In last week’s column, I predicted the Red Sox could be reasonably expected to go 3-3 in their six-game road trip to Coors Field and San Francisco, where they would face some of the best pitchers in the National League (namely Colorado’s Ubaldo Jimenez and Giants ace Tim Lincecum). And that is exactly what they did. How the hometown team managed to win these games and overtake the Tampa Bay Rays for first place in the AL Wild Card Race by a full game over the weekend was at times dramatic and in other instances the product of quiet execution.
Red Sox Have No Heart For San Francisco
If you were to tell me that in one week, a Sox team lost after knocking around 14-game-winner Ubaldo Jimenez for six runs in Colorado, saw its closer Jonathan Papelbon blow saves in consecutive games, and lost four vital players to injury, and would still have the third best record in the majors through June 28 (46-31), you’d probably be surprised.
First, the BoSox lost corner infielder/DH Mike Lowell and his arthritic hip to the 15-day DL while in Colorado. Then Friday in San Fran, one night after hitting a career-best three home runs and going 5-for-5 with 5 RBI in the best offensive game of his career, second baseman Dustin Pedroia broke his left foot hitting a foul ball off it and won’t be back until early August.
Saturday, red hot 10-game winner Clay Buchholz left early after injuring his left hamstring running the bases soon after collecting his first major league base hit. Then on Sunday, catcher Victor Martinez broke his left thumb on a couple foul tips and will miss at least 11 games as he joins Pedroia and Lowell on the 15-day DL.
Thank goodness it wasn’t a four-game series, right? The Red Sox couldn’t get out of San Francisco fast enough, even though they won the series 2-1.
Lester Saves The Bullpen
With apologizes to Seattle’s Cliff Lee and Tampa Bay’s David Price, Jon Lester is the best left-handed starter in baseball right now. In his last 13 starts, his ERA is an eye-balling 1.88. In his most recent start on Sunday in San Francisco vs. two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum, the cancer survivor and ace of the Sox staff came through with one of his most important and dominant outings of the season.
Because Buchholz could only pitch one inning Saturday, Terry Francona had to use seven relievers to get through Boston’s eventual 4-2 win, which also starred Mike Cameron offensively — a three-run homer, his first in Boston — and defensively. Therefore, Lester had to go as deep into Sunday’s game as possible. That he did, as he threw his second complete game of the season, throwing just 103 pitches, striking out nine, scattering five hits and allowing just a single earned run.
With Boston having yesterday off, that doubled the time off for the overworked Sox bullpen, thanks to Lester, who improved to 9-3 and lowered his season ERA to 2.86. He even had a good night at the plate as well, drawing a walk and driving in a run via a sacrifice fly that was hit over 420 feet off Lincecum in the second inning. With the bases loaded at the time, it would’ve been a grand slam in many other ballparks.
Linececum, meanwhile, had a rough and quick night, giving up four runs and throwing an unusually high 79 pitches in three innings to the trademark-patient Red Sox hitters. After that, he was yanked out of the ballgame by manager Bruce Bochy in what was a tie for the shortest outing of his career.
Welcome To Nava Valley
His hero may have been Will Clark, but it was always a dream for California native Daniel Nava to play left field for the Giants. If you ask his dad, he would say (as he did over the weekend) that playing left for the Red Sox is better. And this past weekend, the rookie Boston outfielder did just that before a crowd that included over 125 friends, family, and associated Nava fans.
The kid continues to amaze, bat second in the lineup, and get on base. He had two doubles and three RBIs off Jimenez last Wednesday, and late last week surpassed Kevin Youkilis’ record of reaching base safely in his first 10 Sox games by doing so in 12 before going hitless and walk-less Saturday. Overall, he has reached base safely in 13 of his 14 Sox games, driving in 10 runs and batting .294 through Sunday.
The Road Ahead
The Red Sox head into a short two-game series against the Tamp Bay Rays as winners of 9 of its past 12 games, while the Rays are losers in 8 of their last 11 and are for the first time since early in the season not in a playoff spot.
There’s no telling how long the Sox can keep up their winning ways while players keep dropping like flies, but so far, they are surviving and thriving.
This may soon change as the Sox offense goes into the new week without two of their best everyday hitters in Pedroia and V-Mart. Jason Varitek has been a good spot starter in 2010 but can’t be counted on to make up V-Mart’s offense, especially against lefties, whom the DL’ed catcher has scorched in 2010. And neither will minor league call-up and rookie catcher Gustavo Molina, who will soon take V-Mart’s place on the 25-man roster. Utility man Eric Patterson (career .224 BA), recently acquired from Oakland, will sub for Pedroia on occasion when Bill Hall gets a rest from his now more frequent starts at second base. But he, nor Hall, can be expected to replace Pedroia’s Gold Glove-caliber defense and “Laser Show” offense over the next several weeks.
As for Buchholz, the news is better as he will not be DL’ed and instead have plenty time to heal because the Sox announced that with two rare off-days this week — Monday and Thursday — he won’t be needed to pitch in the short five-game homestand against the Rays and Orioles.
So the Red Sox may score a few less runs, but they still have one of the best DHs in the game, David Ortiz, and top notch sluggers like Youkilis and Adrian Beltre still killing it at the plate.
And with John Lackey looking to complete an undefeated June tonight against the Rays and the other Sox starters going against a struggling Rays team and a horrible Orioles franchise, through it all, the Sox should be able to again get at least three wins out of this week’s five games. This is baseball, and anything can happen and probably will, but please, shoo the injury bug away, for once.