Things are starting to look up for the Boston Red Sox. In taking care of interleague business with a 5-1 week the Sox have moved out of last place in the AL East, and now have a chance to increase the gap between them and the cellar as the team begins a three game set with the Toronto Blue Jays tonight at Fenway Park. Perhaps more importantly, the team may have finally found a sense of stability as corner infielder Kevin Youkilis has been sent out of town to wear a different colored pair of Sox, traded to the Chicago White Sox last night in exchange for utility player Brent Lillibridge and right-handed pitcher Zach Stewart. The move of Youkilis allows rookie sensation Will Middlebrooks to assume all responsibilities at third base for the remainder of the season, and also assures that Adrian Gonzalez will move back to first base full time, with David Ortiz remaining in the Designated Hitter role. This was a move that needed to be made, and as important as Youkilis was to the two World Series championships, the time was now to give the third baseman of the future the reigns.
Asked Bobby Valentine whether we'd see Adrian Gonzalez in RF again. He said "Yes. In the World Series."—
Nick Cafardo (@nickcafardo) June 25, 2012
Tuesday, June 19: 7-5 win vs. Miami Marlins (Sox hit 3 HRs off Mark Buehrle, survive Logan Morrison’s career day)
Wednesday, June 20: 15-5 win vs. Miami Marlins (15 runs on 16 hits help Sox destroy Marlins)
Thursday, June 21: 6-5 win vs. Marlins (Middlebrooks 4-RBI night, Aceves closes out 18th save)
Friday, June 22: 4-1 loss vs. Atlanta Braves (Jair Jurrjen’s, who?)
Saturday, June 23: 8-4 win vs. Braves (Franklin Morales fans 8 over 6 innings, Middlebrooks triple shy of cycle)
Sunday, June 24: 9-4 win vs. Braves (Cody Ross two HRs, Aaron Cook provides solid spot start)
The Sox improved to 38-34 overall on the season and are currently in fourth place in the AL East, one game ahead of the Blue Jays. The Sox sit 5.5 games behind the surging New York Yankees in the division race, but just two games behind the Rays for third place in the division, and three behind the Orioles for second place. The Sox are 8-2 in their last ten games and are looking to get their home record above .500 with this early week series against Toronto, as they are now 19-20 at home this season.
The bats did the talking for the team this week. Besides the one fluky performance by Jair Jurrjen’s on Friday night where the Dutch pitcher scattered just three hits and one run over 7/23 innings in looking more like the 2011 All-Star he was instead of the player who had been sent down to AAA earlier this year due to poor performance, the offense scored at least six runs in every other game. I’m not trying to rip either Franklin Morales or Aaron Cook, but almost every starting pitcher is comfortable when an offense provides him with that kind of run support, so it certainly took the pressure off these guys who are not normally in the Sox rotation. The player responsible for the most of the damage to opposing pitchers ERA’s this week was none other than Will Middlebrooks, who hit an incredible .625 with three doubles and three homeruns (and 10 RBIs) over the past week. Having that kind of production from Middlebrooks made it impossible not to play him, and was a key factor in Youkilis being traded yesterday. Another player hot with the bat was Cody Ross, who tied Middlebrooks with 10 RBIs on the week, and also had three homeruns to his credit. David Ortiz struggled a bit with the bat this week, going 3-19 (.158 average) but when he made contact he made it count with two homeruns and six RBIs. One other encouraging sign offensively was Adrian Gonzalez, who hit .304 for the week with one homerun and three RBIs, but the most noteworthy stat is that he walked three times on the week. The Sox need Gonzalez to get on base and to be productive, and hopefully his production will increase as we near the second half of this marathon season.
Jon Lester was the only pitcher to suffer a loss this week, as he allowed three earned runs on 10 hits through seven innings of work against the Braves on Friday. That’s the kind of start that will win you many games over the course of the season, so while respectable it just wasn’t enough for Lester who fell to 4-5 on the season. Besides that game, Sox pitching was solid but not spectacular. Of all the starting pitchers, Franklin Morales pitched the best game, going seven innings and surrendering two earned runs on seven hits. He also managed to strike out a team high eight batters on the week. Aaron Cook made an emergency spot start yesterday, filling in for Clay Buchholz who has been put on the 15-day disabled list with a gastrointestinal illness, and was hospitalized over the weekend. Cook managed to allow just two earned runs through five innings, enough to earn the win. The Sox bullpen has been surprisingly excellent over the past few weeks, making up for a slow start, and Alfredo Aceves pitched three perfect innings this week to earn two saves. Vicente Padilla also made it through two innings, just allowing two hits and no other base runners and no runs, while Mark Melancon, Scott Atchison, and Andrew Miller combined to throw over nine innings total this week, allowing just one run each.
Aaron Cook, Franklin Morales, and Ryan Kalish were the only three Red Sox players to make errors in the field this week. Considering that none of those players are ones that the Sox will count on heavily as this season goes on (at least in the roles that they are currently in) these fielding miscues are relatively minor and not something to stress out about. The Sox remain in a tie for fourth in Major League Baseball in fielding percentage, and they also sit in third in double plays turned, so fielding is one of the few aspects of the game that the team can hang their hats on.
The Week Ahead
The Sox finish up this home-stand with a quick three game series with the last place Blue Jays, before heading out to the west coast for some late-night ball-games with the Seattle Mariners. With the Sox playing two last place teams this week (Toronto at 37-35, Seattle 31-43) these are games that they need to find a way to win. Anything less than a 4-2 week will be disappointing for this team, but with the way things are going I would be not be surprised if this team went 6-0, 0-6 or anywhere in between.
Pitching Probables vs. Toronto Blue Jays
Monday, June 25: Henderson Alvarez (3-6, 4.30) vs. Felix Doubront (8-3, 4.31)
Tuesday, June 26: Aaron Laffey (0-0, 3.00) vs. Diasuke Matsuzaka (0-2, 6.06)
Wednesday, June 27: Ricky Romero (8-1, 4.34) vs. Jon Lester (4-5, 4.48)