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Power rankings

Red Sox power rankings: September

  October 3, 2013 11:27 AM

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Welcome to Volume 2, Edition 6 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. The only rule of the power rankings is that there are no rules to the power rankings. Prospects, fill-in NESN analysts, Garry Hancock, beer-punting outfielders, Luis Aparicio, front-office personnel -- anyone is fair game. 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. Enough ballpark chatter. Let's get to it ...

TOP FIVE
1. Jon Lester
An ace after all
As the Red Sox built their head of steam toward the postseason, one recurring concern -- man, how I've grown to hate that word in the context of sports -- was how they might fare if they had to play a one-game playoff against a team with a true ace such as Yu Darvish or David Price. The implication was that the Sox didn't have someone capable of matching up in a winner-take-all scenario. Maybe it was true at the time, though ultimately it didn't matter since they ended up winning their division going away. Besides, the no-true-ace thing may not be true at all anymore. Since the All-Star break, Lester is 7-2 with a 2.57 ERA. In September, he was 3-0 with a 2.57 ERA, and his first two wins of the month were masterful, meaningful performances against the Tigers and Yankees.

2. Clay Buchholz
Happy return
All that yowling about his toughness and willingness (or unwillingness) to pitch through pain, all of the weak jokes (guilty as charged) about getting injured holding a toddler, all of the concern and consternation ... well, it was for absolutely nothing, wasn't it? The Red Sox didn't just survive during the three months Buchholz was on the shelf, they thrived. And when he did come back, he was as good as he was before, which I believe is technically categorized as Pretty Damned Excellent. Buchholz went 9-0 with a 1.71 ERA through his first 12 starts, was lost from June 8 until his return September 10, then put up a 3-1 mark and a 1.88 ERA in his four September starts. Maybe a cynic would suggest his late success means he should have come back sooner. To me, it means they handled it just as they should have. It all worked out for the best.

3. David Ortiz
His time of year
Actually, every month this season was pretty much Papi's time of the year this particular year. He had four months with an OPS of .974 or higher, including September (6 homers, .992 OPS), and his worst month, August, was still respectable, with a .782 OPS, four homers and 14 RBIs. But that season-long consistency and that strong September suggest a hopeful harbinger -- that his bat will create more lasting memories for Red Sox fans in October.

4. Pedro Martinez
Back in the spotlight
OK, this is more of an October thing than a September acknowledgment, but I'm going with the changeup anyway because, you know, it's Pedro. He is a promising work-in-progress on TBS's baseball studio programming -- he cedes too much camera time to the likes of Dirk Hayhurst and Mark DeRosa. But he did have the line of the night Tuesday when asked who he was picking in the Rays-Indians playoff: "I'm picking Cleveland because I feel bad for what I did to them in 1999." He may not be spot-on with his prognostications, but I don't think anyone around here who remembers his six no-hit innings of relief in Game 5 of the '99 ALDS is going to argue with his reasoning. It's good to have him back in the spotlight. Especially at this time of year.

5. John Farrell and Ben Cherington
That's how you run the show
Cherington did A-plus work by any standard in reconstructing the foundation of this roster in one offseason. Because of all of the wise player personnel moves, it almost goes under-reported that Farrell was the person he coveted to manage this team long before he got to hire him. It's a partnership based in a long-term friendship and copacetic philosophies on how to run a team and an organization, and it's working brilliantly. If suffering a year of Bobby Valentine is the price necessary to end up with this particular management duo calling the shots, there's no doubt it was worth it.

BOTTOM FIVE
Actually, let's explore this space to take quick inventory of the 2013 Red Sox.

They won 28 more games than they did a season ago.

They ran away with the AL East with 97 wins, their most since 2004, a season of some accomplishment.

They had the best record in the American League and tied for the best record in baseball.

They were as fun as they were successful, seemingly averaging two walk-off wins per homestand while giving the impression that they were the world's most united, affable misfit biker gang.

That's my way of saying that I have no grievances or gripes about this team. None. It's been a hell of a memorable season already in so many good ways.

You want concerns and falling skies, you know where to find them. It ain't here, not right now. If you can't appreciate and enjoy this, you're cursed with a special kind of bitter hopelessness.

PREVIOUS 2013 POWER RANKINGS

April: Buchholz, Entire Cast of Veteran Newcomers, Farrell, Nava, Ortiz.

May: Pedroia, Buchholz, Saltalamacchia, Breslow, Bogaerts.

June: Iglesias, Lackey, Ortiz, Uehara, De La Rosa

July: Cherington, Gomes/Napoli, Doubront, Uehara, Pedroia.

August: Victorino, Uehara, Jake Peavy, Left Side of the Infield, Henry Owens.

Red Sox power rankings: August

  September 3, 2013 08:05 AM

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Welcome to Volume 2, Edition 5 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. The only rule of the power rankings is that there are no rules to the power rankings. Prospects, media members, Craig Skok, out-of-position umpires, Sam Bowen, front-office personnel � anyone is fair game. 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. Enough ballpark chatter. Let's get to it ...

TOP FIVE
1. Shane Victorino
Don't worry/'Bout a thing ...
I'll tell you, sometimes it hasn't been easy coming up with these monthly top fives for this year's Red Sox. More so than with any other winning Sox team in recent memory, it's been ... well, it's been a team effort. Mike Napoli drives in 27 runs in April as David Ortiz is working his way back, then Papi picks up the slack as Napoli goes into whiff mode. Felix Doubront becomes the dependable lefty when Jon Lester falters. Koji Uehara becomes the team's third closer of the season, and does the job as well as anyone ever has for the franchise. And on and on, a different standout every day. But this month, coming up with No. 1 on this list was as pleasant as singing along with a familiar Marley song, which some of you have taken doing at Fenway thanks to Victorino's "Three Little Birds'' walk-up music. Victorino had a brilliant month -- he went .328/.392/.578 with 7 homers, 22 RBIs (doubling his previous high month's total of June) and a .970 OPS. Over the last 13 games of August, he hit .434 with a 1.303 OPS. Oh, and his defense in right field is impeccable. As long as he's playing like this, every little thing is gonna be all right.

2. Koji Uehara
Super saver
What more is there to say? He's been as automatic as automatic gets, at least this side of vintage Eck or Mo Rivera. He's having a season, in terms of rate stats if not counting stats, on par with Craig Kimbrel's '12 and Eric Gagne's beast-mode '03. He has more than twice as many innings pitched (61.1) as hits allowed (29) and more than nine times as many strikeouts (83) as walks (9). He did not allow a run in August, spanning 10 appearances. He did not allow an earned run in July, spanning 10 appearances. He has not allowed an earned run since June 30, 54 Red Sox games and 35 Uehara appearances ago. But of all the ridiculous numbers he's putting up, here is my favorite collection -- his stats over the past 365 days:

ISplitWLW-L%ERAGGFSVIPHERHRBBSOWHIPSO/9SO/BB
Last 365days301.0001.0074331772.03185101020.56912.810.20
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/2/2013.

I'm not kidding when I say he should get at least cursory consideration on the MVP ballot.

3. Jake Peavy
"C'mon, Peave!"
His Angry Bird Fidrych routine on the mound is a riot -- I like to think I've been pretty familiar with his work over his stellar 12-year career, but I had no idea was such a competitive nut when he's on the mound. Less surprising, but just as fun, is how he has been everything the Red Sox hoped he'd be when they acquired him July 30. In six starts, he's 3-1 with a 3.18 ERA, a .958 WHIP, and a 24/6 K/BB ratio. He's allowed two runs or fewer in five of those starts, with just the one six-run hiccup against Kansas City during his second Red Sox start. Don't know about your choice, but I think he'd be my choice to start a one-game playoff or Game 1 of a longer postseason series.

4. The left side of the infield
Jose who?
Stephen Drew in August:

GPAABRH2B3BHRRBIBBSOBAOBPSLGOPS
26108921528703151425.304.389.478.867
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/2/2013.

And Will Middlebrooks since his recall from Pawtucket exile August 10:

GPAABRH2B3BHRRBISBBBSOBAOBPSLGOPS
196959101930271816.322.406.475.880
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/2/2013.

Ah, so that's why John Farrell has had such a hard time finding at-bats for Xander Bogaerts. Nice problem to have.

5. Henry Owens
Will he get to Boston next season?
I'm trying to avoid overhyping Owens, the Red Sox' touted lefthanded pitching prospect. Really, I am. He's 21 years old. He's made just six starts above Single A. He doesn't throw all that hard, topping out in the low-90s. He walked a batter every other inning at two levels this year. Pitching prospects, even the best of them, can be thrown off the path with a single twinge in the elbow. He's not perfect ... and yet, resistance is futile. How do you not get excited about this kid? He's 21 years old. He made just six starts above Single A, posting a 1.78 ERA and striking out 46 against 18 hits and 15 walks in 30.1 innings. He doesn't throw all that hard, but he's already a master of deception, and he certainly throws hard enough -- this isn't Kevin Morton here. Yes, he needs better command, and increased velocity wouldn't hurt. But if he stays on the path he took this year, he may find himself on the Fenway Park mound before next summer is through.

FULL ENTRY

Red Sox power rankings: June

  July 1, 2012 10:29 AM

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Welcome to the third 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 15-12 Red Sox of June. Today is July 1. It's complicated, but you'll get it!) The only rule of the power rankings is that there are no rules to the power rankings. Media members, prospects, front-office personnel, Ed Jurak, 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 includes one player who has just arrived at Double A.

TOP FIVE
1. Franklin Morales
Lefthanded compliment
Well now, what do we have here? Based on ability, stuff, and recent results, the answer could be this: something special. Morales, the 26-year-old lefthander with a 95-mph fastball and a power curve, was once one baseball's best pitching prospects while coming up in the Rockies organization, ranking among guys named Kershaw, Price, Chamberlain and Buchholz. He started out brilliantly, pitching 20 consecutive scoreless innings in 2007, but command issues led to him stagnating with the Rockies, and he was sold to the Red Sox last May. He'd been decent as a reliever during his year with the Sox when, a couple of weeks ago, attrition in the rotation gave him an opportunity to start. And how he has seized it. In three starts and 18 innings, he's allowed four earned runs while striking out 24 and walking three. In his most recent start, he went pitch-for-pitch with Mariners ace Felix Hernandez, pitching seven shutout innings.He's been a revelation, and while it may be getting ahead of ourselves to think he can be a mainstay in the rotation, it also must be noted that what we are seeing now is what was expected of him not so many years ago.

2. David Ortiz
Designated masher
He's essentially been the only heart-of-the-order hitter not to underachieve, endure injury, or both this season. In June, Papi had an OPS of 1.039, mashed 9 homers (leaving him one shy of 400 for his career), drove in 18 runs, and walked (18) more than he whiffed (15) for the second month in a row. Where would the Red Sox be without him?

3. Daniel Nava
Hitting machine
He's the story of the season, isn't he? The 29-year-old outfielder was a non-roster afterthought in spring training, but when the outfield was ravaged by injuries, he got the call in early May, hit, hit some more, and hasn't stopped. After putting up a .277/.424.477 slash line in May, had a very similar June at .324/.419/.473. At the very least Nava, a lifetime .317 hitter in the minor leagues and independent ball, has proven that he deserves a steady major league job, here or elsewhere.

4. Bobby Valentine
Managing well
After the season's first month or two, I wouldn't have had him ranked among the top four managers in the American League East, let alone the entire major leagues. But as the season has slid into summer, his strengths have become more apparent, starting with his knack for manipulating the bullpen. He handled the final days of Kevin Youkilis situation about as well as possible, and given that none of the top three projected starters has a winning record or an ERA below 4.00, his slugging first baseman has six homers, and the runner-up in last year's MVP balloting has played seven games ... well, I still wouldn't put him in my top four managers. But he's rising up the list.

finnbradley71.jpg5. Jackie Bradley Jr.
Junior achiever
Bradley is the second Red Sox prospect to make our power rankings this season. The first, Will Middlebrooks in April, is now the starting third baseman for now and the foreseeable future. While Bradley's first big-league at-bat probably won't come until sometime next season at the earliest, what the 49th overall pick in last year's draft is accomplishing in the minor leagues this season should have Red Sox fans eager for his arrival. In 67 games at Salem and 10 at Portland since moving up to Double A, the 22-year-old Bradley is batting .358 with a .998 OPS, 36 extra-base hits, 18 stolen bases, and 58 walks against 49 strikeouts. His defense in center field is said to be so spectacular that if he's not Jacoby Ellsbury's successor, he could push him to left field. Go see him in Portland, folks. That way, he'll already be familiar when he inevitably arrives at Fenway.

BOTTOM FIVE
Kevin Youkilis
They're not booing
One more time for all the old times? Why not: "Yoooooooouuuuuuuuuuuuuuukkkkk!" Youkilis, as a popular as he was sweaty -- that would be "very" -- was dealt to the White Sox June 24 for OF/INF Brent Lillibridge and dulled pitching prospect Zach Stewart. It was the right thing to do -- power-hitting rookie Will Middlebrooks needed to play, the evidence was mounting that injuries had robbed Youkilis of bat speed and mobility, and he wasn't exactly a loyal viewer of "The Bobby Valentine Show.'' But it was a heck of a run, and here's hoping White Sox fans grow to appreciate him the way most did here -- with a loud salute every time he comes to the plate.

Dustin Pedroia
Should have gone on the DL
Pedroia won't find himself on this side of the rankings too often, but during a month in which he foolishly played through a thumb injury and hit .194 with no home runs and a .538 OPS, let's just say his spot here is justified. Prediction: The laser show in July will be more spectacular than the fireworks on the Esplanade.

FoxwoodspoolpartyesophagitisBuchholzgate
The non-story of the month
This isn't a knock on Clay Buchholz, who was pitching well before he was laid up with esophagitis and had to spent five days at Mass General, including three in which he required intravenous feeding. This is a knock on the media that breathlessly reported that he was at a pool party at Foxwoods the day after he was release, implying without knowing the details that it was another case of a Red Sox pitcher choosing a good time over common sense. As it turned out, Buchholz did nothing wrong -- he was appearing with a bunch of other Boston athletes at a charity event, didn't drink, and skipped the after-party. It was another non-story parlayed into an afternoon of shrieking in between headline updates, alarmist scolding, and references to last September's beer and chicken escapades, of which Buchholz was believed to be an ancillary participant. It was too much, even for this market. Dammit, exhale once in a while.

Daniel Bard
No relief in sight
In 49.2 innings from last May through August for the Red Sox, Bard allowed four runs, walked eight batters, and hit one. In 11.1 innings for Pawtucket since he was sent out following a meltdown in Toronto that convinced even those of us who believed he could start that the experiment must be abandoned, Bard has allowed nine runs and walked eight batters while hitting four. Right now, it's not about getting him back to the big leagues this season. It's about making sure he's not ruined.

Marlon Byrd
Victor Conte loyalist
The veteran outfielder was suspended by Major League Baseball for 50 games June 25 after testing positive for the banned performance-enhancer Tamoxifed, 16 days after he had been designated for assignment by the Red Sox. Byrd said he took the drug for an issue "private and unrelated to baseball." His statistics during his time with the Red Sox may help his case. In 34 games, he had a .606 OPS, a performance that was anything but enhanced.

Red Sox power rankings: May

  June 1, 2012 08:50 AM

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.

Red Sox power rankings: April

  May 1, 2012 08:00 AM

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Welcome to the first edition of what I hope will be many volumes 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 11-11 Red Sox of April. Today is May 1. See how it works?) The only rule of the power rankings is that there are no rules to the power rankings. Media members, prospects, front-office personnel, even your favorite sausage vendor are almost as liable to be ranked as the 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,   leading off with some real power. You can also find the gallerized version here.

TOP FIVE
1. David Ortiz
April power
Was it just two Aprils ago that David Ortiz's abysmal start led to speculation that he might actually be released? (Answer: Yes, it was two Aprils ago, and he was brutal -- he hit .143 with one homer in 63 plate appearances.) But it's understandable if Big Papi's last abysmal April feels like a long time ago. Ortiz was one of the Red Sox' saving graces in their slow start (4-10) and quick recovery (a 6-1 road trip, a win against the A's to open a homestand Monday), leading the team in batting (.405), home runs (6), and RBIs (20), punctuating April with two more homers Monday night.

2. Cody Ross/Ryan Sweeney
Outfield assists
Few lineups and ball clubs could withstand injuries to two of its starting outfielders, but that's exactly what the Red Sox have had to endure. Jacoby Ellsbury -- coming off one of the most well-rounded offensive seasons in franchise history -- is sidelined indefinitely with a shoulder injury courtesy of an accidental pile-driver by Rays shortstop Reid Brignac, while left fielder Carl Crawford hasn't played a game this season and won't for months because of wrist and elbow injuries. Newcomers Cody Ross and Ryan Sweeney were expected to platoon in right field this season, but both have been everyday players because of the injuries -- and both have thrived. Combined, they're batting .295 with five homers, 26 RBIs and 20 extra-base hits. Ross leads is second on the Red Sox in homers (5), while Sweeney has 11 doubles and a .962 OPS. Their production not only has been essential, but it's a reminder that, yes, Ben Cherington did do a few things right this offseason.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for avilesmike51.jpg3. Mike Aviles
Slugging shortstop
Funny, those howls for slick-fielding prospect Jose Iglesias to start at shortstop over the veteran Aviles seem to have faded into the ether somewhere between Fort Myers and Boston. Actually, their official place of demise is probably Pawtucket, where Iglesias is demonstrating he still has to learn how to hit Triple A pitching (.185 average, .198 slugging percentage through Sunday's games) before he can claim a spot in a big-league lineup. But Aviles, an unsung five-year veteran, deserves tremendous credit for seizing the job when it was vacated by the trade of Marco Scutaro to Colorado. Aviles has five homers after a three-run bomb last night, he's slugging .535 with an .865 OPS, and he's been superb filling in for the injured Ellsbury in the leadoff spot.

4. Daniel Bard
Needed everywhere
The case can be made that April 23, the night that he rescued the bullpen by getting two crucial outs in the eighth inning of a 6-5 victory over the Twins, was perhaps the pivotal date in the young season. The victory, the game following the Red Sox' rock-bottom meltdown during which they blew a late 9-1 lead against the Yankees, began a six-game winning streak. But Bard's relief effort came after the Red Sox had skipped his start -- something they likely will not be tempted to do going forward. Along with lefty Felix Doubront, Bard has stabilized the back of the Red Sox rotation, and his 3.86 ERA as a starter is best on the team. He's where he belongs.

5. Will Middlebrooks
Look out, Youk
While there are few cases, if any, in recent Red Sox history of a hot prospect replacing an accomplished incumbent so early in a season, let's put it this way: Kevin Youkilis's stiff back that kept him out the past two games better not land him on the disabled list, or he may find himself become acquainted with the story of Wally Pipp. Now, of course that's not intended to equate Middlebrooks, the Red Sox' top prospect according to Baseball America, with Gehrig, who filled in for Pipp one day in June 1925 and proceeded to play the next 2,129 consecutive games after that. But at Pawtucket, Middlebrooks has been doing a fine approximation of Gehrig as a hitter -- through 23 games, he's hitting .348 with 9 homers, 27 RBIs, and a 1.104 OPS. Better stay healthy and productive, Youk. The kid looks ready.

BOTTOM FIVE

Carl Crawford
Everybody hurts
He tormented the Red Sox for nine years while he was with the Rays. And though not much fault of his own, he's pretty much tormented the Red Sox with ineffectiveness and now injury since signing a $142 million deal last December. At the moment, the state of the left fielder's career is such that it must be considered comparatively good news when his latest injury is going to sideline him for only three months.

NESN
What about the game?
Don Orsillo and Tom Caron remain true pros, but NESN's increased emphasis on ancillary nonsense serves as a distraction from what's happening on the field. Taped reports with rookie reporter Jenny Dell have at least once had outdated information. The emphasis on Twitter deserves the hashtag #enoughalready. And a recent tour of the clubhouse led to missing most of a live play. It's inexcusable. Should Jerry Remy, who has been out a few games with what the network said is a sinus infection, return to the booth soon, here's my question for the "Ask Jerry" segments: You're a no-nonsense guy, Jerry. Don't you miss when it was about the game?

Josh Beckett
Pitches, not snitches
Beckett wasn't up to his usual standards in April (2-3, 4.45 ERA in five starts), just as he was not up to them during September's epic collapse. He's shown enough this season to suggest he's still a top-of-the-rotation starter, so there's no real worry there. But he needs to move on from last season. His comments about clubhouse snitches this spring were as complicit in the inability to turn the page as he and his chicken-and-beer clique was in September's failings. It's May now. Move on.

Bobby Valentine
Strategic struggles
In many ways, Bobby V. has been as advertised -- candid, obtuse, ubiquitous, controversial. The surprise has been that he hasn't been as tactically sharp in his first few weeks as Red Sox manager as he was renowned for during his days with the Rangers, Mets, and with Japan's Chiba Lotte Marines. You know the blunders: Leaving in a clearly gassed Daniel Bard to walk in the lone run in a loss to the Rays, bringing in lefty Franklin Morales to face lefty masher Mike Napoli with predictable results, having to reshuffle his lineup after believing Twins righty Liam Hendriks was a southpaw. The Red Sox' turnaround has been encouraging, and he deserves credit for that. But for parts of April, he managed as poorly as his team performed.

The bullpen
Relieved to see April end
It's probably not fair to give the entire bullpen an F for April ... but that's exactly what we're going to do. While a couple of relievers had their moments -- Alfredo Aceves seems to have settled into the closer's role, Scott Atchison has a 0.917 WHIP, and Junichi Tazawa hasn't allowed a run in four appearances -- it's hard to single out anyone for credit in a 'pen that blew a 9-1 lead in the seventh inning in an eventual 15-9 loss to the Yankees April 21 and has a collective 6.34 ERA. The upside: They can't possibly be worse in May.

@GlobeChadFinn

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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