The red-eyed Red Sox opened their 10-day, 10-game West Coast swing with a nail-biting, sleep-postponing 2-1 victory over the Oakland A's last night. Opening the trip with a win in Oakland was a good omen for the Olde Towne Team. One game down, nine to go.
So, here are nine thoughts, observations and estimations about the Red Sox with 69 games to go:
1.Tough start -- That's what tonight is for Tim Wakefield, who knows that even if he throws a no-hitter his spot in the rotation is about to vanish with the return of Clay Buchholz tomorrow and Josh Beckett on Friday. Wakefield is the odd man out for the umpteenth time in his career, but it's hard to feel sorry for him on this one. The veteran knuckleballer will make his 16th start of the season tonight, in six of the previous 15 he has allowed six or more runs, including his last two. Wakefield is a class act and a guy you root for but the Red Sox can't afford any more clunkers at this juncture.
2. Forget the Papelbon panic -- So, where are those people now who were calling for Jonathan Papelbon to be removed as closer after he blew back-to-back saves against the Rockies almost a month ago? Papelbon has been lights out since the debacle in Denver. He hasn't allowed a run in seven appearances and during that span has surrendered just one hit, while picking up five saves. Papelbon might not be long for the Red Sox' closer role for contractual reasons, but the hysteria over two bad outings was absurd. Papelbon is the least of the Sox concerns when it comes to the bullpen.
3. Michael Bowden can be the Red Sox' Phil Hughes -- Not the Phil Hughes who is a front-line starter for the Yankees this year, but the one who made a mid-season conversion to a relief role and stabilized the Bronx Bombers bullpen last season. As Mr. Touching All The Bases pointed out in our Red Sox podcast, Bowden doesn't have Hughes high-end stuff and isn't overpowering. However, he does have the makeup (read: mental toughness and approach) to thrive in a relief role. Unlike Hughes in '09, Bowden doesn't have to be the direct link to the closer. He just has to be the on-ramp to Bard, who is the bridge to Papelbon.
4. Daisuke Matsuzaka has the shortest leash of any Sox starter -- This was pretty obvious last night when Terry Francona took out Matsuzaka, who had allowed only two hits and was dealing, with two outs in the seventh and runners on second and third. There was no problem with the manager's move, but you wonder if it would have been the same decision with John Lackey. This season Lackey has been more Daisuke-esque than Daisuke with his inconsistent outings, but the team keeps telling us he keeps them in games and piles up innings. He also piles up baserunners (142 hits and 48 walks and four hits batters in 120 innings) and hitters have a .330 average with balls put into play against him. If one gets a quick hook, so should the other.
5. This road trip could mark the return of run prevention -- The truth is that the oft-cited unofficial slogan of the 2010 Red Sox was a misnomer until injuries reduced their lineup to National League Lite. They still lead the majors in runs scored, but to come out of this West Coast sojourn with a winning record the battered Bostonians are going to have to win games like last night's 2-1 affair. Luckily, that's possible because the A's and the Red Sox next opponent, the Seattle Mariners, are two of the lightest-hitting clubs in the league. Both play in pitcher-friendly ballparks and are in the bottom six in the majors in runs scored. Seattle is tied for the fewest homers in the baseball with 60 and Oakland is tied for second-fewest with 61.
6. Adrian Beltre is one tough hombre -- Beltre's homer was the difference last night, but what was most impressive was watching him clearly hobbling down the line on an eighth-inning single. Beltre's hamstring is not 100 percent, but he's gutting it out and contributing to the Sox. For all the talk about Beltre's defense excellence when he came over from Seattle as a free agent what was undersold is how tough he is. That's valuable on an injury-plagued team. Of course maybe we should have known Beltre was a tough guy. You're either tough or crazy if you forgo, uh, covering all your bases.
7. Would the Red Sox consider bringing Coco Crisp back? -- Remember when Crisp was going to be the next big thing for the Red Sox? When David Ortiz poured milk over his head for a Sports Illustrated shot? Crisp broke his knuckle sliding into third base in Baltimore five games into his Red Sox' career, the first of a few bad breaks for him here. A fractured pinkie finger and a strained chest muscle have limited Crisp to 22 games with the A's this season, and he's hitting just .229. But he would come cheap, can play defense, steal a base and could be reinvigorated by platooning on a potential playoff team.
8. Jeremy Hermida's return is a referendum on rib injuries -- Hermida is scheduled to rejoin the Red Sox on Thursday in Seattle, which remarkably is two months to the day that Jacoby Ellsbury returned from his fractured ribs. It took Ellsbury 41 days to come back the first (some contend only) time, and if Hermida plays on Thursday it will be 48 days since the injury and 43 days since he played in a big league game. If Hermida can play without trouble, then the Ellsbury cynics are right. If Hermida has to shut it down, then Ellsbury will be owed quite a few apologies.
9. Painful reminder -- That's what the Red Sox will face in Seattle on Saturday when the opposing pitcher is scheduled to be former farmhand David Pauley. The last time they were this beat up was 2006, and Pauley came up from the farm to make three spot starts. He went 0-2 with a 7.88 ERA. Pauley, who last pitched for the Red Sox in 2008, has made two starts this season for Seattle. He is still searching for his first big league win. How ironic if it came against his shorthanded former team.
...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.