With this afternoon’s 5-1 win over the Phillies, the Red Sox completed a great week in which they won two series and split a third, and more importantly they looked good doing it. Over the 7 games on the schedule for this week, the Sox gave a grand total of 18 runs and compiled a 5-2 record over that stretch. They also feasted off the teams that they are supposed to beat, outscoring the Mariners 11-1 over a two game sweep at Fenway to start the week and then splitting two very competitive games at Tropicana Field to stay alive in the AL East. From there they moved on to Philadelphia, and after former closer Jonathan Papelbon closed the team out on Friday night the Sox bats powered the team to two wins to close out the weekend to keep the Phillies in last place in the National League East.
Monday, May 14: 6-1 win vs. Seattle Mariners (Lester stellar CG effort)
Tuesday, May 15: 5-0 win vs. Mariners (Beckett 9 K’s in 7 innings help Sox celebrate Wake Day)
Wednesday, May 16: 2-1 loss at Tampa Bay Rays (Hellickson extends Rays win streak to 4)
Thursday, May 17: 5-3 win at Rays (Cody Ross monster day, bullpen comes up clutch)
Friday, May 18: 6-4 loss at Philadelphia Phillies (Hamels beats Sox, Papelbon closes out former team)
Saturday, May 19: 7-5 win at Phillies (Sox hit 4 homeruns, support Jon Lester)
Sunday, May 20: 5-1 win at Phillies (Beckett allows 1 run in 7/23 innings, Aviles leads off game with HR for second straight game)
Even with the good week the Red Sox remain in last place in the AL East. The Baltimore Orioles still lead the division by 6.5 games, but the Sox did manage to close the gap a bit to get out of the cellar as they now sit just one game behind the Yankees for fourth place in the division (the Yankees are having just as disappointing a season as the Sox). As I mentioned last week, the time for the Sox to make up ground in the division is now, as the six games this week are against the division leading Orioles and the second place Rays.
The biggest reason that the Sox had another winning week is that the pitching has improved since the beginning of the season, especially when it comes to starting pitching. Josh Beckett, who has become a source of major drama over the past couple years, finally looked like his old self this week. #19 threw 14 2/3 innings, giving up only 11 hits and 1 earned run while striking out 14 batters. That’s the kind of effort that Red Sox Nation has come to expect from Beckett and if he continues to pitch this well than what he does off the mound will fade to the background once again. Lefthander Jon Lester also had a big week, winning both of his starts, including a complete game on Monday night against the Mariners in which he gave up 1 run on 8 hits and struck out 6 M’s. Lester ran into a little more trouble on Saturday night, but the Red Sox bats were able to support him and help him to the victory as he gave up 4 runs over 6 innings. The biggest surprise in the Sox starting rotation so far has been Felix Doubront and his 5 2/3 inning effort on Thursday was enough to beat the Rays and the bullpen was solid allowing only 1 run over the final 3 1/3 in that game. Alfredo Aceves went 2 for 2 in his save opportunities this week and closed out today’s game with a perfect 9th inning in a non-save opportunity, so it’s always nice to know that you have a competent reliever at the back of your bullpen to finish games off. 18 runs allowed for the entire team on the week is fantastic and provides some hope for the rest of the month at the very least.
Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia has been on a tear. Over his past ten games he is hitting .375 with 3 HRs and 9 RBIs. Salty hit 6th in the lineup this afternoon and again came up clutch, hitting a 3 run homer in the 3rd inning to give the Sox some breathing room that helped Beckett cruise. Bobby Valentine said that he would keep playing the hot bat and it paid off, so you got to give credit to the manager for leaving Salty out there. Cody Ross has also found the hot bat that he had to start the season, as he stroked his team-leading 8th homer on Friday night and trails only David Ortiz for the team lead in RBIs. Unfortunately Ross is day-to-day after fouling a ball off his foot on Friday night, and the Sox could really use him back healthy soon as they had to play first baseman Adrian Gonzalez in right-field over the weekend. Third base prospect Will Middlebrooks went through a bit of a lull to start the week, and his scouting reports may have caught up to him as he went only 2-16 against the Mariners and the Rays, but he did bounce back with 4 hits in 13 at-bats over the weekend. Kevin Youkilis may be ready to be called up as early as Tuesday of this week, so it will be interesting to see what happens at the hot corner. Reserve outfielder Daniel Nava also cooled off a bit this week going 4-22 (.182 average), but that is to be expected for a player who came out as on fire as he did his first week with the club this year.
The Sox are still hanging in there at the top of the pack in both fielding percentage (.989) and fewest errors made (18) trailing only the Seattle Mariners in both categories. Defense not being a contributing factor to losses is excellent and it’s great that you barely notice it out there. They make the plays that they are supposed to make, and in the case of an incredible diving catch by Ryan Sweeney Saturday night and maybe some of the plays by Adrian Gonzalez in right-field or David Ortiz flashing the leather at first quite possibly they are making some of the plays you wouldn’t expect them to make. Will Middlebrooks has also been stellar at third, so Bobby Valentine and Ben Cherington need to have a long talk early this week to see what do to with Kevin Youkilis, who at his age and fitness level is not the best defensive option despite winning the 2007 Gold Glove at first base.
The Week Ahead
Games before Memorial Day typically aren’t the most important games on the schedule, but the importance of this week for the Red Sox is something that cannot be overstated. The Sox open the week with a three game set against the Orioles in Baltimore and after a rare day off on Thursday have a weekend series with the Rays at Fenway. With the unbalanced schedule you play each team in your division 18 times in the regular season, and the Sox need to play well this week to get themselves back in early contention for the division lead or at least one of the two wild-card spots. I won’t call these games MUST win, but they are about as close as you can get when it comes to May baseball.
Pitching Probables for Red Sox at Orioles
5/21: Clay Buchholz (4-2, 7.77) vs. Tommy Hunter (2-2, 4.78)
5/22: Felix Doubront (4-1, 4.09) vs. Brian Matusz (3-4, 5.36)
5/23: Daniel Bard (3-5, 4.85) vs. Jake Arrieta (2-4, 4.72)