AL East Standing: 1st
Weekly Record: 8-3*
Current Record: 82-56
(Every weekend I will attempt to give some brief thoughts on the past week for the Boston Red Sox. It will be filled with hopes, frustrations, exhilaration, pain, and puns.)
*(Obviously this is their record of the last two weeks, where they went 4-2 and 4-1 respectively. I put that there as I had to skip a Weekly because of moving, but I obviously want to talk about last week)
It all comes together
I’ve learned not to get my hopes up about the Red Sox. Ever. I inherited it from Pops. 2011 was only two years ago. Season after season, teams collapse in the final stretches, and you hope, pray, that it doesn’t happen to you. I watch just as many Rays games at this point, always looking back in the fear that Joe Madden’s supremely pesky team will climb their way back to the top. While certainly not matching pre-2004 levels of angst (I’ve suffered through at least three dozen “You’ve got it lucky, kid” lectures from Pops), the state of the modern Red Sox fan is and always will be one of slight anxiety, not of unbending confidence.
But consider the last two weeks. The Red Sox played in four series: a road stretch against the San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers, before coming home to the Baltimore Orioles and the Chicago White Sox. The Red Sox won the first three series 2-1, before holding off the White Sox last night for a sweep. Their three losses? 3-2 to the Giants, 2-0 to the Dodgers, 3-2 to the Orioles. The Red Sox won the other nine games by a 66-20 differential. Take out last night’s game, and that’s a 59-14 differential.
There are two things to learn from that. One, the offense is as potent as ever. Even in the midst of a David Ortiz “slump”, the Sox still piled on the runs. Shane Victorino turned absolutely superhuman going 23-46 with 11 RBI in the 12-game stretch, including a bananas 7 RBI in a 13-2 win over the Orioles. A lot of those runs batted in came from Jacoby Ellsbury, who is finding his swing with ease, and had 7 SB since Aug. 19th. Jonny “The Flux Capacitor” Gomes and Jarrod Saltalamacchia are somehow still huge offensive contributors, seemingly hitting RBI double after RBI double. And as it turns out a Will Middlebrooks/Xander Bogaerts combo is a hell of a lot more effective than the Brock Holt/Brandon Snyder one (more on that later…).
Two, any worries over the Red Sox starting rotation are wildly overblown. The only starter to give up more than 3 ER was Felix Doubront’s in Sunday’s 7-6 win over the White Sox (3.2 IP, 7 H, 4 ER). And in his two previous starts, Felix was downright spectacular, not letting up despite the 25 runs supporting him (14.2 IP, 9 H, 3 ER, 10 K). Jake Peavy had one average outing and then two amazing ones, including a one-run complete game in Los Angeles, and his fiery attitude is quickly making him a fan favorite. John Lackey had two solid outings against Baltimore and Los Angeles, even if he didn’t get a win to show for it (Is John Lackey the best indicator that a win-loss record is a silly way to evaluate a pitcher’s success?) While I hate to say that Jon Lester has finally found his groove, as every other time I’ve said that he inevitably gives up three homers and leaves in the fourth but…Jon Lester has finally found his groove. Hell, even after his suspension for plunking A-Rod, Ryan Dempster had an efficient 3-run outing against Chicago. All of this with Clay Buchholz rapidly approaching major-league readiness. While the Red Sox may not have an “ace” stopper in the Kershaw/Felix/Verlander mold, the Red Sox may have the best rotation 1 through 5 outside of the Detroit Tigers. With Koji manning the 9th, and appearing downright unhittable, the Sox just need a bit more consistency from their bullpen to become the favorites not just for the AL East but for the pennant.
One-Up: The Left of the Infield
Let’s just agree to thank our lucky stars that Cherington didn’t pull the trigger on Michael Young? Let’s take a look at how the left side of the infield has shaped up in August. Stephen Drew is still an above-average glove with a .304/.389/.478 line. The much-maligned Will Middlebrooks bounced back from the minors with a .322/.406/.475, and that’s with a rough patch in the last week (he’s gotta watch his strikeouts though). And Xander Bogaerts, while not exactly getting consistent at-bats, has impressed mightily, with an especially nice game on Saturday (2-3, 1 RBI, 1 BB), while also looking smooth at shortstop. It’ll be interesting to see how this shapes up come October, but what was once a position of great concern now has a ton of upside.
Also what do we call Bogaerts? Bogey? Xandy? X-Bo? This needs to be decided. Quickly.
One-Down: Daniel Bard
Daniel Bard was designated for assignment on Sunday. The 28-year-old (how is he that old?) pitcher who had been one of the most dominant setup men in the majors had completely fallen apart in the last two years, as injuries halted his progress and shattered his confidence. His last 6 1/3 innings included 10 wild pitches and 23 walks, showing just how far he’s fallen. Hopefully he’ll be able to pull himself together, but I don’t see that ever happening with the Red Sox organization.
One-Up: Mike Napoli
After a beyond-rough start to August (as well as July…and June), Napoli had a nice stretch in the last two weeks. He went 8-27 with 7 RBI, and some nice defensive plays at first to boot. Of course, Napoli would make this spot just from the 437-foot monster shot off of Brandon League in Los Angeles. Things are hopefully turning around for the first baseman who, despite the strikeouts and low batting average, is poised to be a difference-maker in the postseason. If he starts warming up now, he makes the Red Sox all that more scary.
One-Down: Alex Wilson