Rejoice, for the Red Sox have moved out of the American League East basement, and are now sitting half-a-game out of second place and one game under .500. Generally, I don’t pay attention to the standings much until August–pennant race season!–but, given the nature of Boston’s start to 2011, it’s comforting to see their record and standing move up.
One reason they have been able to do this, as has been mentioned, are strong pitching performances from everyone not named Clay Buchholz. Daisuke Matsuzaka had one of his monthly dominant starts, striking out nine while walking three, limiting the Angels to a single hit and no runs. As for the monthly dominance thing, I’m not joking. Matsuzaka had such a trend in 2010, with one of these starts where his command worked every few times out, in between his frustrating showings. Going backwards:
Sep. 26: 8 IP, 7 K, 1 BB, 2 R, 110 pitches
Aug. 21: 8 IP, 8 K, 3 BB, 4 R, 109 pitches
Aug. 5: 8 IP, 7 K, 2 BB, 1 R, 109 pitches
June 7: 8 IP, 5 K, 2 BB, 0 R, 112 pitches
May 11: 7 IP, 9 K, 0 BB, 1 R, 106 pitches
There is no denying that Dice-K is excellent when he is on, but it’s that very thing that drives me crazy: he has great stuff (ask the Angels who dealt him with yesterday) but never seems to be able to utilize it properly consistently. The work in between those five great starts in 2010, when combined with the great starts themselves, added up to a 4.69 ERA, 1.8 K/BB ratio, and just over six innings per start.
More succinctly, it’s good to see Dice-K pitching well over his last two starts, but let’s not go overboard just yet, either. It’s a long season, and, as he has shown us many times before, that long season can involve a number of long outings and long innings.
I do have a feeling that Matsuzaka’s low point of his Red Sox career–the start against Tampa Bay that saw him get lit up for seven runs in two innings of work–may have opened the door for pitching coach Curt Young to instruct him on how to utilize his stuff. It will take more than two starts for me to believe that rather than just consider it, but the fact that he is throwing far more two-seamers and is throwing a different looking breaking ball (and with far better results) in the games since at least makes it plausible. Besides the whole, you know, it’s Curt Young’s job thing, I mean.
John Lackey has also pitched well of late, and, after eight scoreless versus his former team yesterday, has brought his ERA all the way down to 6.35–hey, it was a rough start to the season, okay? Lackey’s strikeouts still seem to be missing, but his K/BB over his last two starts was at least a decent start, as he has nine punch outs against two free passes over his last 14 innings of work.
Lackey says having his start skipped on Patriot’s Day motivated him–actually, in his words, it “Pissed me off”. Kudos to Terry Francona for realizing that pitching Dice-K against the Blue Jays, who he historically has success against thanks to their “if it’s a pitch, swing at it” mentality, was a good idea, and that it was doubly a promising thought given it would drive Lackey up the wall and force him to focus on the whole not pitching horribly thing.
Ryan Kalish, who hit .252/.305/.405 as a rookie last year and was expected to join the Red Sox permanently starting in 2012, may have his schedule derailed. He has a partially torn labrum in his throwing shoulder, and season-ending surgery may be on the horizon.
This moves Josh Reddick up the depth charts once again, although most likely only temporarily. Conveniently enough, I’ve tackled the subject of Reddick in the past here, and I wrote about him at Baseball Prospectus today because of the Kalish injury:
With Reddick, plate discipline is the major issue worth looking at. It’s clear he can absolutely mash, but he won’t get pitches he can crush in the majors if he doesn’t learn to shrink his strike zone. That he currently has 10 walks against 11 strikeouts is a potentially huge sign, given he punched out 73 times against 25 walks last year at the same level, and currently has 292 minor league whiffs compared to just 131 walks.
I’m not convinced Reddick has a future in Boston–that is not the same as saying he has no major league future–but he strikes me as the kind of Justin Masterson-ish major leaguer that Boston will move in a summer deal–a strong 2011 campaign from Pawtucket would go a long ways towards giving him back the trade value his 2010 helped to damage.
The Red Sox have tonight off, but start a series against the Orioles tomorrow. It will be Buchholz against rookie Zach Britton–keep an eye on Buchholz’s fastball velocity, as it has been down a few ticks from last year’s mid-90s speed.