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Red Sox Living Off Depth, Versatility

How good are the Red Sox? It's a legitimate question, though not for the sentiment that maybe they aren't that good. We know that Boston is a strong team. It hits, it plays solid defense (even if the early fielding and range percentages seem to be down a touch from last year, when the team had three Gold Glove infielders). It also has a pitching rotation that, on paper, should be among the league's best.

Yet, as is so often the case, what was on the paper in the preseason hasn't come to fruition in the season itself. Josh Beckett is clearly healthier than he was last fall, but he struggles to limit damage when he briefly loses his control. Jon Lester has yet to look like his 2008 incarnation, showing more shades of his 2007 struggles with pitch count and location than his no-hit efficiency of last year. Add in Brad Penny's one-man rollercoaster ride -- he looks like a longtime ace one night then struggles to get through four innings the next -- and the injury struggles of Japanese ace Daisuke Matsuzaka, and you've got a maelstrom of pitching concerns from a rotation that was supposed to be fielding four aces.

While none of this runs to form with original expectations, it hasn't hurt the Red Sox's record too much. So, how is the team possibly winning despite an enormous injury toll -- Kevin Youkilis, J.D. Drew and Dustin Pedroia have all missed time, and shortstop Jed Lowrie has yet to play a minute of action -- and the aforementioned pitching woes? With versatility and depth.

Not only have the Red Sox spent all of 2009 without Lowrie, they spent nearly the entire first month of the season without Julio Lugo, their other potential starting shortstop. Instead, journeyman Nick Green has filled in ably (until his two errors yesterday), even pumping out a few key hits in the team's first five wins against his former team, the Yankees. A similar story follows at first base, where Youkilis's absence has been cushioned by the emergence of Jeff Bailey, a power-hitting corner infielder and (potentially) outfielder who has taken a touch off his pumped up swing to increase contact.

With Matsuzaka out, the team has made do with the team's beacon of versatility, Justin Masterson. Last year's playoff set-up man has become this year's third starter, though it seems only a matter of time before he resumes his role in the bullpen and gives way to Matsuzaka, John Smoltz (who could be ready to start games by the end of May) or even Clay Buchholz from minor league Pawtucket. Rumors swirled on Sunday that Masterson's outing may have been his last as a starter.

None of these factors are likely to make up for Boston's shortcomings if the team finds a way to make the postseason. Clearly, David Ortiz has to start hitting, someone will have to step forward and provide stability and day-to-day production at the shortstop position, and Beckett and Lester will have to pitch like they have in 2007 and 2008, respectively.

But if the Red Sox make it there eventually, the depth they've shown in the early season will be one of the major reasons why. It's a lesson in organizational direction and the ability to acutely direct a large budget to address a team's needs. Most importantly, it's a lesson worth learning by just about all other teams.

By Cameron Smith  |  May 18, 2009; 4:33 PM ET
Categories:  Red Sox  
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It's been startling to have such average starting pitching, but the short stop situation is the most devestating. Green and Lugo just aren't solid defensively, Green losing the game yesterday, and Lugo devastating Jon Lester's last start. Hopefully Lowrie can come in and solidify things. Hard to guess what Francona's plan will be with Ortiz. Will they have him play a little first base during interleague? Move him down in the order?

Posted by: Dremit97 | May 18, 2009 7:17 PM | Report abuse

Lowrie played the first week or so of the season then confessed to a recurrence of his wrist problem. Shortstop defense is a big weakness. Lester, of course, was projected to be a prime candidate for the Verducci Effect due to his huge step up in innings last year. Both Beckett and Penny were expected to be top tier based on projections after injuries, so it should not be too much of a shock if they (and Smoltz) don't bounce back to their primes. Having said that, it is their depth that keeps them from falling off.

Posted by: jca-CrystalCity | May 19, 2009 9:37 AM | Report abuse

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