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How to handle struggling Red Sox

4/6/2011

The sky is falling for Boston Red Sox fans, as the team most people had pegged as the best in baseball is off to an 0-4 start, with equal parts hitting and pitching holding the team back. Fantasy baseball owners -- like Red Sox Nation -- are never the most patient lot, and while only two members of the Red Sox show up on ESPN's most dropped list, and starting pitcher John Lackey and setup man Daniel Bard were a bit overdrafted to start with, I'm also seeing many a trade offer with Carl Crawford, Jacoby Ellsbury and other high-profile players involved.

Regular blog readers know the line that's coming next: It's a mere four games, and most of these established Red Sox will be just fine. You drafted Crawford in the first round, you're going to get worthy production. Despite manager Terry Francona moving his left fielder all throughout the lineup in an effort to "get him started," Crawford will get started on his own. The Red Sox finished second in runs scored to the New York Yankees last season and clearly upgraded the offense since then. They're going to score runs. Buy low on Red Sox hitters if it's actually possible.

When it comes to the pitching, however, I can't say this slow start was a tremendous surprise. No, of course I won't pretend to call ace lefty Jon Lester a bum. He's going to be fine. But right-hander Clay Buchholz certainly didn't seem to have the behind-the-scenes numbers to support his 17-win, 2.33-ERA campaign, which is why ESPN Fantasy ranked him only 34th among starting pitchers and labeled him a regression candidate. The rest of the rotation might sparkle in name and resume, but let's just say I'm not a big fan of Lackey or Josh Beckett. I do think Daisuke Matsuzaka can improve on his 2010 numbers, but we'll never see a WHIP better than 1.30.

Anyway, since I talked Red Sox on Wednesday's Baseball Today podcast, I figured I'd blog about a few Red Sox you might not be thinking about before their situations change:

• When the Red Sox are hitting, they can and probably will afford to hit Marco Scutaro ninth and not care how he performs. But Scutaro is hitless in 11 at-bats while the team batting average sits at .186, and it wouldn't surprise me if Jed Lowrie starts seeing opportunity. Lowrie can't defend like Scutaro, but there's an enticing hitter lurking; Lowrie smacked nine home runs in 55 games last season, drawing as many walks as strikeouts, and the fact he's eligible at second base and shortstop is attractive for deeper leagues. If you can find room for Lowrie in a 12-team format or AL-only league, I'd do it now. I see Francona trying to upgrade the bottom of the order, already hampered by the black hole at catcher, which he cannot fix. Shortstop is weak in fantasy, and Lowrie has 15-home run potential with proper playing time.

• I generally defend right fielder J.D. Drew because he does take walks and has averaged 23 home runs the past two seasons, but the fact is the team has a platoon partner for him in Mike Cameron, and both of them are headed for free agency after the season. A lot of people want to see what Ryan Kalish can do, and count me as one of them. Kalish did not hit in spring training, but he does possess strong plate discipline, double-digit power and more than enough speed to matter. Last season across two minor league levels and the big leagues, Kalish, a left-handed hitter like Drew, stole 35 bases in 39 attempts. My point is that Francona has options, and don't be surprised if Cameron earns more value than anyone expects. His 2010 campaign was a lost year; prior to that, Cameron was hitting 20 home runs and 70 RBIs every season and still stealing bases. On a lot of teams he'd be playing regularly. Kalish is lurking, but Drew could lose playing time to Cameron first. Give Cameron 300 at-bats and he could hit 15 home runs.

• I have little faith in Beckett, and Tuesday's performance might be misleading to fantasy owners. Sure, only three runs scored, but five hits and four walks in five innings and more than 100 pitches is no attractive outing. We call it laboring. Tim Wakefield lurks in long relief if/when Beckett needs a disabled list stint to find his lost velocity (and command), but I'm certainly interested to see how former Yankees swingman Alfredo Aceves and Felix Doubront fare at Triple-A Pawtucket. Aceves had a decent spring training, finishing up March with five scoreless innings, and he has major league experience. I'd expect Wakefield to start over Aceves, but those in AL-only formats could certainly get good innings from Aceves. In 2009, he fashioned a 10-1 record with a 3.54 ERA and 1.01 WHIP, and he even struck hitters out. I doubt he'd be a big strikeout guy in the rotation, but wins are wins, and he'd get them with this lineup.

As for 23-year-old lefty Doubront, he is on the minor league DL with elbow soreness but is likely to be pitching when the PawSox start playing. His recall seems further away. I would stash him for dynasty and keeper leagues, because when the Red Sox starting hitting -- and they will -- you'll want their starting pitchers.