* Once again, the Boston Red Sox lost another series to a division leader, which isn’t a good sign. The Texas Rangers beat up the Sox on Sunday, which leaves some fans wondering, what’s going on with the “nation?”
The Red Sox kept control of first place in the American League East after a brutal week facing off against Cleveland for four games and the Yankees for three more. Boston split the first series with Cleveland, with Jacoby Ellsbury collecting walk-off hits in two consecutive games, the second of which was a home run. The Sox then took two of three from New York.
There are few hitters in all of baseball hotter than Ellsbury right now. After his two-walk off performance in the Cleveland series and dropping the first game of the series to the Yankees, Ellsbury exploded on Saturday for six RBI, including a 3-run home run off of CC Sabathiato put the nail in the coffin for New York. Sabathia is now 0-4 against Boston this year, an impressive statistic considering he is 16-6 with a 2.81 ERA even after the Beantown shelling. For those of you who are mathematically impaired, like myself, only two of Sabathia’s losses have come from teams not named the Red Sox. Not bad considering at this point Sabathia is the American League Cy Young front-runner, who is now 6-9 all-time against Boston with a 4.19 ERA in 19 games.
As hot as Ellsbury was, Carl Crawfordwas out for blood this week, raising his batting average from the mid .240’s all the way up to .260 after hits in seven consecutive at-bats (including a 4-4 performance on Saturday) and collected three more hits in the series finale against New York. Crawford is hitting the pitches he was missing earlier in the season, either due to not seeing the ball well or pressing too hard at the plate. Right now, Red Sox fans are seeing the Crawford Boston paid for, and now that he seems more comfortable at the plate, the rest of this season and seasons to follow should result in better numbers from Crawford.
Josh Reddick further impressed critics with a walk-off hit against Phil Hughes of the Yankees on Sunday as well, plating Darnell McDonald for the win after Marco Scutarojump-started the Boston rally off of Mariano Rivera in the ninth inning, just as ESPN was rolling it’s montage of greatness to Rivera and giving Boston no chance of winning. Scutaro lead off the ninth with a Green Monster double, and Ellsbury laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt, which moved Scutaro to third. Dustin Pedroia, who was -10 with five strikeouts against Rivera leading into the at-bat, clocked a sacrifice fly to left, scoring Scutaro. The win put the Red Sox back on top in the East by one game. This week Boston hits the road for three games in Minnesota, beginning tonight and finishing on the West Coast against Seattle over the weekend.
Wake Goes For 200
Tonight’s game against Minnesota will see Tim Wakefield log his third attempt at career win number 200. The game will begin at 7:10 EST.
Boston MVP Candidates
One cannot ignore the top three hitters in the Boston lineup. Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, and Adrian Gonzalez are all having fantastic years. Gonzalez still leads the Major Leagues in RBI (91), hits (159), and batting average (.348), but the power numbers are down from what most fans expected. The point of hitting home runs is to drive in runs, and home run hitters are to do that copiously, so having Gonzalez leading baseball in RBI with only 18 homers is an extremely impressive statistic. This may be due to the fact that Gonzalez is second in doubles with 34, and has peppered the Green Monster repeatedly in his time at Fenway.
As good as Gonzalez and Pedroia have been, the Red Sox MVP at this juncture has to be Jacoby Ellsbury. Red Sox fans clearly has no idea what the organization was missing last season when Ellsbury was limited to only 18 games due to injury. Ellsbury is batting .318 with 19 home runs (his previous season-high was 9 in 2008), 72 RBI and 31 stolen bases. That’s all from the leadoff guy. There is no better table-setter in baseball right now. The most noticeable trend to me is that from day one of this season, Ellsbury has been much better about working the count and making opposing pitchers work hard to get him out as opposed to last year and years past in which 2-pitch groundouts to second base were frequent. Ellsbury has been the epitome of a difference-maker this season and having him, Pedroia (who is making a great case to reclaim his number 1 AL second baseman status from Robinson Cano), and Gonzalez all bat in the first inning is one of the large reasons Boston is the offensive powerhouse is has become this season.
The Red Sox weren’t aggressive this past week; they were dominant. Heading into Monday’s off day in the midst of a nine-game win streak, Boston is sitting pretty with the best record in the American League, a record previously scoffed at by the Boston fans in April. For the first time since 1912, the Red Sox have swept the Yankees twice in New York. This past week Jon Lester, Tim Wakefield, and Josh Beckett all put up wins against the Yankees. For Beckett, it was his third win in three starts against New York; all three seeing him beat down CC Sabathia. Beckett made one mistake in his Thursday outing, a 3-1 fastball that was a little too far over the plate which was mashed by Curtis Granderson for a two-run homer. However as has been the case this week, Boston exploded for seven runs in the seventh inning against the bombers to put them away.
The weekend Toronto series wasn’t even close. Coming off of a very late game Thursday, Boston entered Friday with many expecting them to lose because of how tired the team must have been.
Clay Buchholz said no.
In his best outing yet, Buchholz mastered the Jays’ offense to the tune of seven innings and one run allowed in a 5-1 Boston win. Buchholz’s back seemed to be better and hopefully it can stay loose the rest of the season. The next two games weren’t even a little close.
On Saturday Boston blasted Toronto 16-4, the most runs Boston has ever scored against the Jays. On Sunday the Red Sox put up a 14-1 victory that saw Jon Lester hit a 9-2 record, good for the most wins in the American League.
As has been the usual the past two weeks, the Boston offense has been outstanding, with the exception of J.D. Drew, who struck out four times on Sunday and is batting a mere .227 on the season.
But Drew’s woes can be overlooked when David Ortiz clearly thinks it’s 2006 again and Adrian Gonzalez keeps mashing. Shoot, even Jason Varitek whacked a three-run blast to right field in Saturday’s drubbing.
Upon trading for Gonzalez, Boston fans knew he was going to be good, but we did not know he would be just this good. If he is pitched away, he takes the ball to the opposite field for power. If pitchers come inside, Gonzalez will rip the ball down the line. There’s no clear way to get him out right now. How he isn’t the leading first base vote getter for the All-Star game right now is stupefying. Fans have once again proven their ineptitude at picking an All-Star squad, and that privilege must be taken away from them, especially because now the All-Star game decided home field in the World Series. The same can be said for Ortiz. Ortiz is punishing left-handers this year by taking the ball to left field with power. He is catching up to the fastball and laying off of bad pitches he used to chase to start the previous two seasons. Dustin Pedroia is heating up again as well, raising his batting average from .247 to .261 all in this week.
This week Boston heads to Tampa Bay to open that series up on Tuesday, followed by a weekend series at Fenway against bigPrince Fielder and the Milwaukee Brewers.
It took them until May 15, but the Boston Red Sox are now sitting pretty at .500. A sweep of the hated rival New York Yankee ballclub over the weekend finally solidified a non-losing record for the boys from Beantown.
After squeaking out a 2-1 win over the Twins on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday the Sox fell in horrific fashion to the Toronto Blue Jays over a quick, two-game series.
John Lackey fared extremely poorly in Wednesday’s 9-3 drubbing, giving up all nine runs while showing frustration not only at himself, but at his teammates as well. Lackey’s next start will see him debut new mechanics. Instead of raising the ball over his head in the glove, he will keep it low to try for a more balanced, accurate delivery. For those who have not paid attention, the Sox did the same thing with Josh Beckett after his first year with Boston. Even since then, Beckett has found more success with the new delivery than he did with the old. Hopefully the same will be said with Lackey.
Speaking of Josh Beckett, he’s kind of a freak so far. Beckett allowed no runs in six innings against the Twins on Monday and threw six more shutout innings against the Yankees on Saturday night, a game in which he outdueled CC Sabathia yet again and picked up his second win against New York this year. Beckett has yet to relinquish a run to the Bronx Bombers. Beckett is 3-1 with a 1.75 ERA this season.
Adrian Gonzalez hit five home runs this week and leads the American League in RBI with 34. Giving up Rizzo and Kelly seems well worth it to this point in the season.
Personally, I and many other Boston fans were frustrated after the two losses to Toronto. The sweep of the Yankees in New York was delivered in spectacular fashion, especially in the third game of the series. Trailing 4-1 after the Yankees tagged Sox starter Jon Lester around, Kevin Youkilis clubbed a three-run home run to deep left field to knot the score at four apiece. After a David Ortiz solo shot to take the lead, Yankee third baseman Alex Rodriguez decided to try out a new fielding strategy. Apparently he thought letting the ball skitter between his legs and allowing a run to score was a good life choice. It was not and in the eighth, Jarrod Saltalamacchia finally broke out and pulled a hard line drive home run over the wall in right. Jonathan Papelbon shut it down for the save and the Sox walked out of the Bronx with a nice new set of brooms.
Lester earned his 5th win of the season on Sunday. It took Lester until May 25th of last season to notch his 5th. I mention that solely because I desperately want to see him hit 20 wins. David Ortiz to this point in the season is hitting .295 with seven home runs and 19 RBI. He also sports a .504 slugging percentage and a .881 OPS. (Side note, OPS–or on base percentage + slugging– is just that. It’s a batters slugging percentage plus his on base percentage). On May 16 of last year, Ortiz was hitting .232 with a .484 slugging and a .779 OPS. Ortiz’s overall hitting has skyrocketed. He’s catching up with the fastball that took him two months to get to last year. He’s consistently putting the ball in play. This spring, Ortiz requested more spring training games to get his timing to where it should be in mid-season form. It worked.
This week the Sox yet again play every day with last Thursday, May 12, being the one and only day the Red Sox have off in May. The Sox play every game at Fenway this week, beginning with the Orioles for two, then Detroit for two, and finishing the week by hosting the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs have not been to Fenway since the World Series in 1918. These are three clubs Boston should beat, and pounding Baltimore a little further down in the standings only helps Boston’s cause. If the Red Sox win tonight, they will have a winning record for the first time all year.