Hey, I know how it is.
It's March, and you get wrapped up in the NCAA tournament. And then the Celtics start magically returning to form. And the Bruins, despite every lazy second you watch them play, are still a favorite with the playoffs on the horizon.
The Sox start slow -- really slow -- and your temptation is to spend your sports energy elsewhere.
The Bruins provided less of a distraction thanks to a first-round flameout, but the Celtics gutted their way to an Eastern Conference Finals game 7, finally surrendering to LeBron and Co. last night.
Which leaves us with today, June 10th, the day when you have no reason but to start putting your energy back into the Red Sox.
I know, it looks bleak. They're currently in last place in the AL East, and are a game below .500 at 29-30. How did they get to this point? What happened while you were gone?
Here are ten things to know about the last couple of months' happenings on the diamond, and what to expect going further:
1. Injuries are still a problem. Jacoby Ellsbury is still hurt with a shoulder subluxation suffered in mid-April, Carl Crawford is still hurt from an elbow problem that cropped up while rehabbing his wrist injury, and Andrew Bailey hasn't even debuted yet. Ryan Kalish is finally rehabbing, and Kevin Youkilis is back with the squad. But injuries have significantly derailed this team. Ells and Crawford are expected back some time in early July, while Bailey is likely out until after the All-Star Break.
2. Adrian Gonzalez is scuffling. His .745 OPS is lower than Daniel Nava's and Ryan Sweeney's. He's helping the team where he can -- you may have heard, he's playing right field occasionally -- but he's just not swinging the bat well. There's no clear sign of what's up, but he's started to show signs of life in the past week after Bobby V hit him 6th in the lineup a couple of times.
3. The bullpen is legit. I know, we all thought they would be terrible, right? Try these ERAs on for size: Scott Atchison, 1.36, Matt Albers, 2.10, Rich Hill, 2.63, Andrew Miller, 2.13, Franklin Morales, 3.04. Not bad for five guys who range from complete bust to barely rosterable.
4. Daniel Bard has been...how do you say?...not good. Bard was converted to a starter and showed flashes of competence. But problems have arisen: He can't go deep into games, seems to have lost his fastball, and his last appearance resembled more Rick Ankiel than Josh Beckett. Bard's in triple-A now working on his mechanics, and no one seems to know exactly where he fits into the picture the rest of the year. The Sox are stretching out Franklin Morales as a potential spot starter, which potentially opens up a spot in the bullpen for Bard.
5. Outfield has been a complete train wreck. The Sox thought they had an embarrassment of riches going into the year, with two All-Stars in left and center, and a super-platoon of Cody Ross and Ryan Sweeney in right, with Ryan Kalish waiting in the wings. Only problem: All five guys got hurt. The Sox have played 12 guys in the outfield this year, including scrap-heap pick-up Scott Podsednik, Cubs' castoff Marlon Byrd, and the aforementioned slow-footed Gonzalez.
6. Jon Lester has completely underwhelmed. We all love Jon Lester. He's an inspiration, and typically an excellent pitcher. But this year he just can't seem to get it going. He's 3-4 with a 4.79 ERA, hardly the ace stuff we've come to expect. If the team is to turn things around, a lot of it is incumbent on him getting things right.
7. The Red Sox' best starter continues to be Josh Beckett. Everyone hates him (except me), but he's performing. His ERA is a touch over 4. He's just 4-6, but he has the team's best K/BB ratio (3.19), and by far the best WHIP among starters (1.16). Felix Doubront has been a great surprise at 6-3 and leads the team with 71 K's, but with a WHIP like 1.42, he lets too many guys on base. Beckett is our rock.
8. The highlight of the season has been Will Middlebrooks. Middlebrooks' emergence -- .310/.345/.531 -- is by far the bright spot of the season. Even Sox fans who have given up hope on 2012 are enjoying watching Middlebrooks, whose transition to the majors has been a breeze. The kid looks like the real deal.
9. OK, there's been a second highlight, and his name is Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Salty is finally delivering the caliber performance that was expected of him when he came up through the minors. He's looking like an All-Star, leading the team in slugging at .567. He's been clutch, and also shown himself to be an excellent pinch hitting option when Kelly Shoppach starts. The organization is going to be faced with a difficult decision next year in committing to Salty or Lavarnway long term.
10. The Sox are not out of this thing. Sure, we're in last right now, but the division is bundled together. Meanwhile, with all the talent on its way back, the team can expect to string together wins. It also can expect to have surplusses at certain positions. They're already stretched at the corners with Youk, Middlebrooks, Gonzalez, and technically Ortiz, and the outfield, once healthy, will have at least one too many guys. So, they can deal off veterans, but they can do so to acquire veteran pitching (or participate in multi-team deals that send packages of prospects elsewhere for veteran pitching).
A lot of people wanted the team blown up. You know what team fans also wanted blown up? The Celtics, back in February. They just showed us that you can put things together and improve over time. Can the Red Sox do the same? Sure. They're only five games out of the division lead, and the teams ahead of them aren't exactly juggernauts. The Rays have defensive issues and holes in their lineup. The Yankees have pitching questions and are Riveraless. Baltimore is Baltimore. And Toronto might be a year or two -- and a bat or two -- away from being the real deal.
This team can absolutely make a run. So turn the TV back on now and get familiar with the team before they do so.
[All stats via Baseball-Reference]
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