Not many outside the Red Sox clubhouse and front office had the outright confidence that the Boston Red Sox offense would be as lethal as it has been so far in 2010. It is simply hands down the best in all of baseball right now – and I expected them to be towards the lower end of a top five offensive team in 2010. The team numbers themselves are staggering.
Through June 21, the Sox ranked first not just in the American League but in all of baseball in eight offensive categories: at bats, runs, slugging percentage, hits, doubles, total bases, RBIs, and OPS. And they are second in the game in batting average, on-base percentage and home runs.
Scarier for opponents is that given the fact that Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Cameron and Mike Lowell have yet to contribute significantly to the Sox success so far this year, Boston’s offense could stay just as strong or get even more dynamic if and when they all get into the everyday lineup as the season rolls on. In Lowell’s case, he just needs to get a decent amount of at bats under his belt, as he has only 12 so far in June. The man has the patience of a saint and I commend him for that as he waits for either more playing time, to be released or traded. He is certainly not rooting for injuries to the offensive stars of recent weeks that take up his spot in the lineup, third baseman Adrian Beltre and DH David Ortiz.
The Sox clearly have long forgotten about the absence of three-time all-star leftfielder Jason Bay from the everyday lineup. And it’s a good thing, as the Mets corner outfielder is underperforming offensively, with only four homers and 27 RBI in 2010. But one player no one in Boston will ever forget about is the notorious leftfielder/DH he was traded for July 31, 2008 in a three-team deal: Manny Ramirez.
Manny’s Return To Boston
The most divisive slugger in recent Red Sox history, and maybe ever, returned to Fenway Park last weekend as an L.A. Dodger. Friday night saw pockets of the Fenway faithful stand up while Manny was still in the on-deck circle awaiting his first at bat back in town. Once his name was announced, it was a more or less a loud mix of boos, claps, and cheers for the former 2004 World Series MVP. And that suits him well, as his actions through the nearly eight seasons with Boston drew as many criticisms as they did adoration and celebration.
Oddly, another divisive (and alleged PED-stained) figure in Red Sox lore, Roger Clemens, and Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp’s pop superstar girlfriend Rihanna were present for the spectacle.
Through all the fanfare and buzz, it was a mostly quiet night and series for Manny. Besides a solo homer and a few other hits, the Dodgers DH had minimal impact offensively as he and the Dodgers got swept in all three contests by the red hot Red Sox, who have won six games in a row through Sunday’s action – Monday was an off-day for Boston and most other teams.
How Sweep It Is
Last week was the first time this year the Sox went undefeated in all its games, having swept both Arizona and L.A.. And it couldn’t have come at a better time, with Tampa Bay in a big slump and the Yankees having some pitching issues (A.J. Burnett and Jorge Posada were again not working well together last night in the Yankees loss to Arizona).
The BoSox now stand tied with Tampa Bay for first place in the AL Wild Card race and both are a ½ game back of the AL East-leading Yankees as of games through June 21. For the Sox, this was a quiet but rather quick turnaround, as nearly a month ago it stood 8.5 games back of then division-leading Tampa Bay.
How are they doing it? Besides overpowering offense, it’s all about the pitching. The Sox have the second-best ERA in the AL in June, at 3.63 (as of Monday night). And Clay Buchholz has led the way for the pitching staff. He is now a 10-game winner, thanks to two wins last week against Arizona and Los Angeles. He is the first Sox pitcher to reach that mark this season and now has a real shot at making the AL all-star team, along with a host of other young rising star pitchers (including Phil Hughes, teammate Jon Lester, and David Price).
Dustin Pedroia, who was playing hurt a few weeks back, is on fire, as he earned his first game-winning hit of his career last Saturday with an opposite-field laser shot off Jonathan Broxton to score rookie sensation Daniel Nava and win 5-4 in the bottom of the ninth. He is leading the Sox win 28 hits in June and is second only among regulars to Victor Martinez in batting average for the month (.359 to V-Mart’s .383). He has even stolen six bases in June and is routinely making Baseball Tonight-caliber plays at second base.
And manager Terry Francona has done wonders with all the bodies coming into and out of the Sox clubhouse every week (due to injuries or worn out bullpen arms). His highlight is the balancing act and plugging in of nine different players into the outfield thus far in 2010: Ellsbury. Josh Reddick, Darnell McDonald, Jonathan Van Every, Cameron, J.D. Drew, Jeremy Hermida, Nava, Bill Hall. Even overnight Triple-A pitcher call-ups like rookie lefty Felix Doubront has helped the Sox win as he did Friday night against Manny and his Dodgers, earning his first big league victory in going five innings, allowing three earned runs.
The Road Ahead
Can Boston keep up this pace? The best pitcher in baseball, Ubaldo Jimenez, his Colorado Rockies and Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and their San Francisco Giants will try and likely slow them down a bit this week in their respective three-game series with Boston.
It will literally be a tough road ahead these next six games for Boston, starting tonight in Colorado, but the Sox are 10-2 in interleague games in 2010 and are poised to at least earn a 3-3 split on the week with the way they are pitching and tearing the cover off the ball, if not better. With all other major Boston sports now in offseason, the Sox have the stage to themselves and as of right now, they are owning it.
Manny Ramirez August 5, 2008 photo credit: Shgmom56 of Flickr