Boston has had one of the league’s best offenses so far this season.
David Ortiz, who was just breaking out of his April slump, is now on the 15-day DL. Ortiz hit .198 in April but had a .310 average in May, leading fans to expect that good times would again seem so good, so good, so good. But now, at the beginning of June, his left wrist is immobilized in a hard, black cast. He’ll miss at least three weeks and could be facing season-ending surgery.
So the big question going into the trading deadline is: do the Red Sox need to add a power bat?
I say no. At least, not until we know more. In two weeks, the doctors will remove Big Papi’s cast and see how the wrist feels. If there’s no pain, he could be back in the batter’s box having missed only a few pesky interleague games. Sure, that’s a big if. But even without Ortiz, the Red Sox will still score a lot of runs—they’ll just do it a slightly different way. Even with Ortiz out of the lineup, the Red Sox still have enviable offensive depth, with Coco Crisp, Sean Casey, and Alex Cora available off the bench. Plus, they’ve got another handy infielder, Jed Lowrie, down at AAA along with a number of other useful subs. In other words, no half-season rentals need apply.
Yet there’s no doubt that the absence of Ortiz will change the dynamics of the team. Most notably, a Papi-less lineup will put even more pressure on a pitching staff that has already failed to live up to its billing. Boston’s team ERA is a thoroughly mediocre 4.03. Their starters have provided their fair share of innings, and the starting rotation has limited opponents to a batting average of .237—best in the AL. Their relievers have been slightly less effective, but, as you might expect from a team just a half-game out of first place, still not terrible.
The problem has been that both Boston’s starters and the team’s relievers routinely issue too many walks. Though Boston’s pitching staff is second in the league in strikeouts, their ERA, WHIP and OBP are all middling due to the fact that they’ve issued the third most walks in the league, after the truly abysmal staffs of the Tigers and the Rangers.
The Red Sox don’t necessarily need more hurlers—for starting pitchers, they’ve got Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuaka, Tim Wakefield, Jon Lester, Bartolo Colon, Clay Buchholz (currently in AAA), Justin Masterson (an AAA pitching prospect currently with the big league club), and Curt Schilling, who threw off a mound today for the first time this season. (He threw 25 pitches and felt good afterwards.) And in the bullpen, they’ve got marquee closer Jonathan Papelbon and a surprisingly decent middle-relief option in David Aardsma. But they’ve got an ineffective specialist in Javier Lopez, a LOOGY who has actually been less effective against lefties, and a quartet of struggling set-up men: Mike Timlin, who may finally have to concede defeat to Father Time; Hideki Okajima, who looks this year like a mere mortal; Craig Hansen, a 6’6″ 24-year old whose devastating slider comes and goes like a Gypsy troubadour; and Manny Delcarmen, a fireballer who appears oddly vulnerable on the mound.
No, the quantity is there. It’s the quality that’s lacking. Given the caliber of the pitches these guys have in their respective arsenals, that’s mysterious and disturbing. These aren’t guys who go up there and throw junk—for the most part, these are guys with high-90s heat at their disposal. But for the Red Sox to repeat as world champions, their pitchers are going to have to stop issuing so many free passes.