April at Fenway: September '11 redux
The Red Sox front office did everything they could this offseason to make 2012 a fresh start. Out went general manager Theo Epstein and manager Terry Francona, veterans of two World Series-winning teams. The new power structure included additions from inside and out, with Ben Cherington ascending to the role of GM and wild card Bobby Valentine brought in as manager.
So much for shaking things up. The team’s uneven performance in April did little to dispel the discontent surrounding last September’s collapse. In fact, you could be forgiven for confusing the two months; the Sox’ numbers during these two periods were eerily similar.
In September 2011, the Sox ranked among the top five in the majors in batting average, slugging, on-base percentage, hits, and runs scored, scoring ten runs or more five different times. They were well ahead of the Rays, with whom they were competing for the final playoff spot in the AL, in all these categories.
Boston’s bats were again hot this April. Paced by the near-.400 hitting of David Ortiz and pleasant surprises Ryan Sweeney and Mike Aviles, the Sox led the major leagues in runs scored and were second in hits, batting average, and slugging.
The problem, to no one’s surprise, was pitching. As has been well documented, the Red Sox staff sported a league-worst 5.84 ERA last September, highlighted by the starting rotation’s 7.08 ERA. In April, the Sox ranked second-to-last with a 5.54 ERA, slightly ahead of the hapless Minnesota Twins.
This time, the bullpen was the weak link. Led by new acquisition Mark Melancon’s rancid 49.50 ERA, Red Sox relief pitchers set the standard for futility in the young season with a collective 6.10 ERA, worst in the majors.
Obviously, the team has struggled to deal with the loss of new closer Andrew Bailey, and he’ll presumably bring some stability to the unit when he returns around the All-Star break.
But, if April is any indication, the Sox face an even more daunting divisional battle than last season. In case you didn’t notice, Boston currently sits last in the AL East, despite finishing April with seven wins in eight games. Now, whether Baltimore and Toronto can continue to mount serious playoff bids is questionable, but they can no longer be considered doormats. If the Red Sox hope to seriously contend this year, they will need a major improvement in the contributions of…well, just about every pitcher on the staff.
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He has also authored or made contributions to many books, including the Sports Illustrateds 100 Fenway: A Fascinating First Century.
Now living in Marblehead, hes focusing his attention on the Boston sports scene, specifically delving into the numbers affecting the Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics and Bruins, with the goal of informing and entertaining real fans. You can follow him on Twitter at @SabinoSports.