Stats don’t say everything.
By virtue of their sweep of the Toronto Blue Jays, the Red Sox are now sitting at 11-11. If they win on Friday, they could finish April above .500. This is good news considering that they were 4-9 just nine games ago.
Yet I don’t think they are quite there yet.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m excited we won our last three series. I’m glad that over the last two games our run prevention theory is sounding more like a strategy than a joke. I’m relieved that Lester finally had a quality start. We have at least one regular starter (Adrian Beltre) hitting above .300.
But all of this has come against teams who are, well, bad. The Rangers and Orioles are both in last place, and the Blue Jays are starting their annual standings sinking. If we can only muster two runs per game against teams at the bottom of the standings, then how are we supposed to beat teams doing well in the standings?
Before the season, I thought this run prevention strategy would work. I thought our rotation would be one of the strongest in the MLB, and I thought we would hit way better than people expected.
When I see this team though, I know that we can’t rely on pitching to take us to the playoffs. We have young pitchers in Lester and Buchholz, a question mark pitcher in Matsuzaka, and two top pitchers in Beckett and Lackey who are bound to have their bad days. Our bullpen, if we don’t put in Bard and Papelbon, is unreliable at best.
I think Monday’s 13-12 victory was the rare game when the Red Sox can hit their way through bad pitching. We can’t rely on Darnell McDonald, no matter how magical he seems, to get that clutch hit for us every night.
And so here’s what I think the Red Sox should try first.
Before making any trades, the Red Sox need to utilize the bench. Jason Varitek has been hitting. If he plays every day, he may not hit as well, but he should play more often, perhaps every other day. The Red Sox are 6-2 when he plays, and they are 4-0 in his last four starts. Victor Martinez is not significantly better at throwing out runners than Varitek, and Varitek is definitely better with the pitching staff.
Mike Lowell should also be DHing more, and he should definitely DH whenever there is a left-handed pitcher. Ortiz is not the hitter he used to be, and nothing will change that. Regardless of whether it’s because of steroids or age, it’s still fact. At .250, Lowell is not tattooing the ball, but he is hitting better than Ortiz’s .154. More importantly, Ortiz has a .241 OBP while Lowell is sitting at .333.
The Red Sox also need to see how much longer Cameron and Ellsbury are going to be on the DL. At this time, it looks like both will be going on rehab assignments, although that doesn’t seem to be coming anywhere in the near future. If by the end of the first week of May there is still no time-table for either player’s return, I think the Red Sox would need to look into a trade for a stronger fourth outfielder than the Jeremy Hermida-Darnell McDonald-Bill Hall combination. I would try to trade McDonald. His luck has to run out at some point, but he could be tempting for some teams.