Here we are, halfway through the 2012 calendar year and 66 games into the Red Sox marathon, and the Boston nine are still sitting in last place in the AL East. This is the last Monday that Sox have off until the All-Star break so it should a time of deep reflection for the ball-club. Coming off the heels of two road series wins the Sox come back to Fenway to begin a 9-game home-stand starting tomorrow, and this week is also an important one because this is the final two interleague series for the team unless they miraculously find themselves in the World Series this year.
Monday, June 11: 4-1 loss at Miami Marlins (Josh Johnson outduels Josh Beckett)
Tuesday, June 12: 2-1 win at Marlins (Buchholz strikes out 9 in 7 innings to beat Mark Buehrle)
Wednesday, June 13: 10-2 win at Marlins (Bats wake up, Doobie flirts with no-hitter)
Friday, June 15: 3-0 loss at Chicago Cubs (Ryan Dempster foils Diasuke Matsuzaka’s second outing)
Saturday, June 16: 4-3 win at Cubs (Salty 2-3 with HR and double, Lester back to .500)
Sunday, June 17: 7-4 win at Cubs (3 run 7th inning propel Sox to series victory)
Normally winning 2 series in a week will improve your position in the standings. Notice I said normally, as this week that was certainly not the case. The Sox started the week 6 back in the AL East, and as of today they are now 7.5 games back, thanks to the New York Yankees incredible streak of 9 straight wins. The Red Sox now sit at 33-33 and one game behind the Toronto Blue Jays for 4th place in the division.
Sox pitchers have been pretty good over the past 6 games. When you don’t give up more than four runs in any game than you are doing a great job of keeping runs off the board, but I have to wonder what the level of competition had to do with the pitching successes of the Red Sox this week. Of the Sox starting pitching, Clay Buchholz had the best week, allowing just 1 run and 5 hits over 7 innings while striking out 9 in the win over the Marlins on Tuesday night. Felix Doubront also had a great outing against the Marlins on Wednesday night, not allowing a hit to the Fish in his first 5 2/3 innings, and ending the night going 7 innings allowing just 2 runs on 3 hits and striking out 9 batters also. This week Diasuke Matsuzaka and Franklin Morales were both forced into the rotation, and they combined to allow 5 runs on 8 hits over 11 innings, providing effective but not stellar results for the Sox. Morales did manage to strike out 9 batters in his 5 innings last night, but he is more valuable to the team in his role out of the bullpen than as a starter. At the back end of the bullpen Alfredo Aceves went 2-2 in his save situations for the week, pitching 3 innings while allowing 1 run on 5 hits and striking out 3.
After the terrible week at the plate last week, the Sox bats woke up this week. This team needs production from the big bats in the lineup, as every run takes that much pressure off this shall I say vulnerable pitching staff, and this week the hitters did play their part in the team’s victories. “Big Papi” David Ortiz led the charge over the past week, going yard twice and driving in 5 runs while batting a solid .353. He even had his boy, rapper Lil Wayne in the Sox visitor’s clubhouse after the win on Wednesday night. Besides Ortiz, outfielder Scott Podsednik had a great week going 10-24 (.417 average) with 2 RBIs and he scored 4 times over the past 7 days, good for second on the team in that category. Jarrod Saltalamacchia was the only other Red Sox hitter to homer this week, going deep off of Cubs pitcher (and former Notre Dame Wide Receiver) Jeff Samardzija in what was probably the craziest spelling of a home run in a box-score ever. The run distribution for the Sox this week was pretty even with 11 players combining to score the team’s 24 runs, so that is an encouraging sign for manager Bobby Valentine.
As we saw in last night’s 7th inning where the Sox scored 3 runs assisted by 2 fielding miscues by the Cubs, fielding is important. The Sox made 4 errors on this week, so while not bad there is room for improvement. Kevin Youkilis and Mike Aviles both had fielding miscues of their own last night, while Will Middlebrooks had a tough night defensively Saturday (but only had 1 error) to account for the 3 errors made in the Cubs series. The only other error for the Sox came on Monday night against the Marlins when Adrian Gonzalez misplayed a ball in right field, but since that’s not his natural position and not where he would be playing if this team does find itself into any meaningful games this year, we can let that one slide a little.
Tension in the Clubhouse
In Buster Olney’s blog for ESPN Insider he wrote yesterday, “But it doesn’t take long to ascertain that the Red Sox are a splintered group, with a lot of players and staff unhappy for a lot of different reasons. If they do come back and make the playoffs, it’s not going to be because of a united clubhouse. It’s toxic — but that doesn’t mean they can’t win.” Those are some harsh words about the team, and Olney followed up today writing that “the unhappiness that exists among the Boston players and staff is multi-layered and deep. Calls and texts and complaints about daily events and exchanges are being sprayed all over the baseball landscape, as some involved share their frustration with friends and family and agents. Some are already talking about looking for work elsewhere down the road.” As a fan those are words you never want to see written about your team, but at the same time they are not very surprising. There is frustration about many different situations and how they’ve been handled (and mismanaged) by the Boston front office and manager, and unfortunately the media has been able to pick up on those negative vibes. Winning heals (almost) all wounds and there will be less tension if this team does find a way to perform to the level they are supposed to but for now the Sox clubhouse is not the best place to be. No athlete comes to Boston and expects to be in last place, but this team needs to find a way to rally through their issues and take care of the business at hand.
The Week Ahead
The final two interleague series of the 2012 regular season are upon the Red Sox this week, when the Miami Marlins and the Atlanta Braves come to town for a couple of 3-game series at Fenway Park. The Sox need to build upon their series win against the Marlins from last week down at the old Orange Bowl site and then they look forward to Atlanta making the trip up to “America’s Most Beloved Ballpark”. This will probably be the last series that Chipper Jones ever plays at Fenway Park, so I’m hoping that the Sox faithful will acknowledge the future Hall-Of-Famer’s career even though we didn’t get much of a chance to see it first-hand.