The Red Sox have scored 24 runs against the Texas Rangers in the last couple of days, and in their opponents’ own backyard, where it has struggled mightily in recent times. This is a BIG accomplishment for a Boston squad that got swept in three games by the defending American League champions to start the season, and after having dropped game one of this four-game series that started Monday night.
Non-Fenway Fire Power
The BoSox have hit more home runs on the road than any other team in MLB. Why that is the case, I have no idea since Fenway Park is a dream for offense-minded players (and left-handed hitters especially). But after C.J. Wilson and the Rangers bullpen shut out the depleted Sox offense (4-0) on Monday night (which was missing Jacoby Ellsbury, David Ortiz and Kevin Youkilis), the Sox got Ellsbury and Ortiz back on consecutive nights, and that appeared to have a major impact on Boston’s fire power, which has seen first baseman Adrian Gonzalez go deep three times in the last two days, twice during Boston’s 11-5 win Tuesday and once again during its 13-2 win last night. He hadn’t homered at all in August until this week and did so just twice in all of July.
Instead of Marco Scutaro batting leadoff and (part-time outfielder) Darnell McDonald next up in Terry Francona’s lineup card, as was the case Sunday in Kansas City and Monday in Arlington, Texas, Ellsbury came back from three days’ rest from a hit by pitch injury to take back his usual leadoff slot Tuesday and Wednesday night, with the veteran Scutaro batting second. With Adrian Gonzalez and Dustin Pedroia batting third and fourth, and Ortiz batting fifth, that is the strongest 1-5 the Sox offense can be until Youk comes back from his back injury.
Carl Crawford Comes Through
And while it was great to see Gonzalez get his power stroke back against the team he made his major league debut with in 2004, it has been even sweeter to see Carl Crawford homer last night and catch fire offensively. He had a five RBI night last night for the third time in his career, and has knocked in eight runs in his last five games. After missing quite a few games due to injury, his numbers still are way under average except for the hits column, where he is now over 100 for the season.
The problem with Crawford isn’t the hits. It’s the lack of walks drawn, with only 17 so far in 2011. That’s why his on-base percentage is a pathetic .290 as I write this. When you have one more walk than you have stolen bases (17), that’s a big problem. It probably means he isn’t seeing pitches well enough or isn’t nearly patient enough to work the count in his favor. And whether that is due to his wide batting stance or not doesn’t matter.
He needs to up the walk count because getting on base solely on hits won’t happen every night. The more times he can get on base, the more he can wreak havoc on the base baths like he did in Tampa Bay all those years ago and like his current teammate Ellsbury is doing this year. Maybe he ought to take a page out of Pedroia’s and Youk’s books and study how they approach the plate.
Red Sox Pitching Successes
Even though wins are overrated in MLB (except for certain milestones), it was good to see Jon Lester pick up win number 13 over the weekend, as he has pitched every bit as well as co-ace Josh Beckett so far in the second half of 2011. Beckett, who’s 2.43 ERA is third in the American League, got win number 11 last night but because of bad luck and inconsistent run support, has one less win than John Lackey, who just got his ERA under 6.00 the other night for the first time since the start of 2011. (That’s why I put little to no stock in wins.) As long as these two keep shutting down the competition, the Sox will be in good shape come October.
Besides those two starters and the resilient Sox offense, the reason the BoSox are back in first place in the A.L. East and will be a playoff team (along with the Yankees) no matter if it’s a divisional or wild card berth is because of the bullpen. Closer (and impending free agent) Jonathan Papelbon has quietly gone on a career-best 24-game consecutive saves streak and got his once terrible ERA below 3.00—it now stands at 2.91, which is progress but certainly still not Papelbon-like or a dominant number for a closer. What’s most impressive about Pap’s streak is that he makes quick work of his opponents, just like he did in 2007 when he helped the Sox win the World Series. Key to doing that this year has been keeping the walks total down and being in command of his pitches (fastball and hard slider included).
Even more quietly, lefty reliever Franklin Morales has been doing his job well as a situational pitcher, while Dan Wheeler has had a number of scoreless outings in a row (until last night) from the right side. Together, along with Daniel Bard, Pap and team MVP candidate Alfredo Aceves, this is about as successful a stretch the bullpen is enjoying as you could hope for at this time of year. The only struggling regular reliever is Matt Albers right now. But hey, you can’t expect them all to do well at once!
The only question remaining now is who, between Eric Bedard and John Lackey, will emerge as that reliable third starter down the stretch run of the season. Tim Wakefield, who is still aiming for his 200th career win, won’t be in consideration, and Andrew Miller, even though he’s a spot starter (including for tonight’s fourth and final game of the series against the Rangers) will likely land in the bullpen come October.
Even though he has yet to get a win in a Boston uniform, my money’s on Bedard, who the Sox got via a trade from the Seattle Mariners reportedly eight seconds before the July 31 4:00 p.m. deadline passed! He is effectively replacing would-be third starter Clay Buchholz, who is trying to come back this season from a “stress fracture” in his lower back, but likely won’t.
The Stretch Run Is Around The Corner
September is a week away now, so it’s best to just sit back and watch how the Red Sox approach its last month of games. One thing is for certain is that the team (except for maybe Beckett) doesn’t care to reach the 100-win mark, but for fans such as myself, that kind of feat would be sweet to watch the team accomplish given the historically bad start it had (a 2-10 record).
Besides that and Wake’s impending 200th win, the only other aspect of BoSox baseball worth watching between now and the end of the season is to see who GM Theo Epstein gets (if anyone) in a waiver wire trade at the end of August. Whether guys like Josh Willingham from Oakland or someone from the Minnesota Twins (say Michael Cuddyer or Jim Thome) become attainable is anybody’s guess. But any veteran outfield help would be valuable at this stage, as an injured and under-performing J.D. Drew won’t cut it, and younger guys like J.J. Reddick and McDonald may not be the answer either.