They haven’t given up big innings and lately have stiffened more as the offense has rounded out and put up runs. Over the past week, while winning six of seven games (1 tie), the Red Sox have outscored their opponents 47-22.
Jon Lester is better and has been pitching like an ace – 3-0, 0.90 ERA, 0.50 ERA over 20 innings pitched. Clay Buccholz is better – 2-0, 0.00 ERA, 0.96 WHIP. John Lackey has a healthy arm, is fit and trim and, yes, better. Lackey’s stats don’t necessarily bear that out – 2-0, 8.10 ERA and a 1.65 WHIP – but he’s only pitched 8 innings. He has bent and not broken and has not been hit hard in any outing.
Upstarts and Vets, Start Your Engines
The emergence of Jackie Bradley – second only in spring training at bats to Iglesias and Brock Holt - has impressed Sox management and fans. He’s been solid in the field and has an offensive slash line of .444/.556/.583/1.139. He’ll likely go back down to the minors but will be one of the big club’s first options for a quick call up.
Veterans Dustin Pedroia (.294 BA and .976 OPS), Jarrod Saltalamacchia (.384/1.141) and Mike Napoli (.348/.1.052) have enjoyed productive springs at the plate and by and large, with the exceptional Salty sore back, have been healthy.
Intangible Chemistry Nets Tangible Results
From mid-season 2011 through the end of 2012 Red Sox team chemistry was a disaster. Covert wars, open backbiting and managerial malaise doomed the team’s best efforts. This club, at ease with their new manager and bolstered by the addition of solid clubhouse veterans like Jonny Gomes, Shane Victorino and Napoli, have been playing loose and easy. As a result, Boston is quietly playing near .600 baseball this spring.
As many would agree, strong spring training stats don’t guarantee regular season success. Pitching depth, new faces and a readjusted attitude are, however, causing the team to trend up. They have an opportunity in the next two weeks to finish strong and hit April 1 on a high note. If the Red Sox can negotiate the murky and unpredictable health, injury and player personnel waters 2013 could be appreciably different even in the face of an overall upgrade to the American League East.
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