I'm not going to lie to you, baby. It's been a blast to watch those who delighted in dismissing this slow-starting Red Sox team as a "bridge to nowhere" scurry to retrace their steps as the run-prevention model (not to mention a damn good offense) has suddenly produced a string of impressive victories.
I'm also not going to lie about this: I was going to break out one of my favorite tried-and-true sports writing cliches -- the report card! -- a few games ago. But because the Sox started playing so well against superb competition, I figured I'd wait a few days to see if the run continued.
Sneaky and even shameless? Guilty, I suppose.
Homerish? I prefer to call it agenda-free and realistic.
As I've written many times over during the strange early stages of this season, this team was bound to turn it around, simply because so many accomplished players were performing below their established norms.
Pardon me for choosing logic over caterwauling, for waiting for the Lesters and Drews and Martinez and Ortizes to return to something near their usual levels. The way the Red Sox are playing right now is the way Theo Epstein envisioned when he put together a deep, if slightly unconventional, roster.
This is who they were supposed to be . . . and, I'm convinced, who they will be going forward.
The horrific fallout is that the quarterly report card has become the 47/162ds report card. I trust that you'll survive, and I look forward to reading your grades in the comments . . .
Jacoby Ellsbury: As a kid, I never thought it was fair that Fred Lynn got stuck with the Fragile Freddy label -- maybe his third toe on his left foot really did hurt, you know? So I'm reluctant to speculate on the level of Ellsbury's pain threshold, especially since he had four cracked ribs, which sounds rather unpleasant. Instead, I'll take my cues from Francona, who never calls out a player to the media, but who sometimes delivers his message loud and clear between the lines. C-, probably should be an incomplete.
Dustin Pedroia: It's odd to see him go through a prolonged slump -- he's hitting .237 in May -- but he's on pace for a career-high in homers, his current OPS (.819) is the same as last year's, and he appears to have snapped out of it. Relax. Laser show. B
(Update, 1:01 a.m. Thursday: Reader GeorgeAnderson in the comments is right: Pedroia deserves an A. We're giving him extra credit for his no-worries, smart-alecky style of leadership, such as this quote tonight when asked if he panicked when the Sox got off to a slow start: "I don't panic. I just drink more Red Bulls and hang out.")
Victor Martinez: He's good for somewhere in the range of .300-20-100 every year, and yet he always takes an unusually streaky route to get there. April 2009: 1.082 OPS. April 2010: .632 OPS. He has an .852 OPS this month, and he was starting to pummel the ball virtually every at-bat when he hurt his foot. Here's hoping he comes back soon before the feeling fades. As for his defense . . . well, he works at it. C-
Kevin Youkilis: Anyone who says the Red Sox lack an elite middle-of-the-order hitter either hasn't been paying attention or depends more on the aesthetic than the actual results. He doesn't have the gorgeous swing or hit breathtaking moonshots . . . but a .458 on-base percentage and a .614 slugging percentage doesn't do it for you? Really? A
David Ortiz: You know I would like to say I told you so . . . but to be honest, I'm more than a bit stunned by the return to Vintage Papi form just like you are. In May, he's at .359 with eight homers, 21 RBIs, and 1.190 OPS. I have no idea how he can look so good after looking so bad. I'm just going to savor the peak, and hope the valleys cease being so deep. C+
J.D. Drew: Will you Trot-o-philes just admit it already. The guy is a hell of a ballplayer -- never swings at a bad pitch, an outstanding baserunner and outfielder (ever notice how well he goes back on the ball?), and don't look now, doubters, but he's leading the team in RBIs (30). A-
Adrian Beltre: What an odd player. Swings at everything like he's paying homage to Vlad Guerrero, busts it on the basepaths, throws flatfooted, has more range than the shortstop, and makes at least one spectacular play per night. He drives me crazy . . . and I'm glad they have him. B
Mike Cameron: He's played just 12 games, and he's apparently lost a step in the outfield at age 37. Hey, but he did hit a walk-off homer for the Sea Dogs! D, probably should be an incomplete.
Marco Scutaro: Meh. He's basically doing what he did before his career-year in 2009 -- getting on base adequately (.348 OBP), not hitting with much pop, playing adequate defense with an occasional spectacular flash, and good enough at the little things that you probably appreciate him more if you see him daily. At least he's not Lugo. C
Jon Lester: The annual ugly April behind him, he's again among the truly elite pitchers in the American League, and you bet I'm sticking to my sunny spring training prediction: He'll have to clear a place on his mantel for the 2010 AL Cy Young Award. B
Clay Buchholz: First, I'll apologize for once predicting that Justin Masterson would be the better pitcher. Gah. And then I'll keep it simple: Where would they be without him? A
John Lackey: Optimistically, you hope he'll keep a good thing going and become the Sox pitcher who can actually outduel Matt Garza. But . . . his command is off, his velocity is down, and my skeptical self just can't help but wonder if he gets a Theo-prescribed two-week vacation at Club DL once Beckett is back. D
Josh Beckett: Nice Kevin Jarvis tribute, Tex. F
Daisuke Matsuzaka: His ERA for 2010, 5.76, is exactly the same as his ERA during the abysmal and lost '09 season. But this feels completely different, doesn't it? Maybe it's the lingering good feelings from the near no-hitter, but I still say he wins double figures this season. C-
Tim Wakefield: He may not be thrilled about it, but the role he's filling right now is exactly why he was welcomed back for a 15th season. For some reason, it seems appropriate that his adjusted ERA is 100. B
Jonathan Papelbon: We tend to forget what it's like to have a mediocre closer around here, so whenever Papelbon (11 saves, 1.19 WHIP) has a hiccup, well, "IT'S A CRISIS, BIG-O! MAKE BAAHHHD THE CLOSAHHHH!!" The reality is that there is some cause for concern, but it's subtler than getting shamed by Marcus Thames. His command, once so precise that he could get away with throwing little more than a straight 95 mph fastball, has comparably gone on the fritz since he suspiciously tweaked his mechanics before last season. He's walked 11 in 21 innings this year after permitting just eight bases on balls in 69.1 innings in 2008. I miss the old mechanics. B
Daniel Bard: He's been everything you'd hoped he be in his first full season as the righthanded setup man, striking out 27 in 24 innings with a WHIP of 0.958. And he lights up radar guns to the point that in the giddier moments, it sometimes feels like a budding Wetteland/Rivera situation. Now, if they could just stop using him so often (23 appearances, 24 innings in 47 games). A
Hideki Okajima The ol' Okey-Dokey hasn't been much of a mystery this season, with a Fossas-like 4.60 ERA and 1.53 WHIP. Considering he struggled in the second half last year (.639 OPS against in the first half, .809 in the second), there's at least some cause for concern. C
Ramon Ramirez: He's averaging 13.7 baserunners per nine innings, and his K-rate (6.3) is far and away the worst of his career since he's been established in the bigs. The more you consider it, the more you realize Theo Epstein will likely be searching for a bullpen reinforcement or two well before the July 31 deadline. D
Manny Delcarmen: What a strange season it has been. He's allowing less than a hit per two innings (10 H, 21 IP), yet he's walked more (12) than he he has whiffed (11). Tito clearly didn't trust him earlier in the season, but he got three big outs last night, and face it, the Sox are going to need him. C+
Jason Varitek: The captain is everything a backup catcher is supposed to be, and then some. (A 1.055 OPS? Are you kidding me?) Here's hoping the temptation (or the necessity) to overwork him can be resisted, because he's absolutely perfect in his current role, and he deserves a tremendous amount of credit for taking to it so unselfishly. A
Jeremy Hermida: His numbers are surprisingly subpar, actually -- .222/.280/.389, and that on-base percentage is lower than Bill Hall's, who is batting .188. I say surprisingly subpar because the former Marlin has made his hits count -- he has 18 RBIs and a .953 OPS with two outs -- and he helped turn things around with his double off Mariano Rivera the weekend before last. C+
Bill Hall: Save for the occasional homer, he's a pretty brutal offensive player (his adjusted OPS annually since 2007: 89, 81, 58, and so far this year, 63). But he can play a lot of positions adequately, which somewhat justifies his roster spot. C-
Mike Lowell: He can still hit a little -- anecdotally, it seems like he's been better than his .698 OPS. He can still help a team in need of a 3B/DH. Here's hoping he gets his chance. I wonder if there was any temptation to DFA him rather than Darnell McDonald. B-
Darnell McDonald: An enjoyable example of a replacement level player contributing to the cause. We wish him wel . . . HEY, LOOK WHO'S BACK! D-MAC LIVES! WE THOUGHT YOU WERE GONE, MAN! (Loved Tito's quote about McDonald's brush with being DFA'd: "We got Mac on the phone, told him we were thrilled with the adjustments he made while he was gone, come on back." Classic Francona.) B
NOT ENOUGH EVIDENCE:
RP Joe Nelson, RP Scott Atchison, OF/LHP Jonathan Van Every, OF Josh Reddick, SS Angel Sanchez.
* * *
As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:
Because you can never go wrong with Rico, that's why.
(Quick note: File this under things sports writers argue about, but a good friend of mine always thought the '76 set was Topps' most beautiful. I never got it -- I'm partial to '78 myself -- until one day, he told me he was color blind. Only then did it make sense.)
About Touching All The Bases
Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.