EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

August 28, 2006

Awful in August, but Sox demand we stay positive

On Baseball

"We're all too negative."

When the statement was uttered by a few Red Sox players during and after their five-game Yankees debacle, it was taken to heart. Maybe Red Sox fans and followers aren't sidling up to the glass and correctly embracing the half-full mentality.

It would seem that when Boston was riding the wave of interleague success that someone would take note of the usual feel-good biorhythms emanating from Fenway Park, but evidently that wasn't the case.

So let us, in what appears to be the lowest point of the 2006 season, put on our happy faces.

Despite being swept by the last-place Seattle Mariners yesterday - Boston's second such whitewash by a cellar dweller this month - the Sox are 12 games above .500 and reside two games in front of Toronto in second-place in the American League East. If they ever did get to the World Series, you would have to like their chances, considering Terry Francona's team did go 16-2 against National League clubs.

The naysayers will point to the fact that if you subtract their interleague domination, Boston would reside at 55-57. And if you take away the Sox's feasting on Baltimore, their American League mark would then stand at just 44-56. But we're here to build up, not tear down.

Positive signs emanated from Safeco Field over the weekend, although you had to dig a bit to discover them.

The cynics that said that Boston didn't land anything at the nonwaiver trade deadline were smacked across the face with a big ol' dose of David Wells, the Red Sox's only addition to the starting rotation heading into August. After a couple of lukewarm starts, the lefty has notched a 2.89 ERA in his last four outings, the latest coming in Saturday night's loss.

Heck, the entire starting staff has seemed to level off a tad on the swing through the West Coast, maintaining a 4.34 ERA on the trip, which is one run fewer than their average for the month.

So what if Jon Lester will miss tonight's start in Oakland because of a bad back. The rookie is just 201/3 innings short of his professional high in innings pitched and reaching that milestone, whenever it may be, will be a step in the right direction. As will the next few starts of Josh Beckett, whose 164 frames is just 142/3 shy of a career high.

OK, Beckett might take a bit longer than anticipated to eclipse his high in innings pitched because of a cut near the nail of his right-middle finger. But ailment or no ailment, the Sox's flamethrower found himself in his last start and seems to be back in the saddle befitting a No. 2 starter.

"Location was the difference," Beckett wrote in an e-mail to The Eagle-Tribune, referring to his most recent start, a six-inning, four-hit, one-run gem. "(My stubbornness) was me not wanting to give in to the hitters, and that is where the stubborn person in me comes out. You end up fighting yourself.

"I know everyone wants to help, but sometimes you get overloaded with stuff, it all runs together and becomes confusing. You become uncomfortable out there and not sure what it is you are trying to do, which is win the game."

So if Wells continues his momentous march toward retirement, Lester's back isn't cataclysmic and Beckett and his finger remain positive, then we all should embrace the excitement of seeing some success from the under-the-radar newcomers. Tonight's starter, Kason Gabbard, pitched decently in his only other major league start (52/3 innings, 3 runs), and Kyle Snyder might have hit a bump in the road in yesterday's four-inning, six-run start, but prior to that had shown flashes.

Then there is closer Jonathan Papelbon. After the first "dead-arm" of his pitching career, the rookie has surrendered just one run and four hits in his last six outings. Papelbon's rookie bullpen mate, Manny Delcarmen, also continued to rediscover his way with two more scoreless innings in the series finale against the Mariners, bringing his run total to two in his past six appearances.

It's not only the youngsters who are getting it done in the bullpen, either, as is evidenced by Julian Tavarez's two-inning, scoreless stint yesterday, giving him just two earned runs allowed in his last seven outings. Maybe Tavarez's contemporaries in the bullpen, such as Mike Timlin (8.25 ERA in August) and Keith Foulke (balky back), have fallen on tough times, but, once again, we're focusing on the bright side.

Now, I know that it might be a bit tougher to be optimistic when analyzing the offense. This is a lineup, after all, that is hitting .188 through the first six games of the road trip, including just five hits in 39 at-bats after the seventh inning (.128).

Mike Lowell, however, hasn't succumbed, registering .368 on the trip. Meanwhile, David Ortiz has remained steady with a .285 clip and two home runs (reaching 47 for the season), despite hitting in front of a cleanup spot which has yielded just three hits in 22 at-bats over the past six games.

The Red Sox are also still the best defensive team in the majors, committing just 50 errors. Of course, their defense has had to watch their pitching staff give up the fourth-most indefensible hits - home runs - in the American League (155).

No, life isn't perfect. Those 51/2 games separating Boston and the wild card-leading Twins might appear less and less manageable which each passing day. But let us not finish the final month fueled with negativity. There's too many positives to get our arms around, right?

Sox left their bats behind

Red Sox's batting order production on their current road trip:

No. 1: 4-20, .200

No. 2: 3-24, .125

No. 3: 6-21, .285

No. 4: 3-22, .136

No. 5: 6-24, .250

No. 6: 5-21, .238

No. 7: 2-20, .100

No. 8: 4-23, .174

No. 9: 3-16, .187

A month to forget

* Red Sox are 2-9 on a current stretch in which they play 20 games in 21 days

* Sox are now 8-18 in August, the first time they have lost 18 games in the month since 1992

* Slump snaps their streak of 13 consecutive months of finishing with a .500 or better record

* Sox are 2-6-1 in last nine series

* For the month, Boston has second worst team batting average in American League (.254)

* Red Sox have now gone seven straight games without notching 10 hits or more

* Bullpen has pitched second most innings in American League over the past week (61), giving up the fourth-most hits (68)