With series wins at home versus the Oakland Athletics and on the road in Baltimore, the red hot Red Sox have now gone seven series in a row without losing one, dating back to losing two of three in Detroit in mid-May. They have won 11 of their past 15 games and are now tied with Toronto for third in the AL East with identical 33-25 records, which at a .569 winning percentage is also good for fourth in the AL.
More importantly, the Sox (and the offensive juggernaut that is the Blue Jays) are still well within striking distance of both divisional and Wild Card playoff spots, being respectively 4 1/2 GB of Tampa Bay and 2 1/2 GB of New York to start the week. One astounding development is that as of games through June 6, all four of these AL East teams lead the majors in runs scored, with the Sox and Yankees tied at the top with 314, followed by the Rays and Jays at 296 and 295, respectively.
And this division is also dominating the AL Wild Card race. The Yankees, Red Sox and Blue Jays own the top three spots coming into this new week. Of these, the biggest surprise is the Jays, who lost their general manager (J.P. Ricciardi), ace pitcher (Roy Halladay), and others in the past year. To the detriment of the rest of the league, it’s going to be a fun summer if this keeps up.
Sox Stars And Highlights Of The Week
Instead of the usual (admittedly long) recaps of the Sox winning or losing ways of the week that was, I am going to note some players who have been kicking butt lately. Let’s get started, shall we?
David Ortiz and Jon Lester: Big Papi may have gone hitless in Baltimore this past weekend, but he picked up his 1,100th career RBI versus Oakland early last week and is three hits shy of 1500 for his career. Also notable is that he and teammate Jon Lester both got the rare accomplishment of being named AL Player and Pitcher of the Month, respectively. They are the first teammates to be honored these awards for the same month since Joe Mauer and Johan Santana of the Twins in June 2006. They are the first Sox teammates to accomplish this feat since Pedro Martinez and Nomar Garciaparra in May 1999.
Ortiz reached base safely in 21 of 23 games played in May, batted .363, hit 10 bombs, had 27 RBI, a major league-best .788 slugging percentage, and scored 16 runs. It was the fourth time Papi has won this award.
Lester, one of the best lefties in the game, went 5-0 in six May starts, struck out a major league-leading 45 batters, posted a league-low 1.84 ERA (per at least 27 innings pitched) and marked the third time he has won this award. Unlike Ortiz, he is off to a good start in June, having won his seventh game of 2010 and lowered his ERA to 2.73 in Camden Yards over the weekend. In doing so, he also improved to 11-0 versus the lowly O’s, the best record ever against them (minimum 10 starts).
Clay Buchholz: Is there anyone in the American League pitching better than this stud right now? His complete game shutout in Baltimore Friday night (on the day manager Dave Trembley got fired) was his first since his no-hitter against these same O’s in 2007 and more impressively, marked his ninth road win in a row, a feat last accomplished by a Sox pitcher in 1992-1993 when Roger Clemens did it. He has a chance to overtake the PED-stained Rocket and even match his record of 12 consecutive road wins as the season goes on.
Most remarkably, Buchholz’s eight wins is tied for the most in the AL and his 2.39 ERA is second to only Tampa Bay’s David Price (2.29). Clearly he has matched and even surpassed Lester outing-for-outing lately as the best starter. It’s quite a success story, and with Josh Beckett on the DL and John Lackey (6-3, 4.72 ERA) still struggling to find his groove, a much needed one.
Daniel Bard: Lester can thank this kid, drafted around this time just four years ago, for his last win Saturday night. After the power lefty walked the bases loaded with one out in the bottom of the seventh in Baltimore, Terry Francona took him out and called upon Bard to take care of business and preserve the 1-0 lead Kevin Youkilis provided with a solo shot in the top of the inning. Bard then quickly shut down the O’s by completely fooling Orioles hitters over 1 2/3 innings, including Luke Scott and Ty Wigginton with his newly developed offspeed stuff: 91 mph changeups and 85 mph sliders to go with blazing 98-99 mph fastballs.
The Sox went on to win 8-2 but it was Bard (13 holds, 1.80 ERA) who saved the game when it was a nail-biter. He is not only now the best reliever in the Sox pen — not having given up a run since May 8 vs. the Yankees — but is regarded around baseball as one of the best setup men in the game. Need more proof? He has a 0.54 ERA against lefties in 27 games this season. That is just plain sick.
Kevin Youkilis: The Youkster has gone on quite a tear to start June, with already 12 hits, two homers and nine RBI vs. the A’s and O’s. Since the end of May, he has seen his BA rise from .298 to .330 as he and the Sox go into Cleveland tonight to start a four-game series. His 12th homer of 2010 proved pivotal in Boston’s last win on Saturday. He is hitting in the heart of the lineup that is finally coming together, with reigning Player of the Month David Ortiz in front of him and this next hitter behind him in most lineups lately.
Victor Martinez: After getting off to a slow start with a batting average as low as the .220s at one point in May, the versatile catcher/first baseman/DH is on a tear offensively and was a key reason why the Sox overcame a 4-0 deficit Tuesday, June 1 to win 9-4 over Oakland at Fenway Park. He went 5-5 with four doubles, the latter of which tied a major league record. It was his first five-hit game since August 2, 2009 in Baltimore, just a couple of days after being traded to Boston from Cleveland.
His eighth homer Sunday, though in an extra inning loss to the O’s, marked the 15th homer for Sox catchers this year — Jason Varitek has the other seven — which is the most homers combined for catchers in the league. With his average now creeping towards .300 (currently at .294), he hopes to continue this upward trend in what will be an emotional week for the catcher as he returns to face his former team, the Indians, for four days.