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.
1. David Ortiz
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
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.
3. Mike Aviles
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
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.