Now, this lack of drama is no fun at all in September, and it's nigh-unacceptable in the playoffs. So rather than just let things play out like they will, which is to say "predictably," we're going to try to throw a wrench into the hopes and dreams of fans of each of the aforementioned playoff probables. Because none of them are the Braves. AND SO: onward with the hating. Up next: the Red Sawx.
Biggest Strength: The bullpen. While it's true that they've got four players in the top 100 in WAR - Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, J.D. Drew, and Jason Bay, only Youkilis and Pedroia make the top 35. Victor Martinez has been a nice addition to the lineup, posting a .399 wOBA, and Jon Lester and Josh Beckett both give them a good chance of winning when they take the mound. But the 'pen has been solid, despite a ninth-inning comeback from the Angels last night. Jonathan Papelbon, despite the newfound wildness he's displayed this year, is second in the league in WXRL, with a hefty 5.70 mark. Among other significant relievers - i.e. those who've thrown more than 40 innings - none have a negative WXRL mark, which is excellent. A deep bullpen means that they can handle the occasional disastrous start, and don't have to worry too much about one guy shouldering too much of the load. Billy Wagner has seemed like his old self, striking out 14.73 per 9, and Daniel Bard's 100-mph gas has led to almost 12 K/9. Hideki Okajima has been effective despite a 1.3+ WHIP, particularly against lefties, whom he's held to a .558 OPS. It's not a dominant unit, but it's effective from top to bottom, which is something not many other teams can boast.
But Wait a Minute!
The rest of the team really seems lacking. That seems a broad statement, and for that we apologize, but...we don't really know how else to put it. Let's take a look at the lineup: It remains KCSD's official stance that David Ortiz is done as an effective beisbol-er, Ellsbury still needs to work on plate discipline, Nick Green has turned into a pumpkin, and the best bench option is a guy with a rare disease who's hitting .255/.313/.453. Ok, so it's unfair of us to pick on Rocco Baldelli for having the mitochondrial disorder. But he isn't performing up to the expectations he set for himself after a pretty studly rookie year.
We'd like to talk about Jason Varitek in a special paragraph here. He had a nice first month of the season, and was actually slugging above .500 with double-digit homers at one point. Now? He's hitting .212/.317/.400. Last year, when many people thought he was finished as an effective catcher, he was at .220/.313/.359. So besides a fluky first month, he's been every bit as poor as he was last year. Which is to say: he's an utter liability at the plate. And not to infer too much from two days, but he's allowed crucial passed balls in each of the last two games against AL West-leading Los Angeles. So it doesn't seem unfair to say that he's, well, not so useful behind the plate either.
But what about the rotation? We'll admit, there's some promise here. We've long been a believer in Clay Buchholz, though it is admittedly troublesome that the organization doesn't seem to show the same faith in him that we do. And his lack of control this year - nearly 4 BB/9, a WHIP of 1.37, and an FIP that's half a run higher than his actual, sub-4.00 ERA do not bode well. Plus, after the way he's been jerked around and been consigned to AAA despite effective Major League performances (see: no-hitter), he's now going to be throwing crucial playoff innings? Tim Wakefield has been dealing with a balky back all season, so his availability and effectiveness will be in question. Daisuke Matsuzaka's been pretty disastrous all season - to wit, a 7.02 ERA - but his first start since he came back seems encouraging. They really need him to be healthy and effective, but it's a major question as to whether he's capable of both of those things; to wit, he's long had control problems, and suffice his 4.61 BB/9 to say that he's not taken steps to curtail that issue. And we don't know if we should even address Paul Byrd, as it's sort of a joke that he'd be starting games for a playoff team from the AL East at this point in his career.
If the Sox are going to win - and they won't, because, of course, they're going to blow it - they're going to need big performances from their studs. Kevin Youkilis is their best weapon, and if he can't play well because of his back, we're not sure if the rest of the team can step it up to compensate. They do have Beckett and Lester, who should be able to nab two or three games a series. Unless, of course, Beckett keeps forgetting how to pitch like an effective Major Leaguer. And there's a lot of other things that could go wrong - particularly if the bullpen, whose effectiveness has come despite bouts of wildness, implodes, and if that lineup can't keep up their 9th-in-MLB scoring pace. Which we're not really sure how they do that anyway. In any event, you can rest assured that the Red Sox will blow it one way or another.