You have to give one thing to the Boston Red Sox: for an 8-10 team, they're a fascinating story. Big names are hurt. The manager is a wild card. The starting pitching is struggling, the bullpen stinks.
And then there's the offense, that glorious offense. Between the Red Sox lineup and what opposing teams do against Boston's overrated staff, we're going to see a gigantic amount of runs scored at Fenway Park this summer. And Boston will score plenty on the road, too; witness how they've bludgeoned the Twins and White Sox in a four-game winning streak this week (not even perfect Phil Humber could stem the tide).
The second Carl Crawford cleat dropped Thursday: he's going to rehab his elbow injury (as opposed to surgery) and the timetable for a return is set at three months. On a lesser club, this would be a significant blow, but the Boston lineup (ranked second in runs, average and slugging) doesn't seem to miss Crawford at all. And don't wax poetic on his defense; a lawn chair could cover the limited real estate in Fenway Park. Crawford's absence also keeps the runaway clear for some other intriguing commodities here.
I tabbed Mike Aviles as a sleeper in March, like our entire staff did, but I'm kicking myself for not ranking him higher (I landed him a few times, anyway). Back in March it wasn't a slam dunk that he'd be the team's starting shortstop, and it looked like he'd spend most of his time slotted eighth or ninth. But things have fallen perfectly for Aviles through the opening three weeks: he's pushed his way to the top of the lineup, and he's off to a dynamite start (.324, 16 runs, four homers, 13 RBIs, three steals). With Crawford on the shelf for an extended period of time, you have to figure that Aviles will stay parked in this catbird seat for most of the season. He's not owned in all leagues yet but he should be, even in the thinnest of mixers.
A lot of fantasy sites waste your time with obvious Buy Lows and Sell Highs that aren't executable in the real world. Sure, buy low on Miguel Cabrera if you can. Got it, we want to sell high on Jake Westbrook (if only that were remotely possible in a smart league). What's much more useful in the fantasy racket is identifying the players to Buy High (or at least Hold High) and the players to Sell Low (as in, take what you get before the stock totally collapses).
Put Aviles into the legitimate file; this is what a breakthrough year looks like. He offers category juice, three positions of eligibility (second, short, third), and the setup is perfect. Aviles also has a swing that's tailor-made for Fenway Park: for his career he's a .328/.365/.487 stick in the Back Bay. (If only we could say the same thing about Crawford, who carries a .275/.305/.410 line in this park). I know Aviles doesn't have ideal leadoff-man skills (he's never had much of a walk rate), but if he stays over .300 and keeps that pretty line-drive rate (20.7 percent), the rest will take care of itself.
Boston's outfield obviously feels the sting of missing Jacoby Ellsbury and Crawford, but the leftovers (Cody Ross, Ryan Sweeney, Marlon Byrd) all have their positive points. Ross is a dead-pull hitter, lefty-killer and sneaky power source who's already shown a hankering for Fenway (five homers, .567 slugging). He's dealing with a sore knee at the moment. Sweeney's defense will probably keep him on the field even when the Glimmer Twins return, and that .383 average sure looks nice (though it comes with absolutely no category juice). Sweeney doesn't make it onto the radar in shallow mixers, but he should be valuable to deep players in a .290-73-11-57-6 sort of way. Byrd is probably going to hit eighth or ninth every night and I can't say he's a mixed-league option, but you'll take his at-bats in AL-only, where anyone breathing has value. Look for something like .270-25-5-28 for Byrd over the next three months, then look for him on the bench.
What are the conclusions here? Boston is headed for an 83-79 type of season, but it will be a fun 83-79, a slow-pitch softball game on many nights. Aviles is legit, versatile, fun. Ross has a shot at 25 homers, depending on how quickly others come back. Sweeney can't be this unlucky with his counting stats forever; in deeper mixed, you could do a lot worse. And you never, ever want to trust Crawford again, for anything. I wouldn't let him hold my place in line at the DMV.
While you're finishing off the dirty water, here are some other stories around the sandlots:
• The Detroit lineup hasn't been doing much since the opening wipeout of the Red Sox, tallying a mere 53 runs over 16 games. And now there's another headache to deal with: Delmon Young was arrested early Friday in New York; allegedly he assaulted a man and was yelling anti-Semitic epithets. Young obviously is innocent until proven guilty and I'm not going to take any strong stance on this until all the facts are in, but we also have to be rational here: this is a player with a history of emotional outbursts and poor judgment. Click on the New York Post story and decide for yourself what you make of it.
In the meantime, perhaps Ryan Raburn's value is ready to hit a spike. I know his seasonal stats are a joke, but he was 3-for-6 with a double over the last two Seattle games, making contact in all plate appearances. He's always been a bit of a streak player and Jim Leyland realizes this. Raburn carries second-base and outfield eligibility and he did swat 29 homers over the last two years (758 at-bats). Go ahead and laugh now, skeptics; I bet you'll wish you added him by the end of the weekend in New York.
• What the heck do the Angels do with Mark Trumbo? He's a defensive liability at any position, but he's also the only Angel with a batting line worth bragging about (.342/.405/.632). He whacked his third homer in Thursday's loss at Tampa Bay. I realize the Angels value defense and speed more than most clubs, but it's time for Mike Scioscia to start being proactive with his slumping group. I'm not tied to a Trumbo investment anywhere, but I sense an uptick in playing time is on the way.
Jordan Walden was a late arrival to the Year of the Blown save, handing away Thursday's lead (B.J. Upton singled, Brandon Allen homered, then the Rays had a safe dogpile at home plate). I know you can shoot holes in almost any closer these days, but nonetheless I find myself trusting Walden less than the industry consensus. I haven't forgotten about last year's 10 blown saves, or the regular bouts of wildness. (26 walks over 60.1 innings). And while Walden did average more than a strikeout per inning, let's not mistake him for Kenley Jansen. He's still figuring out how to pitch. PM Update: Walden has been temporarily removed from the closing gig, with Scott Downs moving in. Do what you have to do.
• You might not remember Randy St. Claire from his playing days; he was a forgettable setup reliever for most of his nine years in the majors, covering the mid-80s and mid-90s. St. Claire did have seven saves for the Expos in 1987, but I doubt that will be the centerpiece of Jonah Keri's upcoming book on the franchise. Now St. Claire gets paid to fix the problems of others - he's the pitching coach of the Marlins. And there's a major issue in the bullpen right now.
Heath Bell can't seem to do anything right.
Bell handed out his third loss/blown save platter Thursday in New York, giving up two runs in the bottom of the ninth. It was a story about wildness: Bell walked four batters and missed the zone on 22 of 46 pitches. He'll need a day off after this meltdown, so don't look for him to pitch Friday. (You can almost hear Blutarski now: "Bell, your Delta Tau Chi name is. … Flounder.")
The Marlins have 27 million reasons to try to fix Bell, as they handed him a generous three-year contract back in December. And there's no hot reliever breathing down Bell's neck, no buzzy closer-in-waiting name. Steve Cishek is having an effective year (1.08 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, eight strikeouts over 8.1 innings), though sometimes there's a bias against sidewinders. Edward Mujica is a late-inning option, not that he's getting people out through three weeks (6.23, 1.85). Those are your two hedges if you feel one is necessary. I'll be stunned if the Marlins make a change here, unless they decide Bell has a physical problem and needs time on the disabled list. Bell only issued 44 unintentional walks the last two seasons; I have to assume there's something correctable here.
Speed Round: Dusty Baker tends to be patient with his closers, so no worrying over Sean Marshall's blown save against the Giants. And heck, Angel Pagan hit a pretty touch pitch if you ask me. Santiago Casilla closed up nicely on the other side, fanning three batters on a modest 14 pitches. … It was another soccer match at Petco, with the Friars taking down the Nats with a couple of runs off Tyler Clippard. The San Diego bullpen closed up according to plan, with Andrew Cashner handling the eighth and Huston Street on for the ninth. Cashner now has six straight clean outings since his April 13 meltdown at Los Angeles; I'm back in on him as a saves-speculation play (Street seems to get hurt every year). … With Jim Johnson (infection) still away from the club, the Orioles keep handing out the rogue saves. Hard-throwing Pedro Strop picked up a couple Tuesday and Wednesday, and then it was Luis Ayala's turn on Thursday. I pegged the Orioles for a 95-loss team a month ago, but perhaps I underestimated the power of the retro logo. Nolan Reimold (neck) finally got back into it, going 1-for-5 with a couple of strikeouts. … Seattle finished up a sweep in Detroit, with Justin Smoak crushing a three-run homer off meatball artist sinkerballer Rick Porcello. Can't blame that one on the infield defense, kid. Get to know Seattle setup man Tom Wilhelmsen: he's fashioned a 2.08 ERA and 1.08 WHIP over 13 crisp innings, with 16 strikeouts against just three walks. If the Mariners fall out of the playoff hunt, closer Brandon League could be dangled during the trading season. … Pity the plight of the Royals fan, forced to watch Yuniesky Betancourt batting leadoff. Okay, Betancourt is hitting .310, somehow, and the Royals finally won a couple of games, taking down Cleveland twice this week. Jonathan Broxton danced around a couple of baserunners Thursday and picked up his second handshake (he should slog his way to 25 of those). Aaron Crow dodged two walks in a scoreless eighth, settling into the No. 2 chair.