Baseball

AL East is anything but a beast through first two months

Mike Napoli and David Ortiz can smile now, two veterans knowing there is ample time to change the Red Sox’s fortune, but there hasn’t been much joy so far in Boston.
Mike Napoli and David Ortiz can smile now, two veterans knowing there is ample time to change the Red Sox’s fortune, but there hasn’t been much joy so far in Boston. AP

The Texas Rangers’ schedule has taken them to the home of the second-place team in the American League East after three games last week and at the home of the team that was in third place.

Who says the Rangers can’t catch a break?

The 2015 Boston Red Sox and the 2015 New York Yankees aren’t the teams they were 15 years ago, or 11 years, or six or even two. And they’re not going to be anywhere as good as the clubs that captured world titles in 2000, 2004, 2007, 2009 and 2013.

The Red Sox, who slipped to fourth after losing two of three games to the Rangers, couldn’t pitch early on this season, and they haven’t hit throughout the first quarter.

Yet, the Red Sox were only three games below .500 (19-22) entering the weekend and the second-place Yankees (22-19) were a half-game behind Tampa Bay despite losing 7 of 8 entering the Rangers series.

The last-place team, the perennially disappointing Toronto Blue Jays, were five games below .500 (19-24), but only 4 1/2 games out of the division lead.

That’s a bad division, but only the AL Central and NL West so far can stake any claim to being any good.

So, the Red Sox hardly are sunk despite their early woes. They still have veterans at their core who know how to win divisions and postseason series.

“We want to win now, but there’s no panic,” first baseman Mike Napoli said. “We know what we need to do.”

Boston has started pitching after their April woes led to the axing of pitching coach Juan Nieves earlier this month. The Red Sox allowed eight runs in the three games against the Rangers.

But they really need to start hitting. The Red Sox’s offense ranked 14th in the league in batting average entering Friday, 12th in runs and last in doubles despite all those chances to bounce a fly ball off the Green Monster.

Their biggest failures have come with runners in scoring position. They were batting .199 entering the weekend, last in the league and 15 points worse than the second-to-last Rangers.

Napoli is as guilty as any Boston batter. He did some hitting against the Rangers, but he entered the series with a .162 average before a homer Tuesday and the game-deciding RBI on a roller that Elvis Andrus couldn’t handle.

http://m.mlb.com/video/v121977283/texbos-napoli-smacks-a-solo-shot-to-extend-the-lead/?query=mike+napoli

Napoli said that the Red Sox have hit into some bad luck, with many line drives turning into outs. Indeed, that happened against the Rangers, but the law of averages is bound to start working in Boston’s favor.

I hit 20-hopper for an RBI,” Napoli said. “Before, I was hitting a line drive at somebody. There’s a lot of proven guys in this lineup. We just got into a rut. But slowly we’re coming out of it.”

Napoli said that his woes are the result of not getting into a good hitting position, unlike in 2012 when he never got his timing down during his last season with the Rangers.

That season was also derailed by the lingering soreness from the sprained ankle he suffered in Game 6 of the World Series and the onset of avascular necrosis, a degenerative condition in both hips that ended his catching career and nullified a three-year, $39 million contract offer.

He played on a one-year contract during the Red Sox’s World Series year in 2013, and is in the second year of a two-year, $36 million deal he signed that off-season. He feels so good physically that he wants to keep going.

He’s not that old — he’ll turn 34 on Halloween — and he has more energy than ever after having an off-season procedure to alleviate sleep apnea.

Doctors broke his upper and lower jawbones, and pushed them forward to help open his passage ways. He couldn’t work out in the off-season because the fractures wouldn’t allow him to clench his teeth.

But after not getting any solid sleep for years and languishing in bed until noon to try to catch up on sleep, or skipping batting practice so he could sleep, Napoli now sleeps soundly and keeps as close to a normal schedule as a player can have.

And he’s dreaming again after not doing so for more than a decade.

“And I’m having some weird dreams,” he said. “I have years of catching up to do.”

The Red Sox aren’t that far behind in the AL East, but they also have some catching up to do. They have time and experience on their side.

Tampa Bay is above .500, but significant injuries to the rotation will be too costly. Toronto has plenty of offense, but once again isn’t pitching well enough. The Yankees have a dynamic back of the bullpen, but they are relying on a bunch of key older players to stay healthy and productive.

Baltimore could emerge as the team to beat, even without Nelson Cruz. The offense has been there, and the pitching has room to improve after being average, at best, to start the season.

That goes for the AL East, which probably has even been below average.

Who says the Rangers can’t catch a break?

Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @JeffWilson_FWST

Top five

Royals: Best 40-game record in franchise history.

Cardinals: Runners-up in Missouri rankings, too.

Nationals: Bryce Harper living up to lofty expectations.

Tigers: Victor Martinez is ailing, but J.D. Martinez is hitting.

Astros: Keep on winning, just not against AL Central.

Bottom five

1. A’s: Wash to the rescue.

2. Rockies: Feel bad for my family, friends in Colorado.

3. Marlins: Bad things happen to bad owner Loria. Well deserved.

4. Brewers: Slowly gain steam, but still not very good.

5. Reds: Won’t get any beter if Johnny Cueto’s elbow is hurt.

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