The El Nino Sweeps Through – and so does Boston

Ever since we acquired Tony Graffanino, we have won twelve of fifteen games. In that span, Tony Graffanino has hit .333/.379/.426, and that does not include his 2-5 night last night, when he scored two runs and drove in two. Graffanino seems to have energized the entire offense. Don’t believe me? Below are the statistics of all the other starters of the ballclub. (Statistics through August 9th and not including last night’s 16-5 win.)
Johnny Damon .355/.417/.579
Edgar Renteria .304/.395/.377
Kevin Millar .288/.351/.348
Bill Mueller .308/.357/.523
David Ortiz .203/.434/.424 (Side note: I imagine it must take some adjustment to start being walked at a prolific clip – I am sure he will adjust and develop a keener batting eye. To me, it seems like he presses a little because no one will pitch to him.)
Jason Varitek .327/.422/.673
Manny Ramirez .327/.435/.731
Gabe Kapler .333/.360/.500
Now, I’m not saying that Tony Graffanino is the reason we’re hitting a lot better, but I do think he’s part of it. I think that he just brings another dynamic to the offense, one who can get contact. This club really relies on streaks, on everyone picking everyone else up … on being relentless. A .218 hitter who strikes out half the time (guess who) just doesn’t fit in the offense, and even though he was very solid last year, I thought stuck out like a sore thumb last year as well. Graffanino is just a better fit for this offense.
The emergence of Gabe Kapler has been excellent. I don’t expect him to keep it up all season, but with Trot Nixon still about a week and a half away, I’m confident with Kapler as the starting right fielder, and then when he becomes the platoon right fielder, playing against lefties, he is a dangerous bat off the bench. Alex Cora (.300/.333/.400) also creates a nice option off the bench. Whether or not Cora can retain that offense is meaningless – if he can stay around 2004 form and give us excellent defense, we’ve really patched our offense and bench quite well.
The bullpen has yet to be fully patched, as the last two nights indicate. In addition, the starting rotation is far from a sure thing. However, Keith Foulke’s clock is ticking down, and if he can come back strong, then that will make me feel much better. There is musing that Schilling is to stay in the bullpen for the rest of the year. I believe he should move back into the rotation, but if I had to go into the playoffs with Timlin, Schilling, and Foulke as the top three options out of the bullpen, that means the starter would only have to gut through six innings, only five on a good bullpen day. It would be a nice option, but I still remain convinced that we need that stopper in the rotation. I’ve discussed the confidence issue and I’m still worried about it. No matter how many hot streaks Tim Wakefield, Bronson Arroyo, Wade Miller, Matt Clement, or David Wells go on, there’s just something different about matching up with Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez. David Wells has been extremely good this season notwithstanding his 4/25, 5/18, and 5/24 starts. I suppose I should trust in him more, but I want to see him get through August with a strong showing.
Matt Clement was able to retain his effectiveness two nights ago and even though he didn’t go deep in the game (only six innings) I was mildly encouraged by his pitching. He struck out six, walked two, and allowed six hits. However, he needed 111 pitches to get through these six innings, so I’m surprised he didn’t walk more. Fortunately, he gets the Tigers in Comerica Park next, and I am hopeful that he will get back on track, perhaps with an eight inning effort.
It is also nice to see Bill Mueller start retaining his power, and while Mueller’s SLG and OPS is less than last year’s, his SLG keeps rising and his average is better than last year’s as well as his OBP. Combine in his professionalism and his defense, I’m hard pressed to advocate against letting him go as a free agent. Kevin Youkilis can handle the backup third base and first base position. (I won’t go on a rant about our first base glut again, but suffice it to say that we really ought to clear first base out if just to get Youkilis more playing time – and he can play second as well.)
An update on the lefty tracker for Manny Ramirez (which, if you don’t know, was mentioned on WEEI and credited to this very place)…
Since checking in at a .158 batting average and .289 slugging percentage on May 13, Manny has climbed that to .215, not a great batting average but that slugging has skyrocketed to .417. It is still well below even his 2004 totals, but it is at the very least rising. In addition, his righty splits are back to normal. He was at .284/.649 and is currently at .312/.639. That SLG has dipped, but has been offset by his power against lefties and better batting average against righties.
Right now, I think that we can be confident in our team. We improbably keep winning, when the situation dictates we do not, and a large part of that is thanks to our offense. Our bullpen seemed to have righted its ship, but it’s had a setback in the last few games.
We have a series with the Chicago White Sox coming up. If we can keep our offense ticking against their excellent pitching, we should have a shot. Hopefully our bullpen can be a bit more aggressive and shape up. It is really at Detroit that I hope our pitching can right out. If it can right out and get some confidence, we can go into Los Angeles clicking on all gears then roll over Kansas City. We then host Detroit and Tampa Bay at home. All in all, if we can get through the White Sox and the Angeles without being swept both times, I’ll be happy. What I’m most concerned about is getting our pitching on the same page as our offense before the calendar turns into September…