Friday, July 24, 2009

The Red Sox score -- but only just enough

The Red Sox offense has not come alive.

Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia each had two hits. Jason Varitek had an RBI single. Jed Lowrie had an RBI sacrifice fly. J.D. Drew had an RBI, um, fielder's choice. The Red Sox scored three runs -- including two in the fourth inning, their first crooked number in a week.

But the Red Sox offense has not come alive. Not yet.

"I mean, I don't think we knocked the cover off the ball," Francona said. "We had some good at-bats. We didn't probably take advantage -- when Ells had a chance to score (and was thrown out at the plate), that was a big run, potentially a big run. We did enough. A lot of times, it just comes back to pitching. If we gave up five or six, we're kind of still talking about our hitting. But I'd rather it be good enough by one or two than not good enough.

"I know I give you guys a lot of profound things. But winning is better than losing."

That's what Brad Penny's outstanding start -- 6 1/3 IP, 5 H, 0 ER, 4 K, 0 BB -- did for the Red Sox. It allowed them, for one night, to pretend as though their offense still isn't scuffling as badly as it has scuffled all year.

"We had to find a way," Varitek said. "We obviously hadn't gotten things really rolling offensively. We still didn't hit the ball all over the park, but we were able to grind out a win."

Said Ellsbury, "Penny pitched very well and held them to one run, and we really like our chances when we hold them to one run."


All season, Terry Francona and talk-radio hosts alike have insisted that Jonathan Papelbon isn't doing anything out of the ordinary, that as long as his ERA is low and he isn't blowing saves, there's no reason to worry about him. Plenty of closers allow baserunners, they've said. One-two-three innings aren't as easy to come by as Papelbon has made it seem in past years.

Well, that's not entirely true. Here's the leaderboard of baserunners per inning for all closers in the major leagues with more than 20 saves -- and these stats are accurate as of Friday morning, meaning they're not taking Papelbon's tightrope walk on Friday night into consideration:

Matt Capps, 1.75 baserunners per inning
Bobby Jenks, 1.35
Fernando Rodney, 1.35
Jonathan Papelbon, 1.32
George Sherrill, 1.22
Brian Wilson, 1.20
Francisco Rodriguez, 1.19
Brian Fuentes, 1.18
David Aardsma, 1.12
Francisco Cordero, 1.11
Heath Bell, 1.09
Trevor Hoffman, 1.02
Huston Street, 0.94
Jonathan Broxton, 0.94
Ryan Franklin, 0.92
Mariano Rivera, 0.85
Joe Nathan, 0.81

Out of 17 closers with 20 or more saves, Papelbon has allowed more runners per inning than all but three -- and if you include his Houdini act on Friday night, he's allowed more baserunners per inning (1.36) than all of them but Capps.

(Rodney pitched a clean ninth inning on Friday, and Jenks did not pitch. Papelbon loaded the bases before striking out Luke Scott and Melvin Mora to end it.)

Somehow, though, he keeps escaping.

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