The biggest strength and most potentially fatal weakness of the Red Sox came into sharp focus at the beginning and end of their series in Anahem this week. We won the opener 4-3 on the strength of the bullpen. Justin Masterson gave six solid innings and even though the Angels led it 3-1 after seven, the Sox rallied to win 4-3 as Delcarmen, Ramon Ramirez and Paps kept things under control. The winning run came in the top of the ninth when Varitek doubled home J.D. Drew. The captain is not having a great year by any means, but his offense has been enough to justify the offseason decision to keep him on board as the regular and tutor to George Kottaras.
Mike Scoscia's team rallied back and took the series. On Wednesday, they roughed up Tim Wakefield, overcoming a 4-0 deficit on the strength of five runs in the third and coasting home to an 8-4 win. One positive sidebar to this game was the relief appearance of Daniel Bard. A first-round pick out of North Carolina in 2006, Bard remains a highly regarded prospect and he tossed two shutout innings. If he pitches well and can become a part of the bullpen, it can open up maneuvering room to deal a pitcher as part of a package to get a big left-handed bat.
Which brings us to David Ortiz and the finale. We all know Papi has struggled badly to start the season and it hit a new low on Thursday afternoon. In a 12-inning affair, the big man went 0-for-7 and left twelve men on base, including stranding the bases loaded twice. The final failure came in the top of the 12th. It is hard watching him struggle like this and loyalty (if not common sense) dictates that he be given not just a little more leeway, but several additional second chances than any other player might be given. The numbers are awful--a .318 on-base percentage ranks ninth among designated hitters with enough at-bats to qualify for the batting title (only Hank Blalock in Texas trails him), and his woeful .300 slugging is worst among the 10 qualifying DH's.
On the positive side, offensive production from the DH position in general has declined, as was pointed out in a column by Fox's Ken Rosenthal who examined the possibility of Boston dumping the big man. The top producers at this position are names like Adam Lind (Toronto), Jack Cust (Oakland) and Jason Kubel (Minnesota). Only Cust can be considered a potential rising star. We're clearly a long way from a few years ago when you had Papi in his prime, Jim Thome still ringing up huge numbers, Jason Giambi filling the stat sheet and a healthy Travis Hafner swinging away in Cleveland.
It's now on to Seattle, where the Sox look to get back on track. We remain a game behind Toronto, although that's a mixed blessing. We held firm in the standings, because the Yanks won two of three from the Jays, so while we didn't lose ground, our rivals are a little closer in the rearview mirror.