April 29, 2012 Leave a comment
“I think we’ve hit bottom. If this isn’t the bottom then we’ll find some new ends to the earth or something”
That was Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine’s quote 8 days ago after the debacle in Boston in which the Red Sox blew a 9-1 lead to the Yankees in the 7th inning and lost the game 15-9. In many ways it was rock bottom, being embarrassed like that by your biggest rival at home and dropping your record to 4-10. Thankfully the Red Sox didn’t find those new ends of the earth. After Sunday’s rain out the Sox headed on the road and have basically pulled a 180 on their season in 6 games in Minnesota and Chicago and go into today’s Sunday matinee looking for a clean 7-game sweep of their AL Central foes. The Sox are now at .500 with a 10-10 record, a feat that they didn’t accomplish until May 15 last season, and could miraculously finish with a record over .500 in April if they can take the last two games of the month.
Bobby Valentine has been much maligned this season but things seem to be clicking now. His moment of levity in the first game of the series in Minnesota may have helped Alfredo Aceves start to rebound from his horrid start. After Aceves gave up a long fly ball to light hitting Trevor Plouffe Valentine trotted to the mound and asked Aceves if he was trying to kill him. Aceves said no and proceeded to close out the game and his next two chances on the trip without allowing a run. As a matter of fact the bullpen as a whole is pitching better as they have only given up 1 earned run on the road trip. Junichi Tazawa looks like he may become a contributor as he’s pitched 6 scoreless innings since being recalled last weekend. Daniel Bard also came in and contributed 2/3 of an inning on Monday and you might see more of that here and there for the rest of the season as they try and keep his innings count down.
As far as the starting pitching went Bard showed why he should be in the starting rotation. He pitched 7 strong on Friday night giving up 3 runs on 6 hits and striking out 6. He showed that he is really too valuable in the rotation, particularly with Clay Buchholz continuing to struggle. Felix Doubront continued to impress, pitching 6 innings on Thursday and giving up 3 runs on 5 hits and K’ing 2. He finally got his 1st win after a few impressive performances that included a wasted great start last Saturday against the Yankees in the infamous 15-9 game. The performance of the week probably belonged to Jon Lester on Saturday night. After having to throw over 30 pitches in the 1st inning Lester bore down and finished the game with 7 strong innings of shut-out baseball. He scattered 5 hits and only walked one while striking out 7. He endured a 10 pitch at bat on his final batter of the game but finally put Alex Rios away with his 120th pitch of the game. That broke a personal 5 game losing streak for Lester. The starting pitching as a whole has seemed to have found a groove with the exception of Buchholz. Hopefully he is just working off the rust and will come around soon.
The offense has continued to click on all cylinders on the road and it all begins with Mike Aviles, who has replaced Jacoby Ellsbury as the team’s lead-off hitter. He has gone 8-for-27 on the road trip with 2 HRs, 5 RBI and a walk. He’s set the pace for an offense that has scored 45 runs on the 6 game road trip which has included 3 games of 10 or more runs. Cody Ross started things off with a clutch 2 home run performance in game 1 to propel the Sox offense which has also gotten 3 home runs from Jarrod Saltalamacchia, 2 from Aviles and David Ortiz and 1 each from Darnell McDonald and Kevin Youkilis. Adrian Gonzalez, while not going deep, has continued to be an RBI hit machine, going 7-for-20 with 6 RBI. The only game on the trip in which he didn’t get an RBI was the Friday night 10-3 rout in Chicago. He saved his best piece of hitting for the Saturday night game when he took a good Jake Peavy pitch up the middle for the only run of the game in the 4th inning. David Ortiz has continued his red-hot April on the trip, going 7-for-22 with 2 HRs and 6 RBI. The scary thing about this offense is their are doing all of this on the road and, in Chicago’s case, against some pretty good pitching. I’m interested if they continue to click on all cylinders when they come back to the friendly confines on Monday.
Josh Beckett takes the hill on Sunday against Gavin Floyd of the White Sox as the Sox try to go 7-for-7 on the road trip. If they do it will provide a huge boost to the team as they head into May with a favorable schedule for the first two weeks. The honeymoon may have been a disaster for Bobby V. and company but the first week of the marriage seems to be going good and hopefully it carries over. The biggest difference from this season’s version of the Red Sox compared to last years is the production that they are getting from the back of the rotation. Doubront and Bard continue to give the Sox solid starts from the back-end and are improving as they gone on. Last year they got limited production from those spots whether they came from John Lackey, Tim Wakefield, Kyle Weiland, or someone else. When you’ve got 5 guys that can go out there and pitch it makes a world of difference. The one weak link is the bullpen but if they’ve started to get themselves right and Bobby V. is starting to get a feel for how to use these guys this team is poised to be a very dangerous team from here on out. Those new ends of the earth will seem so far away if the Sox can complete the clean sweep of a crucial 7 game road trip.