Best start sinceÖ
As far as April baseball is concerned, they are the three words of hopeful forecast that couldnít mean any less in terms of a definitive outcome. Curt Schilling, at 4-0, is off to his best start since 2001, the best start of his career in fact. But thereís no guarantee that heíll win 30 games this season, a number heís well on pace for. The Red Sox are 11-4 to start 2006, their best start since 2002, a team that won 93 games but missed out on the playoffs despite dual 20-game winners in Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe.
This is why a successful April run in baseball is in so many ways the most difficult to watch (and conversely, a not-so-successful April). You want to get emotionally attached, but you realize thereís a holdback factor involved, scared off by the long schedule that lay ahead of you. After tonight, the Red Sox will have played just about 10 percent of their slate, leaving a lot of room, wouldnít you say, for the Yankees to make up that 3 1/2-game gap.
Still, human emotion being what it is in Red Sox Nation, itís tough not to get geeked up. In truth, there is so much to like about this team, and the concerns which still plague it, have been hidden so masterfully by the bright spots that youíd hardly notice.
Take Rudy Seanez, for instance. Bet you would have totally forgotten about the guy if he hadnít pitched an inning last night.
No doubt by mid-July, the following tune will be hum to a different beat, but through 15 games at least, here are some of the (mostly) positives and (yes, a few) negatives seen thus far. (+ and Ė on a scale of 1 to 5.)
Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett: Schilling is the story in baseball right now, the most dominant starter in the AL, followed by perhaps only teammate Beckett. They are a combined 7-0, and the only concerns remaining are whether Schillingís ankle holds up another five months, and if the blisters will make their annual appearance on Beckettís pitching hand. +++++
Jason Varitek: The captain hasnít quite gotten it going with the stick, hitting just .227, which doesnít seem to be all that big of a deal. Unless you consider the way he slumped down the stretch last season, and the extra work that was placed on his body in the World Baseball Classic. Ė
Jonathan Papelbon: I know, we all want to see him start eventually, but itís just not possible right now. Papelbonís dominance has shortened games to eight innings for the Sox, an invaluable asset that canít be tinkered with. So far, the leading candidate for AL Rookie of the Year.+++++
Keith Foulke: He might regain his closerís roleÖwith another team next season. It might take him being as dominant as Papelbon at some point to reclaim it this season in Boston, which really isn't likely. Still, despite some hiccups, Foulke has looked much better this season. Heís allowed seven hits over just 8 1/3, but his strikeout-to-walk ratio of 6:1 is encouraging. +
David Wells: How good does Dave Roberts sound now? - - - -
Mike Timlin: The whole inherited runners stat still disturbs us, particularly since it keeps happening (see: eighth inning, Tuesday night). Still, Timlin remains one of the majors' best setup guys. ++
Adam Stern: The past two nights have been a highlight reel for Stern in center field, quickly making him a fan favorite. Still, itís evident this kid needs at-bats, based on his .150 average so far at the dish, appearances heíll get at Pawtucket now. ++
Kevin Youkilis: The patient eye, the intelligent approach at the plate, we expected. The Gold Glove-caliber play at first base? Not so much. Youkilis has been a productive, if not slow, leadoff hitter these past 10 days. It will be interesting to see how pitchers approach him differently once heís back in the five or six hole following Coco Crispís return. ++++
Matt Clement: Things went much better for Clement Tuesday against the Devil Rays, not earning a decision in the game, and heís really had just the one atrocious start against Toronto. Heís remains a pretty solid four or five starter, but the fact that heís being paid like a No. 2 hurts his image somewhat. - -
Tim Wakefield: Heís gonna be what heís gonna be. He probably should be 2-1 right now too, if Francona hadnít supplied him with the Punch and Judy lineup he did last Saturday against Seattle. ++
Mike Lowell: A year ago on April 20, Lowell was hitting .217 with zero doubles. In 2006: .294 with a league-leading eight. Not bad so far for a toss-in. +++
Alex Gonzalez: Gonzalez is providing offensively what everybody pretty much thought he would. Nothing. This may in fact be Theo Epsteinís biggest dilemma down the stretch. Does the team continue to stick with Gonzalez for his splendid defense even if he canít hit a lick? Based on what weíve seen from him in the field, the answer might be affirmative. +
Mark Loretta: Heís getting the bat going a little bit now, and defensively provides one of the cleanest double play combinations, along with Gonzalez, the Fenway dirt has ever seen. +++
Manny Ramirez: Remember, he started slow last season too, but itís still hard to figure. Ramirez is still homerless on the season, has just six runs batted in from the four-hole, and has struck out a team-leading 17 times. Itís obvious that itís just a matter of time, but it can be maddening waiting for it when said struggling batter is in the heart of the order. Ė
Wily Mo Pena: Defensively, he is nothing less than atrocious. However, letís give credit where it is due. We donít know how many hours of the day Pena is spending with Papa Jack, but they do appear to be paying off somewhat in just the past week. Pena has shortened his swing a little bit, and has been more selective at the plate, going deeper into counts, or at least a little deeper than three pitches. Heís still a project, but heís also become perhaps the most intriguing player on this team. Offensively: +, Defensively: -----
David Ortiz: Leads the team in homers, hits, and RBIs. And remember, all this with a struggling Ramirez hitting behind him in the order. Poised for another MVP-caliber season. +++++