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The Lineup: Who, where and what?

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There are a few members contributing really nicely to the lineup. Here are two of them: your number one and three hitters.
An off-day. What a nice sight. Sox players can rest, relax, and prepare for a tough road stretch that includes the up-and-coming Cleveland Indians. But as we enter the off-day, the stats are just jumping off the page at me -- and not in a good way.

Let's start at the top of the lineup with first baseman Kevin Youkilis. A lot of people wanted to see what Youkilis could do with 500 at-bats in a season. Would he be a Lou Merloni or a Wade Boggs? Through 66 at-bats, he's more like the latter with his line. His batting average is solid (.318) and he's second on the team in doubles (6) behind the machine known as Mike Lowell.

His on-base percentage (.403) isn't on the level of a Greek God of Walk yet, but my assumption is that he's been pressing t make a good impression. Eight walks to 15 strikeouts isn't very good, but once he settles down I think those two numbers will flip and he'll have a very respectable on-base percentage.

Second in the lineup is reliable Mark Loretta. He started the season hotter than a texas jalapeno, but has cooled off since the home trip started. Right now he's hitting .238, but is leading the team with at-bats with 80. The more he gets into a groove and the more he hits the gaps, the better he'll be. I think it will take some more time for him to adjust, however.

That leads me to the number three spot where "The Phenom" known as David Ortiz slots in. Ortiz is doing what Ortiz is know for doing -- hit. A .293 batting average is a little low for his standards at this point in the season, but he's already belted 8 home runs in April and the month isn't over yet. He's walking, too: a .391 on-base percentage at the moment. I have a hunch that will go up as the season goes along because as he hits more and more doubles and home runs, the pitches he gets to hit will go down, resulting in more walks.

Manny Ramirez is starting to find his own groove as the cleanup hitter. Manny started the season rough -- that was evident when he had a lower batting average than Alex Gonzalez -- but since then has started to take pitches the other way and find those favorable gaps. Before he was trying to pull every pitch. Now -- as evidence shows with his opposite field home run against the Jays -- he's taking the pitches and depositing them where they need to go.

In the five spot is Trot Nixon, unarguably the Sox's best hitter in the month of April. Trot's been on a tear, before and after his injury. Trot is hitting .372 with an impressive .481 on-base percentage. And, for what it's worth, Trot is hitting .375 against lefties in 8 at-bats. I'm not trying to start anything, but...

Jason Varitek. Also known as Captain. Also known as Superman. Also known as Mr. Baseball. Varitek is struggling. Captain is hitting .226 in 53 at-bats; not his usual high-standards. I don't feel that Superman will hit .300 this season, but Mr. Baseball will certainly improve on this .226 number. His work behind the plate, however, is still the best in the game.

After him is Mike Lowell, a player some thought would hit about .230 in Fenway. Well guess what? NOPE! He's hitting a strong .277 at the moment, and is a doubles machine in Fenway. I'm a strong supporter of Lowell. I want him to win a silver slugger, gold glove, and a World Series ring this season. I have high expecations, but I love this guy. His glove is great at third base and he's starting to find his stroke. A great combination in my mind.

After him is Wily Mo Pena (he technically has the most ABs in the 8 spot). Pena is finding time at random outfield positions, but for the most part he's been solid this season. He's hitting .259, but the knock on him was that he didn't walk. Well, folks, sorry, but he's walking right now. He's got a .375 on-base percentage under his belt, and while that may not stick through the whole season, I think he'll be much improved compared to previous seasons. Just watch. In a few years, everybody will love this guy.

Rounding out the lineup is Alex Gonzalez. Yes, we knew he wasn't going to hit .400 this season, maybe not even .240, but he brings more than his bat to the game. His glove has been excellent and it should be for the remainder of the year. And his 3.52 pitches per plate appearance is doing a nice job at the bottom of the lineup. He's able to work the pitcher a little longer, giving the top of the lineup some better pitches to see. So maybe not everything he's doing well can be counted in hits.

FINAL ANALYSIS:
This isn't the 2003 team -- there may never be another team like that -- but this team is holding their own. The runs may not be flowing like we may want them to be, but remember: pitching and defense wins championships. Look at past World Series teams and you'll see that pitching is they key component. And, at the moment, we've got the locked down pretty well. The offense will come. Some players will get hot, some will cool down, but in the end I think we'll be at a safe midpoint where we can succeed.