Taking stock of the Red Sox at the quarter pole
BIGGEST SURPRISE: Chris Capuano
Capuano was sitting at home in Arizona, unsigned, when spring training began. But when Ryan Dempster announced he wouldn't be pitching this year, Capuano was signed for $2 million, with an eye toward having him provide rotation depth.
In the meantime, Capuano has become a very valuable bullpen piece for the Sox. He was unscored upon in his first 15 innings, going the entire month of May without allowing a run. He then hit a rough patch, allowing seven hits and six runs -- five earned - over his next four appearances. He's since gotten back on track, however, with two more scoreless outings.
For the season, Capuano has a 2.21 ERA and has earned the trust of manager John Farrell and pitching coach Juan Nieves. Once seen as a middle relief option, he's been getting more and more high leverage opportunities.
All in all, pretty good for someone who had made only 29 bullpen appearances in his career before this year.
BIGGEST MYSTERY: Clay Buchholz
A year ago, Buchholz was pitching as well as any starter in the game, undefeated in June with an ERA under 2.00.
Almost a year later, Buchholz has two wins and a 6.17 ERA. Even allowing for his conservative throwing and training regimen and the need and time to build arm strength, something's not right. There's too much regular hard contact against him, even now that his velocity is back up to its usual 92-93 mph.
At the start of the year, Buchholz was placed in the No. 5 spot in the rotation solely to give him more time to get ready for his first start. But a quarter of the way through the season, he's pitching like an actual fifth starter. Why?
BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: Xander Bogaerts
Yes, he's 21. Yes, he’s a rookie. And yes, it's going to take some time for him to fully acclimate at shortstop, after having shifted over to third base last season. But the biggest disappointment, in some ways, is Bogaerts' offensive game, or lack thereof. He's hitting just .257 and, what's more, it's a relatively soft .257. He has just one homer in 38 games and only nine other extra-base hits (eight doubles, one triple).
No, it's not fair to expect he was going to look like Mike Trout in 2012. But given his talent, his poise and his instincts, he was supposed to be making more noise than this.
BIGGEST ONGOING ISSUE: Hitting with runners in scoring position.
It's been somewhat better of late, but it would be impossible to be any worse. Going into Thursday's game, the Sox were hitting just .243 in such situations.
A few hits here or there in those spots -- both end of the doubleheader with Tampa Bay come immediately to mind -- would give the Red Sox three or four more wins, changing their record dramatically.
The Sox have to hope that the first-quarter struggles in this area were something of a small-sample statistical anomaly and not something that lingers for the entire season.
BIGGEST STATISTICAL MYSTERY: Red Sox have yet to win three games in a row
Through 40 games, the Red Sox have yet to win three games in a row. And no, that's not a misprint.
The same team that avoided long losing streaks last season -- and never lost more than three games in a row at any point -- suddenly can't put together the most modest of winning streaks.
Their overall play and consistency has been better over the last two weeks, but the Sox’ inability to rip off a handful of wins in succession is keeping them moored to the other mediocre teams in the division.
MVP (PITCHER): Jon Lester
Forget the record (4-4), which hardly reflects how the lefty has pitched. Instead, consider the ERA (2.75), which offers a much more accurate picture of how Lester has performed.
With the exception of a poor effort against the Yankees -- during which he was sabotaged by five errors from his fielders -- Lester has consistently pitched into the seventh inning, averaging almost exactly seven innings per start. His strikeout totals are up, his hits allowed are down, and his WHIP is a dominant 1.078.
We've also learned one other thing: Lester is not about to be thrown by his pending free agency. After the Red Sox presented him with a lowball offer in spring training and talks were suspended, Lester didn't complain or show any visible anxiety about going into his final year without a contract. And six weeks into the season, his uncertain future is clearly not a distraction on the mound.
MVP (POSITION PLAYER): David Ortiz
Same as it ever was. Even at 38, Ortiz is the most dynamic and important person in the Red Sox lineup. He didn't have the kind of start he did a year ago, but he's come on of late. He leads the Sox in homers, RBI, slugging percentage, OPS, and extra-base hits. He's also been durable, appearing in 38 of the first 40 games. For all the hysteria about extending Ortiz for another year this past spring, it's hard to argue with the production he provides, to say nothing of the value.