Outside of early-season surprises Ryan Sweeney and Mike Aviles, the fact that the 2012 Red Sox can hit should come with all the surprise of your Cracker Jack surprise being some lame temporary tattoo. Despite the fact that David Ortiz had an April for the record books, offense was never the question with these re-tooled Red Sox heading into the season. What was, however, is what is most concerning as we hurtle into May.
The pitching. The pitching, the pitching...
Boston's staff ERA now stands at 5.54 after allowing six runs to the offensively-challenged (to be kind) Oakland A's, who tout a robust .209 team batting average, far and away the worst in the American League. That's the team against whom the artist formerly known as Clay Buchholz, perhaps the future artist known as the Pawtucket ace, couldn't hold an 11-1 run lead against last night, a game the Sox held on to win, 11-6.
Buchholz is a shell, an early-season disaster that has anyone who touted the Red Sox' "BIG THREE" as the key to their success under Bobby Valentine looking a little silly right about now. True, the starting staff has been shaky, but mainly effective. Josh Beckett has been good, but not great and perhaps unlucky when it comes to the win-loss column. Jon Lester is coming off a masterful start in Chicago, but had allowed 15 runs over his previous three starts. Felix Dubrount has given the Sox anything they could have asked for in that role, and Daniel Bard -the work in progress that he is - has shown either signs of blossoming or regressing.
Despite some of the gaudy ERA's - hello, Clay 8.69 - the starting staff should probably be in the middle of the pack when it comes to talking about the AL's best. Its combined 5.28 ERA puts them ahead of only the Yankees and Twins, who are a combined 18-25 on the season, which isn't really fair to New York seeing as Minnesota is a league-worst 6-16, but whatever.
Now, as far as the bullpen is concerned, here's a neat little nugget from Brendan O'Toole at Over the Monster: "Mark Melancon, who only pitched two innings before being sent down to Pawtucket, is still in the top ten in the AL in homers allowed. I'm going to repeat that. Mark Melancon, who only saw action in four games, and who hasn't pitched in two weeks, is still tied for eighth in homers allowed. His slugging percentage against was 1.733(!) No one else has covered himself in glory, but those Melancon numbers still haunt my dreams."
That takes a special kind of early-season performance, and not one you're going to put on your resume anytime soon, unless you happen to be John Wasdin and you need something to point to in order to make yours look a little better. Wasdin actually would look good in this group of misfits, who carry a collective 6.10 ERA into May. Together, they have allowed 42 earned runs, most this side of Tampa's 38 which is sort of a surprise. The opposition is hitting .302 against the 'pen with an astounding .855 OPS. Sox relievers possess a -0.4 WAR, and their left-on-base percentage is 66.2 percent, amazingly enough, still better than both the Angels and Rays.
On the whole, the Red Sox' pitching staff, with men on base, has pitched to the tune of - ready? - a 10.98 ERA.
Of course, that factors in Melancon, but you get the picture. It's bad.
Who knows if Andrew Bailey might have helped solidify roles a little more clearly, but as relatively fine as Scott Atchinson and Junichi Tazawa have been, Alfedro Aceves has been shaky, Vincente Padilla, notwithstanding last night's team implosion, has been mainly reliable, but Justin Thomas has a WHIP of 2.57, which translates, in sabermetric-speak to "not good."
Mix in some of the curious ways Valentine has utilized his bullpen thus far this season, and it's all adding up to 2003, redux, when Grady Little couldn't figure out how to use - or have faith in - his re-tooled ?pen in the most crucial of times. May 1 clearly isn't crucial, but it's not like we shouldn't have expected this either.
One month down, five to go. I say we see Carl Crawford in June.