This was a good week for the Red Sox. The All-Star break gave the team a chance to go back home to spend a few days with their family and recharge their batteries a bit. It came at a much needed time after the horrendous week last week, and I’ll have to admit even as a fan was a nice change of pace to step away from the team for a few days and try to find a new viewpoint on who exactly the 2012 Red Sox are. All championship teams have a defining moment, where they show their toughness, determination and stunning will-to-win, but unfortunately I haven’t seen what I would call that one moment, game, or series that shows what this team is all about. Will it come between now and the end of September, I hope so, but for now it’s time to focus only on what we can see and evaluate in the present moment. What I saw this weekend was the Red Sox taking two out of three from division rival the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field and with my current expectations that’s good enough for me.
The All-Star Game (National League Wins 8-0)
It was a little bit weird on Monday night not seeing a Red Sox batter compete in the Home Run Derby from Kansas City. Each of the past two seasons, “Big Papi” David Ortiz has competed in the Derby, including winning the 2010 contest. Last year, Adrian Gonzalez joined Ortiz in the competition and lost a closely contested final round to Robinson Cano, and in the process lost almost all the power from his normal swing that he is still yet to recover. Knowing what happened to Adrian, I was glad not to see any Sox players competing in the glorified batting practice session, but it did make the contest even more boring as I watched very little of an event that used to captivate me (that can be amazing to watch under the right circumstances, just not in Kansas City).
On Tuesday, many of the best players (voted on by fans, players, managers, and then fans again) in professional baseball congregated for the 83rd Major League Baseball All-Star Game, an exhibition game that thanks to the tie in the 2002 All-Star contest that resulted in a tie, now decides home-field advantage for the World Series. That decision was beyond foolish, and made just to drum up interest in every All-Star game since, but that’s a story for a different day.
Getting back to the point of this post, the Red Sox, they sent only one representative to Kansas City. David Ortiz was selected as an All-Star for the 8th time in his illustrious career, being voted on by the fans as the American League’s starting designated hitter. Ortiz went 1-2, with a single off Dodgers’ lefty Clayton Kershaw, in the game before being lifted for Kansas City hometown hero, Billy Butler (who became a lot more famous thanks to Robinson Cano “snubbing” him for the HR Derby). The rest of his American League squad didn’t fare any better, mustering only 6 hits and no runs in a game dominated by two players on the San Francisco Giants, Melky Cabrera and Pablo Sandoval. The win for the National League means that the World Series this year will start in a National League park, with no DH. Again, I think it’s a silly rule, but that’s the way it is.
Friday, July 13: 3-1 win at Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays lack of offense was glaring on Friday night. They’ve always been a team that relies heavily on their starting pitching, but this year with a major injury to Evan Longoria and some of their other “big bats” underperforming the Rays need to manufacture runs more than other teams might. Friday night they were not able to, as Franklin Morales gave the Sox 5 quality innings, allowing just 5 base-runners (2 hits, 3 walks). Scott Atchison, Andrew Miller, Matt Albers, Vicente Padilla and Alfredo Aceves closed out the game with only Atchison allowing a run on a Sean Rodriguez double in the 6th inning. Offensively, the Sox got a first inning homerun from David Ortiz (his 23rd of the season), and a two RBI double from Pedro Ciriaco who continues to impress during his first month in Boston.
Saturday, July 14: 5-3 loss at Rays
Last night’s game was a tough loss to swallow. The Sox took a 3-2 lead into the 7th inning, thanks to a 2-run homer by Will Middlebrooks (the 11th of his rookie campaign) and a throwing error on a pickoff attempt at third base by David Price on Cody Ross, but the Sox were not able to hold the lead. To start the bottom of the 7th, Clay Buchholz walked Luke Scott and then hit Jeff Keppinger with a pitch, and then Desmond Jennings laid down a beautiful sacrifice bunt to move both runners into scoring position. That play ended Buchholz’ night, but unfortunately not his line, as both of the inherited runners that he left behind came around to score after an intentional walk by Matt Albers to Hideki Matsui, and then a tough bases loaded walk to the next batter, Jose Lobato, to tie the game. Elliott Johnson then hit a sacrifice fly to make it 4-3 Rays before Andrew Miller got Carlos Pena to strike out swinging to end the nightmare inning. B.J. Upton added an insurance run for the Rays in the 8th inning and that was it for the ball-game. Buchholz finished the game with a line of 6 1/3 innings, 3 hits, 4 runs, 4 earned runs, 1 walk (plus the hit batsman) and 8 strikeouts. He pitched a lot better than the stats indicate and this start should be an encouraging one as he comes back from his illness and begins the second half of the season.
Sunday, July 15: 7-3 win at Rays
Today’s contest showed some resiliency on behalf of the Red Sox, something we haven’t seen too much of since about this time last year. At first, it didn’t look like that would happen, as Josh Beckett once again struggled mightily in the first inning of today’s game and after the first frame the Rays had an early 3-1 lead. The lead wouldn’t last long, as in the second inning, Mike Aviles tied the game with a 2-run homer off Rays’ starter James Shields and then in the 5th inning the Sox added 3 more runs thanks to Daniel Nava getting in on the long-ball fun and Middlebrooks added a 2-RBI double. That’s all the Sox would need, but Cody Ross did add another run with a sac fly in the 6th for good measure. Josh Beckett bounced back nicely from his rough first inning, finishing the game with 6 innings pitched, scattering 8 hits, walking 2 batters and striking out 7 while holding the Rays to just those 3 early runs. Call-up Junichi Tazawa, Mark Melancon and Alfredo Aceves did not allow any additional runs, with Melancon not even allowing a base-runner in his 1 2/3 innings of work, and the Sox finished off the Rays (for the weekend) in style. The Sox now hold a 7-5 advantage in the season series, and with the teams very close in the standings for the AL East and also one of the wildcard spot this weekend could be a very important one when we take a look back at the end of the season.
The Sox remain 9.5 games behind the New York Yankees in the American League East, and still tied with the Blue Jays for last place in the division. The gap between the Yankees and the rest of the division doesn’t look like it will decrease any time soon, so the Sox need to start thinking about one of the wildcard spots. The Sox currently sit 1.5 games behind the Orioles for the second wild card spot, with Detroit, Oakland, Tampa Bay and Cleveland between them and a playoff spot as of this moment. I hate to think that the division race is over, and I know that’s not the case all too well thanks what happened to the Sox and Braves last year, I just don’t see the Yanks making that collapse with the group of guys and true leadership that they bring to the workplace.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention a couple letters written about this team for Red Sox Nation. One is a letter written by Larry Lucchino, the current President and CEO of the Red Sox, to the team’s season ticket holders. You can read the letter here, so I won’t get into how ridiculous and cheesy it sounds, but if you’ve followed this team or even just my weekly reviews you should realize it is all a ploy to get fans into Fenway Park to buy more beer.
The second letter is one written by Kevin Youkilis to Red Sox Nation (that you can find here). This week Youk will be making his first appearance at Fenway Park as a member of the visiting team and in appreciation of the way that Red Sox fans treated Kevin during his 8 ½ years in Boston, Youk decided to send an open letter to Sox fans through ESPNBoston.com. Youk thanked the fans, his teammates, Sox ownership, Terry Francona, his family, the philanthropic people of Boston, and all of Red Sox Nation for making his time in Boston so memorable, and he also called his final game of his Sox career as the most emotional day of his life on the baseball field. Notably, Youkilis failed to mention Bobby Valentine, who it’s been well documented by now that they had a strained relationship from the get-go. I thought this letter was a classy gesture, and I’m sure that Youkilis will receive a warm ovation from the Fenway Faithful this week, and if he does well than Bobby Valentine will be booed a bit more brutally than ever (if that’s even possible).
The Week Ahead
Things are back to normal with a full slate of games this week. The Red Sox open up a four game set with the plain-clothed White Sox beginning tomorrow evening, and then the Toronto Blue Jays will be coming to town for the typical 3-game weekend. The White Sox are in first place in the American League Central, so I’ll be okay with a split in that series, but Boston really needs to take advantage of the series with the Blue Jays and find a way to separate themselves from the basement of the American League East. It should be an exciting week, and I’m ready to see it happen.
Thanks again for checking my weekly reports out. I know this one was longer than I was intending, but I hope you enjoyed the read. Go Red Sox!