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Big Papi Finally Gets Hot, But The Sox Are Not

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In this edition of Dead Red, I take a quick look at the week that was in Red Sox Nation, note some highlights, lowlights and Sox rehab developments, and wrap it all up with my take on the current state of the Sox.

Last week the Boston Red Sox went 3-3, winning one series, and then losing the next. After closing out a mildly successful 7-3 home stand by beating Toronto twice out of three matches to start the week, the BoSox waltzed into Comerica Park to lose two of three in Detroit over the weekend.

They now head to the Bronx for the first time this season and with a 19-19 record, still in fourth place in the AL East and still well behind the Yankees (5.5 GB) and Tampa Bay (7.5) for playoff spots through Sunday’s games.

In fact, tonight’s matchup with New York — who have beaten Boston 13 of the last 16 times — begins the toughest stretch of games of the season for Boston, as they face nothing but first-place teams from now until May 26, with current AL Central leaders Minnesota coming to Fenway for a couple of games (Wednesday and Thursday) after two with the Yankees, followed by road trips to the parks of current NL East leaders Philadelphia and AL East leaders Tampa Bay Rays after that.

Individual highs and lows for the past week

High: Daisuke Matsuzaka (who pitches tonight in New York against a red-hot Phil Hughes) had one of his best starts in a Sox uniform in his four years here on Tuesday, May 11 against the third place Toronto Blue Jays. With Jason Varitek catching the righthander’s third start of the season, Dice-K pounded the strike zone early and often, struck out a season-high nine batters, allowed one run on three hits over seven innings, and most impressively of all, walked none as the Sox won 6-1. Dice-K improved to 2-1 on the year.

Low: Victor Martinez, who owns a .226 average and .285 OBP as of his last game on May 15, is a cause for concern, as this catcher/first baseman/DH can’t afford to be the biggest hole in the Sox lineup as he is right now. Going into the Bronx tonight, he is hitless in his last 13 at bats and 2-for-28 going back to May 8.

Honorable Mention: Tim Wakefield, who made a temporary return to the starting rotation last week at Fenway against the Blue Jays in place of an ailing Josh Beckett. He pitched a quality start in a tough luck 3-2 loss, having gone seven innings and surrendering just three earned runs on 102 pitches.

The Return of Big Papi

Whether he is playing to save his DH job or not, it’s a very good sign that David Ortiz is on fire at the plate. So far in May, he has a .333 batting average, five homers and 13 RBI after pelting just one homer and driving in four runs in April.

In his last seven games alone (through May 16), Big Papi has two homers and eight runs batted in. Most impressively, he is hitting to all fields, as exemplified on Saturday night in Detroit, when he sliced a hit to left field for an RBI. This came a night after he hit two homers and drove in four runs in a Red Sox 7-2 win behind a strong start by Boston’s best starter Clay Buchholz (4-3), who has given up just two homers on the year so far in seven starts. With Ortiz batting .224 after a season-low .149 not so long ago and owning six homers on the season, good for second on the team, Sox fans can breathe a sigh of relief that Big Papi hasn’t lost it yet.

On The Mend

Speaking of losing it, the mightily struggling Josh Beckett, who is 1-1, with a 7.46 ERA in seven starts and who missed his start last week due to back spasms, will pitch again Tuesday against CC Sabathia. Gold Glove center fielder Mike Cameron is 4-for-14 in five rehab games in Pawtucket so far and could be back with the big club by the end of the week. Gold Glove-caliber left fielder Jacoby Ellsbury is also on the mend this week, with scheduled rehab stints in Pawtucket and Portland.

Identity Crisis

“Run prevention” was and still is a common theme around Boston when talking of the Sox team goal for 2010. A deep starting staff and strong bullpen, backed by an equally strong and athletic defense was supposed to help the Sox improve over last year’s disappointing playoff run. The offense, after losing Jason Bay to free agency, was supposed to be just above average and therefore the team’s weakest link.

The problem is, the Sox, with the exception of a couple of brief stretches, have been terrible at “run prevention” and at the moment sit second-to-last in the AL in team ERA (4.83 as of May 16), while its defense has been average and certainly no better than last year. And sure, the offense has become the team’s strong suit, but it’s one dimensional. With Jacoby Ellsbury out of the lineup for all but six games this year, the Red Sox have stopped running and become a station-to-station and home-run hitting team, albeit one of the best in baseball, to the surprise of many.

But as the last place Arizona Diamondbacks (and Texas Rangers teams of the past) can tell you, a power-hitting offense does not show up night after night. And right now, if the Sox don’t score lots of runs, they don’t win. Only four of their 19 wins in 2010 have come when the Sox scored under five runs.

So they’ve proven they can blow out teams and win slugfests. Now, with nothing but good pitching teams ahead, the BoSox have to find ways to win low-scoring games (and thus, validate the run prevention mantra) or at least stop giving up runs in big bunches, win or lose. If Terry Francona’s bunch can’t do that anytime soon, they will make it much harder for themselves to stay in a playoff race come July, nevermind September.

Photo credit: Albert Yau/Flickr

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About Charlie Doherty

Copy editor/content writer for Penn Multimedia; print/web journalist/freelancer, formerly for Boston Examiner, EMSI, Demand Media, Brookline TAB, Suite 101 and Helium.com; co-head sports editor & asst. music editor at Blogcritics Magazine; Media Nation independent newspaper staff writer, printed/published by the Boston Globe at 2004 DNC (Boston, MA); Featured in Guitar World May 2014. See me on twitter.com/chucko33, myspace.com/charlied, & Facebook.
  • Charlie Doherty

    7 times he walked zero batters in a game? I’ve watched just about every start of his over the last four seasons, including spring training starts and didn’t even know that, Elaine so thanks for that info.

    Unfortunately, Dice-K last night reverted to the pitcher we saw the first two starts of the season. Ugh.

  • Tony

    The effects of steroids don’t completely go away. He can still pop one when someone lays one down the middle of the plate. He even got one off of Phil Hughes. He’s a mistake hitter now, nothing more.

  • Elaine

    Yap. Matsuzaka held the Blue Jays to just three hits, racked up nine strikeouts for his highest total since April of 2008, and handed out zero walks for just the seventh time in 76 career starts.

  • Charlie Doherty

    Yeah, that Ortiz shot was what, 450 feet? That was impressive, as was Galarraga, who literally came out of nowhere to pitch a gem.

    Not to take anything away from him, but he didn’t face the ace Boston lineup (which didn’t include Dustin Pedroia who rested a sore knee, and Adrian Beltre). But Pedroia was slumping anyway and the way Galarraga was pitching, the Sox weren’t gonna score many runs no matter who was in the lineup Sunday. It was just one of those days.

  • I couldn’t believe Ortiz’s bomb on Friday in Comerica — it was the fourth longest in stadium history, behind then-Tiger Carlos Peña, Eric Munson (a walkoff that I saw in person), and Chipper Jones. Not to discount it, but Ortiz’s came off Max Scherzer, who looks completely lost coming to the AL and was sent down to Triple-A.

    As for the whole series, Boston didn’t play extremely terrible. On Sunday they were always a hit or two away from breaking the thing open, but Galarraga somehow cheated death in his return to the majors. Then there was Saturday, which they should’ve won too.