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Red Sox power rankings: May

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  June 1, 2012 08:50 AM

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finnnava601.jpgWelcome to the second edition of Red Sox power rankings, a wide-ranging excuse to write about the best and worst performers of the previous month as a new one begins. (This is about the 15-14 Red Sox of May. Today is June 1. Voila!) The only rule of the power rankings is that there are no rules to the power rankings. Media members, prospects, front-office personnel, Stan Papi, even your favorite sausage vendor are almost as liable to be ranked as the current players themselves. It's a measure of the exceptional and the unacceptable, with the middle ground unacknowledged. The top five are ranked; the bottom five are not since our pool of candidates is innumerable. Let's get to the rankings, which this month somehow ended up including players-only. You can also find the photo gallery version here.

TOP FIVE
1. The bullpen
Reversal of fortune
We'll begin May's power rankings where we ended April's -- with an assessment of the bullpen. A month ago in this space, I gave the relief pitchers a collective F while writing this: "It's hard to single out anyone for credit in a 'pen that ... has a collective 6.34 ERA. The upside: It can't possibly be worse in May." Lo and behold, here we are at the end of May, and the bullpen has made a complete turnaround, leading the majors in relief ERA in the month, with huge contributions from everyone from closer Alfredo Aceves and Andrew Miller (15 Ks in 11.1 innings) to Rich Hill and Scott Atchison (0.92 ERA). The collective grade for May: A. Now keep it up in June, will ya?

2. Daniel Nava
Forgotten man to leading man
Admit it: You figured Nava, one of the feel-good stories of the 2010 season but someone whose organizational stock had fallen to the point that he wasn't among the 66 players invited to big league camp in Ft. Myers, had taken his last swing for the Red Sox. He was designated minor-league roster fodder, below the likes of Jason Repko on the depth chart, someone to be summoned to Fenway only if disaster struck. Which is of course exactly what happened. And darned if Nava didn't seize the opportunity with a performance that has freed him from the label of the Guy Who Hit a Grand Slam On The First Pitch He Ever Saw But Never Did Much Else. in 21 games and 85 plate appearances, he has a .900 OPS and one more incredible moment -- a three-run double off a 100-mph fastball delivered by reigning MVP Justin Verlander. We're not going to go so far as a certain nitwit radio host as to suggest that maybe he should start over Carl Crawford when the time comes, but the guy sure looks like a big leaguer from here.

3. Felix Doubront
A whiff of success
He's been the better of the two lefthanders in the rotation, and as a 23-year-old rookie is essentially putting up the kind of numbers we might have expected from habitually slow-starting alleged ace Jon Lester. Doubront is 5-2 with a 3.86 ERA, with a remarkable 59 strikeouts in 56 innings. In May, he won four of his six starts, with a 3.71 ERA and 37 Ks in 34 innings. If he can just become a little more efficient, it may be time to start thinking about Doubront, whose delivery mirrors Andy Pettitte's, as a top-three starter rather than a back-of-the-rotation newbie.

4. Jarrod Saltalamacchia
Catching on
His pinch-hit walkoff homer against the Rays May 26 was one of those moments that sometimes prove to be turning points in the season, not to mention the defining moment of his Red Sox career so far since coming over from the Rangers in an afterthought deal at the 2010 trading deadline. I say so far because the way Saltalamacchia is going, he could have a few more of them in his immediate future. He's second on the team with 10 homers, leads all AL catchers with an .910 OPS, and he was a monster in May, putting up a ..308/.345/.628 line with six homers. Hmmm. Think maybe he didn't like all that Ryan Lavarnway talk?

5. Adrian Gonzalez
Glove story
He's still not matching the power numbers found on the back of his baseball card (four homers, .416 slugging percentage), but there are small signs that it is coming (six extra-base hits over the past week). While he'll eventually make his biggest contribution to the 2012 Red Sox with his bat -- he's had a knack for the timely hit lately -- right now he's doing it to some degree with his unselfishness. With the ridiculous run of injuries that has plagued the outfield, Gonzalez volunteered to play right field despite having played just one game there in 2005 with the Rangers, before doing it twice last season. And you know what? He's been decent enough that he could probably give Wily Mo Pena some tips. Kudos to a player of his magnitude being willing to make such a move. Not many would.

BOTTOM FIVE
Injuries
Far more common than fouls on LeBron
Let's not spend much time on this, because it's akin to Celtics fans lamenting the refereeing when playing the Heat. You shouldn't have to deal with it ... but you have to deal with it. Besides, you already know the litany: Jacoby Ellsbury didn't have a plate appearance in May. Carl Crawford hasn't had one this year. Cody Ross hasn't played since May 18, and every other outfielder from Darnell McDonald to Bob Zupcic has seemingly suffered one injury or another. And now, Dustin Pedroia has a bad thumb. The Sox are far less fun when he's not around.

Jon Lester
Pitch, ball four, argue, homer
Consider him the inverse of the third guy in our top five: He's having the season Felix Doubront was supposed to have. That's not exactly a compliment when you're supposed to be the staff ace, a two-time All-Star who struck out 225 batters in back to back seasons. But that's where it stands with Lester, who had his usual sluggish April (1-2, 4.65 ERA) and followed it up with an even worse May (2-2, 4.91). His strikeout rate this season (6.4) would be a career low over a full season, and perhaps most disconcertingly, he's had a knack for letting what he perceives as a bad call turn into a big inning for the opposition. He's too talented to be on this list again in June.

Worrying about pitchers who aren't here
Mediocre is as mediocre does
Did we really spend all of those words wondering how to make room for Daisuke Matsuzaka (7 HRs allowed in more than 31 innings during his minor league rehab) and Aaron Cook (one start, 2.2 innings, 8 hits, 6 earned runs, one hellacious gash on his knee) in the rotation? We did. So no need to talk about them further, right?

Clay Buchholz
A one-man Lackey tribute
An enigma wrapped in a mystery topped off by a mesh trucker's cap. The optimistic view: He pitched well in his last start, allowing two runs in seven innings in a 4-3 loss to the Rays May 27, and his ERA in May is three runs lower than it was in April. Pessimistic view: His ERA was 8.69 in April and 5.60 in May. What should we expect in June? Your guess is as good as mine, and possibly Bob McClure's.

Kelly Shoppach
Know your role
If it's true that the Red Sox' backup catcher went to manager Bobby Valentine just as this team started to turn it around to wonder why he wasn't playing more, well, apparently even lifetime .226 hitters have delusions about their own ability. Shoppach is a fine backup, just as was his No. 1 career comp according to baseball-reference.com: Doug Mirabelli. Turns out their personalities are as similar as their statistics.

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.

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