Some really nice developments today. The back end of the bullpen performed in a textbook fashion, with Timlin holding the line in the eighth and Papelbon slamming the door in the ninth. More importantly, Foulke looked to be his old self again. He threw nearly two innings of flawless ball, getting five outs on five hitters, including three strikeouts. Suddenly his ERA is down to 3.55, the difference between his fastball and his changeup is once again enough to baffle hitters, and he seems to have his swagger back. A very nice development. Throw in the return of Manny Delcarmen, who was blowing through Triple A hitters, and the matching 0.00 ERAs of Craig Hansen and Edgar Martinez in Portland, and suddenly the bullpen depth looks much more promising than it did just a week ago.
Further good news came in the form of Matt Clement, who pitched well into the sixth and picked up the win. Remove his terrible start against the Blue Jays on April 13th and he's 2-0, 4.19 ERA, which I will take pretty much any day. We already know that Schilling and Beckett are blowing people away, and Wakefield has been great (2.74 ERA, 0.96 WHIP) since getting rocked in his first start of the year, which leaves only the Wells-DiNardo hole in the rotation to worry about.
The offense is back to looking decent again, and I give the credit for that to Trot Nixon. He's played just 14 games this year due to his groin injury, but when he's played the team has scored. They are averaging 5.36 runs per game when Nixon plays, and just 3.00 runs per game when he doesn't. Manny is hitting, Papi never stopped hitting, and Youkilis is becoming a valuable everyday major league player before our eyes. When Crisp returns in May, this team will score a nice number of runs.
All in all, I'm not sure why I ever screwed around with this team in the first place.
Other Sox News:
- Jon Lester finally had a nice, but not great, start in Pawtucket, but it looks like they're limiting his pitch count. That's probably a good idea as he works out his issues, but it does mean that the Sox can't count on him to fill that problematic rotation slot any time soon.
- Clay Buchholz, one of last year's many first round picks, is ripping up opposing hitters in Greenville. He's 2-0 in three starts, with a 1.20 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, and an average of one strikeout per inning, so there is yet another arm that might progress rapidly to the big club.
- vWhile the club's top minor league pitchers all seem to be doing pretty well, with only Lester as a possible exception, the same can't be said for their young hitters. Dustin Pedroia just returned from his Spring Training shoulder injury and is struggling so far in Pawtucket. Jed Lowrie has a .677 OPS in Wilmington. There isn't a single hitter at Portland with an OPS above .723, and the team's two top outfield prospects there, David Murphy (.680) and Brandon Moss (.549), are leading the charge to mediocrity. Of the postional prspects who the Sox hoped might make a push for the big club this season, only Jacob Ellsbury (.333/.375/.483/.858 at High-A Wilmington) is performing well. To be fair, Jeff Natale is destroying the Sally League at the moment, to the tune of .370/.493/.611/1.104, but that's low A-ball, and Natale isn't high on the Sox's list to contribute anytime soon. Overall, the team's four current minor league clubs are a combined 32-35, and it's startign to look like the Sox are going to need another great draft this year before they are completely past having a disappointing farm system.