Dave D'Onofrio's Sox Beat: Start of season hasn't been all bad for Red Sox
When the Red Sox took the field Saturday afternoon in Toronto, they took with them an 11-13 record that had been shaped by a few frustrating efforts and a general inability to sustain any sort of momentum.
They've still yet to win more than two consecutive games this season, and haven't been at (or above) .500 since April 4. They've lost five of their first seven to the rival Yankees, including a couple last week that were the results of dreadful pitching and porous defense. They've played much of the season from a deficit, and they haven't looked like baseball's reigning champs for more than a few innings at a time.
It's been a discouraging start, now nearly four weeks in - but it hasn't been all bad for the Sox so far, actually. Collectively they've been a disappointment, though individually, and with recognition of the fact that the big picture still remains nearly 85 percent unpainted, there have in fact been reasons for optimism within Boston's largely unimpressive opening month.
And so, accentuating the sunshine, let's take a look at 10 positives to emerge from the Sox' first 25 games:
Mike Napoli - The first baseman entered Saturday as the team leader in all three triple crown categories, boasting a .307 average to go with five homers and 15 runs batted in, and after reaching base in 20 straight tilts his on-base percentage sat at .402. He's been Boston's most consistent bat, and in a lineup that has lacked continuity because of injuries and underperformance, the overall offensive numbers might look even worse if not for the solid start of the cleanup hitter.
Jake Peavy - After seven one-run innings gave him his first win of the year on Friday night, the right-hander has a 2.87 earned run average, and in four of his five starts he's lasted at least six innings while yielding no more than two runs. Over his career April has been a good month for him, so it remains to be seen if the 32-year-old can sustain this - but so far he's been something of a savior in an inconsistent rotation.
Jon Lester - Don't let the difficulties of his last start overshadow the first four. Yes, he gave up a total of 15 walks and hits on Tuesday against the Yankees, but that was as many as in his previous two starts combined. His ERA is 2.67 entering today's outing, and while that doesn't reflect the seven unearned runs he's already allowed, it does rightly indicate he's still building on what he did last October.
David Ortiz's five homers - If the power is there for the designated hitter, the other numbers - and the impact - should follow. So it's a good sign that Ortiz launched his fifth long ball on Friday, in his 23rd game. Only once since 2007 has he had more taters over the first month (six in 2012), and his bat tends to heat as the weather does, so it's an encouraging sign.
Dustin Pedroia's doubles - The second baseman has yet to homer, which could be a byproduct of the wrist injury he sustained during the home opener. However, he hit his ninth double on Friday, moving him within one of the American League lead and putting him on pace for 61 two-baggers this season. That's not likely sustainable, but even 40 doubles from the leadoff spot would do wonders for the Boston attack.
Koji Uehara - There were questions at the start of the year about whether he could sustain his dominance of 2013. There were even more questions after some shoulder tightness left the closer unavailable for a few days. But entering Saturday he'd pitched eight innings - during which he'd allowed six baserunners, no runs and struck out 14. If the shoulder remains a non-issue, so are the questions.
Chris Capuano - Signed mostly as insurance should the Sox need a starter (and that need could certainly arise soon), the veteran southpaw has had huge value out of the bullpen, where he began with 14 scoreless innings. Lefties were batting just .136 against him, though righties were only at .179, so he can be used situationally or for length. Whatever it is, he's earned an increasingly important role on this team.
No losing streaks - Twice the Sox have lost four of five, but they've yet to lose more than three in a row after never doing so last season. At the least, it's an indication that as poorly as they've played at times they've managed to prevent prolonged droughts.
Road record - By taking the series opener over the Blue Jays, the Sox improved to 6-5 on the road. They've struggled at Fenway - where they're 5-8 - so losing on the road would've just compounded their problems.
The division - As frustrating as it's been at times, the Sox start still brought them into the weekend within 2½ games of the lead in a division where every team had allowed more runs than it had scored. Ultimately the AL East figures to be better than that, but so far its mediocrity has left the Sox within a good week or two of regaining control.
And if they can just begin building on these positives, that's certainly possible.
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The Sox' success at Fenway has historically been a bellwether for the success of their season, so it would behoove them to immediately begin playing better at home, given the slate in front of them. After leaving Toronto today they'll play 19 of their next 29 at Fenway, and be 40 percent finished with the home schedule on June 1. An inability to capitalize could later prove costly.
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Stat of the week: At .211 through Friday, Red Sox had outfielders had the second-worst batting average among AL groups (better than only Houston). They're .650 on-base plus slugging was third-worst (ahead of Houston and Seattle).
Dave D'Onofrio covers the Red Sox for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.