It was a good weekend to love the Red Sox. Sweeping the Yankees in their own backyard is always satisfying, and getting back to the .500 mark in the process? That’s just gravy.
Even though the Red Sox still trail the A.L. East-leading Rays by three games and even though they’re still a full two games behind the Yanks, the club is clearly on the right track. New York is now the team in free-fall, having lost five straight en route to a 5-9 record (so far) in May. Boston, meanwhile, is righting the ship and climbing back into contention in the division.
But there are still questions to answer for the Sox. The front of the rotation has been getting stronger. Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, and Clay Buchholz all appear to be generally dependable now that Buchholz has shaken off his spring woes. But John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka are still having a difficult time delivering consistent starts.
While most experts think the Sox will be in good shape down the stretch, it’s tough to imagine any team winning the East with only three arms.
Still, the good news far outweighs the bad. The bats have awakened in force. This week featured a slow start in the form of a 2-1 win over the Twins, but finished strong with 29 runs in six games.
After much consideration, I had to allow Adrian Gonzalez to retain his title from last week. The slugger is simply too hot to not be the PoW yet again. David Ortiz and Jacoby Ellsbury both warrant a mention as well; Big Papi has drilled three homers and is hitting .308 over the past week, while Ellsbury sported a .400 on-base percentage. The latter is doing everything right atop the order – setting the table, swiping bases at timely moments, and roping the occasional double. The former is generating big power for the middle of the order and even legged out a double against Freddy Garcia on Sunday.
But Gonzalez is scorching. With an A.L. best 34 RBI and nine home runs, Gonzalez is one of the game’s hottest hitters in the month of May. Though his five long balls in six games couldn’t propel Boston past Toronto, he did help the Sox sweep the Yanks. And his .346 average last week was outrageous.
Game of the week
Saturday 5/14 (Red Sox 6, Yankees 0)
Of the three games in the Bronx, none looked more daunting than Saturday’s matchup against big C.C. Sabathia. Sure, the Sox had Josh Beckett on the mound, but even with a dependable arm ready to go, beating the Yankee ace is no easy feat. On paper, this one appeared to be a potential loss and the worst of the weekend’s games. Instead, it proved to be the most dominating victory for the visitors.
Gonzalez provided the key hit, smashing a three-run homer in the seventh. Ellsbury had a two-hit game and drove in a pair. The still-slumping Dustin Pedroia went 3 for 4. Ortiz was the only starter without a hit.
Even better was Beckett’s mastery on the bump. He allowed only four hits, and three were singles. He shut out the Bombers for six innings while striking out nine. And he lowered his season ERA to an absurd 1.75.
Sunday’s victory was big in that it got Boston back to .500 on the year, but Saturday’s victory was more impressive.
Bobby Jenks, on the D.L. with a biceps problem, is slated to play catch on Monday. There is not yet a timetable for his return. Dan Wheeler is closer, having tossed some rehab innings this week. Marco Scutaro is in the worst shape of the three. His oblique strain is still a problem, and he’s almost certain to stay on the shelf longer than the requisite 15 days. Luckily Jed Lowrie has been an upgrade at short anyway.
Surprise of the week
A sweep in New York was a pleasant outcome, but I can’t call it a surprise. The lineup finally put together a strong series and outhit the Yanks. More surprising was that the team couldn’t so much as earn a split with the Blue Jays in Toronto. Watching Lackey get destroyed on Wednesday was depressing if not shocking, but Jon Lester was unusually weak in the first of the two games. His five walks in 5.1 innings helped the Jays stay involved, and Toronto ultimately won in extra innings.
After looking good against Minnesota, it was disappointing to see Boston swept by a team that was, at the time, behind in the standings.
Random stat of the week
As a team, the Red Sox have 40 home runs on the season. More than a fourth of those have come in the last week. The Sox slugged eleven homers in seven days, helping to even their record at 20-20 after Sunday’s win.
Quote of the week
“We’re just going out playing good ball right now. We’ve come a long way since 0-6.”
– Kevin Youkilis following Sunday’s 7-5 win
Since 0-6. And 2-10. And the whole month of April.
Minor league update
Ryan Kalish was examined on Friday, and team doctors think that he may be able to avoid surgery for his torn labrum. Kalish will rehab the shoulder in an effort to continue his 2011 campaign. If he can get back on the field, a September call up is likely.
Back to .500 for the first time since 0-0, Boston has to keep the good times rolling. The Sox get a pair of games against Baltimore at Fenway before welcoming the Detroit Tigers to town for two more. Then interleague play begins with a trio of home games against the Chicago Cubs.
Monday’s matchup with the Orioles is a decent enough as Matsuzaka will look to best Chris Tillman. But Tuesday’s finale is uglier, with the rookie phenom Zach Britton drawing John Lackey. Lackey will have to be significantly better than his last time out in which he was shelled by the Jays for nine runs. Some of the blame goes to Terry Francona, who kept trotting Lackey back out for a total of 6.2 hapless innings.
The Detroit series will feature Phil Coke on Wednesday and Justin Verlander on Thursday. Winning game 1 will be important, and Clay Buchholz will have the honors. Verlander has been strong this year, and his matchup against Beckett should produce a hard-fought game.
The Cubs have Doug Davis, Carlos Zambrano, and Matt Garza lined up for the weekend. Boston will counter with Lester, Dice-K, and Lackey.