With Opening Day for the Red Sox less than two weeks away, a quick check on the storylines from late February:
- The New Guys - Hard to read where the new Sawx (Smoltz, Penny, Baldelli, Ramirez, Saito, et al.) stand as spring training winds down. On the one hand, utlility candidate Nick Green has been a stud, thanks to extra ABs from Pedroia's WBC absence, batting .340, slugging .520 and making it easy to see him as the extra infielder to start the season. On the other hand, Brad Penny only just started throwing in games (3 IP, 3 Ks) and Smoltz has started bullpen sessions. Ramon Ramirez has been inconsistent (8 1/3 IP, 8 Ks, 9 hits, 3 HRs) while Saito has been solid (8 IP, 8 Ks). Baldelli's been up and down (.179 Avg., 7 Ks in 28 ABs) and Brad Wilkerson, expected to be a dark-horse fourth outfielder candidate, has been abysmal with 18 whiffs in 42 ABs. Stay tuned, I guess...
- The Kids - The big story of spring training has been the revelation that is Daniel Bard, who has been dominant, with 12 Ks in 9 1/3 IP and just 5 hits allowed. As important as Bard's development has been the stabilization of Clay Bucholz, who seems have regained the stuff - and swagger - he had in his brilliant '07 late-season tenure with the Sawx. Factor in Jon Lester's consistency and Justin Masterson's continued growth and maturation, and the Sawx have serious depth in the rotation and bullpen with both the big club and the PawSox.
- Big Papi, Lowell and Drew - Three acknowledged question marks that have, for the most part, not really been answered this spring. In limited ABs, Mike Lowell (.318, 3 HRs, 1.045 OPS) has looked like he is making his way back, while David Ortiz has been solid if unspectacular (.280, 2 HRs, .947 OPS) and J.D. Drew has been, well, J.D. Drew - he's left camp with a back issue and then missed some time with a hand problem (courtesy of a fastball off said hand last Friday) - and hasn't really lit it up in limited action (.174, 1 HR, .684 OPS). I guess, in large part, the jury is still out on this VIT - Very Important Triptych - for the Sawx. Stay tuned...
- Tickets Still Available?!?! - According to RedSox.com, there are still tickets available for almost every series in April (excluding the Yanks, of course), which is pretty much unheard of. This is a blog post on its own (foreshadowing? you betcha!), but it would certainly seem like the twin spectres of the economic repression (not quite a recession, not quite a depression, with a slice of cantaloupe at the end) and general fan ennui might be to blame. Too much success in the last 5 years after decades of futility seem to have spoiled Sawx fans. More to come later.
- No A-Rod? No Manny? No problem... oh wait - Yes, it's true: A-Rod is out until May with a hip problem (douche) and Manny is back in L.A., so it would seem like the Sawx have nothing to worry about from two of their more recent nemeses. Well, except that pesky little WBC, which almost torpedoed the Sawx season with injuries to Pedroia and Youkilis. Luckily, it seems like both Pedey and Youk are on the mend and will be fine by Opening Day... but it only throws into sharp relief the folly of holding the WBC in March when most of these guys have yet to take a swing in anger, let alone even see a live pitch. Well, at least Dice-K looked good.
Well, that's all for now. I for one am glad to see the mundane inanity of Spring Training drawing to close, because I'm done with the NCAA tournament (my bracket was toast after the first weekend) and ready for the Sawx to start the season.