By Andy Lindberg
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 Sabathia to 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 Crawford was 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 Scutaro jump-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.