Friday, July 02, 2010

Five Swings: Living on a Prayer

Like Bon Jovi's "Living on a Prayer", the Red Sox approach the halfway point, battered and the wild card position bolstered by overachievers and a plethora of unheralded reserves. In some ways, this club deserves both more admiration and respect than some others with more talent.

1. The Manager. Terry Francona has prospered without one of his top pitchers (Josh Beckett), without a semblance of a regular outfield, and despite a deplorable start. Francona's ability to keep turmoil 'in house' gets him high marks and the respect of a veteran ballclub.

2. Catcher in the Wry. Who would have thought the Red Sox to have an incredibly productive catching duo with  Victor Martinez and Jason Varitek combining for 16 homers and 54 RBI? Of course, having both on the DL simultaneously is a more surprising development. Strength up the middle rules in all major sports, chess, and checkers. Will the combination of Molina and Cash do the job?

3. Fracture. In the movie 'Fracture', Anthony Hopkins proves a formidable challenge in a murder investigation. In the 2010 baseball season, fractures prove a formidable challenge among the leftfielding duo of Ellsbury and Hermida, the catching pair above, and Dustin Pedroia. Accelerating healing sounds easy enough, but in practice, not so much. None of the Sox' injured have 'pathologic fractures' as far as we know, and presumably none have osteoporosis. The Sox aren't hurt, they're injured and none can particularly play through the pain.

4. Bullpen succession plan. Jonathan Papelbon evolved from a three pitch starter to a one pitch reliever last season, and unfortunately, that wasn't the Rivera cutter or the Sparky Lyle slider. Papelbon remains one of the best closers in the AL, but his struggles raise the question of when Daniel Bard challenges him for the alpha male of the bullpen. Bard has both a better fastball and a better breaking ball than the incumbent, and works on an off-speed pitch to complete his repertoire. Everyone knows that the job of closer is as much 'the head game' as a physical challenge. When Papelbon's demands his expected production, then the ascendancy begins.

5. Ring that Beltre. David Ortiz and the 'Rent-a-Glove' Adrian Beltre have provided far more than expected as the Sox offense leads the majors in runs scored and OPS. Beltre has resuscitated his career playing with high effort day after day, and coupled with Kevin Youkilis gives the Sox a pair of legitimate all-star roster players. When (the last time I checked) we consider that Jason Bay had four homers, thirty-one RBI, and a .787 OPS, for 15 extra large per season, both Ortiz and Beltre seem like bargains. The Sox strength in the minors has been pitching, so acquiring and retaining bats remains a priority.

No comments: