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Boston’s second week picked up just as the first left off, dropping two of three this time against the A’s. However, the Red Sox emphatically won their first series of the season with a sweep, four games no less, of the Orioles at Fenway.
In recent years, there has been no better cure to Red Sox losing streaks than a date with the O’s, especially when it was at home, and this series proved no different. The Red Sox get a quick turnaround as the homestand continues with a two-game set against the spring training rival Twins and then after a day off THE rivalry is renewed as the Yankees come to town.
The Red Sox losing streak continued as the road trip waned in Oakland as Jon Lester still has not found the form he had in last year’s break out campaign. The lefty struggled through the second as he allowed two solo home runs, capped by old friend Nomar Garciaparra’s, to bookend a five run inning in the eventual 8-2 loss.
Lester hung in the game through six, saving the bullpen about four innings, and settled down pretty well. He allowed six runs in the outing on ten hits, but encouragingly struck out five and did not walk anyone. That suggests he was throwing strikes, but finding bat, which is not an entirely bad scenario. Aside from the second, he only allowed one run on five hits in the other five innings. Sometimes when you throw strikes, the hitters can put them where the fielders are not; it is an entirely better alternative to high walk and pitch counts. A good pitcher like Lester can work through this.
Kevin Youkilis continues to carry the team offensively as he was the only Red Sox hitter with two hits (of the six total) and added a solo shot, to provide the early lead. Javier Lopez and Takashi Saito each yielded a run in their combined two innings.
Things looked good as the second game started as the Sox pushed three runs across in the top of the first. However, Daisuke Matsuzaka gave up five in the home half of the frame as he labored through 43 pitches. He walked two and gave up five hits while striking out none. After the game, it was announced shoulder fatigue will send him to the disabled list. He was the master of high pitch counts last year and walked a lot of hitters, but was able to work himself out of a lot of trouble, but not so for this outing and perhaps the injury contributes to it. There is no use making this injury worse and no need to run Dice-K out there in April if what he needs is rest, so resting the shoulder, if that is all there is going on here, is a wise move for the team.
The Red Sox bullpen combination of Justin Masterson, Manny Delcarmen, pickup of the year Ramon Ramirez (so far), Hideki Okajima, and Jonathan Papelbon combined for 10 innings of shutout relief as the Red Sox tied the game and pushed it to extra innings. Unfortunately, the losing streak was extended as Javier Lopez walked three batters while recording two outs and allowed an infield single as the A’s claimed a 6-5 victory.
Tim Wakefield won the finale with a complete game in which he took a no-hitter into the eighth inning. The seemingly rubber-armed Wakefield gave the bullpen a much-needed day off, perhaps a bigger win than the victory itself. Mike Lowell homered in the second to give the Red Sox an early 2-0 edge, but A’s starter Brian Anderson held the Red Sox in check from there.
True to the Red Sox script, they blew the game open against the bullpen as J. D. Drew’s three run home run off Jerry Blevins highlighted a four-run eighth, one that Blevins could not complete. Wakefield allowed a single run in eighth and ninth as the Red Sox cruised 8-2.
Struggling Jed Lowrie was also disabled with his ailing wrist, possibly for the season. He looked good during his early stint with the Red Sox last season, but was never right as he dealt with the injury in the second half. If they get him fixed up, maybe he will return to that form and be a solid answer in the infield. However, Nick Green has been filling in well in his place, at least for now.
The Red Sox returned home on winning note on a big weekend for the city sports scene. The Bruins won the East and had the rival Canadiens in town, the Celtics were in town hosting the Bulls, and the weekend would be capped with the Patriot’s Day tandem of the Boston Marathon and morning Red Sox game. We did not know when the series began how good the weekend would be for the Red Sox, but with a four-game sweep, the Red Sox moved out of the basement and have the Yankees and Blue Jays back in their sights.
The Red Sox starters’ troubles continued in the opener as the Orioles plated seven second-inning runs off Brad Penny. Terry Francona was able to get another inning out of him before he allowed another run and forced his early exit. However, Jason Bay and Drew each homered and Dustin Pedroia added three hits as the Sox came back from the seven-run hole to win 10-8.
The win falls largely on the bullpen again as they finished the game with six more shutout innings. Delcarmen, Lopez, Ramirez, Okajima, and Papelbon all shut down the Orioles, allowing only six batters to reach over that span. Ramirez extended his shutout string to 7.1 innings and got his first, much deserved win, and Pap earned the save.
This is exactly the type of win the Sox needed: a full team effort, overcoming a big deficit at home, in a divisional game. These types of wins help players rally each other and kick start a big winning streak, as this win proved to do.
In Game 2 of the series, Youk added four more hits to his total as he helped the Red Sox build a 6-0 lead behind Josh Beckett. Beckett did run into trouble in the sixth, allowing four runs before completing the inning to finish the day with five K’s, four walks, and six hits. It was a good outing for five innings, though it did get away from him in the sixth, but he came away with the victory due to the run support. Like clockwork, Okajima and Saito set up Papelbon, working back to back days to help ensure that the Red Sox put the 6-4 game in the win column.
Lester, in the friendly surroundings, looked like the 2008 version, striking out nine in seven innings, while allowing four hits, two walks, and most importantly no runs, in the masterful outing. Ramirez set up Saito with a perfect eighth, though Saito made the ninth interesting, as he allowed one run to save the 2-1 victory. Jacoby Ellsbury led a balanced offense with two hits.
Justin Masterson got the call for the Patriot’s Day finale, taking Dice-K’s spot and had a good outing in leading the Red Sox to their most complete victory of the season thus far. Masterson continues to be a consummate team player, excelling in any role the team puts him in. He came up last year as a starter, taking over for the ineffective Clay Buchholz, and despite his effectiveness in the role, he accepted a demotion to Pawtucket to make room for Bartolo Colon, so he could work into a middle relief role. By the end of last season, he was the best setup option for Papelbon that Francona had.
With all the starting pitching available to the Red Sox this season, Masterson took a seat in the bullpen and now is back in the rotation on short notice. He threw 84 pitches in 5.1 innings, allowed one run on four hits, struck out three, and walked two.
The Red Sox got offense from everyone to backup Masterson: four hits from Pedroia, three from Ellsbury, and a home run from Jason Varitek. David Ortiz added two more hits, though he still sits below the Mendoza line at .196, but maybe he is starting to warm up. The bullpen faced 15 batters and recorded 14 outs in another stellar game for them.
A team as well put together as the Red Sox can suffer cold snaps like any team, but will avoid the long losing streaks and build long winning streaks. The early season’s theme has been the starting pitching as they really are setting the tone for the game. So, clearly, it is an area that needs to settle down, but Beckett, Lester, and Dice-K should pitch well more often than not. Also, with a deep pitching staff like the Red Sox appear to have, the losing streaks should hopefully continue to be short.
The Twins come into the series with a 7-7 record, one game out in the very competitive AL Central after completing a sweep of the Angels. They are without All Star catcher Joe Mauer, who may be on the Sox next year, but will be bringing in two of their better starters in Scott Baker (0-1, 13.50 ERA) and Francisco Liriano (0-3, 5.09). Do not be fooled by the early season numbers. Baker is coming off an 11-4, 3.45 ERA campaign while Liriano has one quality loss and has been a brilliant pitcher at times.
The Twins lack a true power hitter (nine homeruns in 14 games, no more than two for any player), but have a number of versatile offensive guys who can get on base or have sneaky power. The pitching will keep them in games deep and Joe Nathan is just as good as Pap at locking down the ninth inning. Baker draws Wakefield and Penny will face Liriano.
Wakefield tends to struggle at this time of year (his last start notwithstanding) and Penny has not done well in his first Fenway start, but I think the Red Sox will split with the Twins. If the Red Sox can break out the longball, they could run away with one of them, but I think the Twins pitching keeps them in both games.
Ironically, the Yankees may actually want to leave their new ballpark for a while. They opened the new field with a four-game split with the Indians, but allowed 40 runs, including an outrageous 22 in the third game off former ace Chien-Ming Wang. They wrap up their homestand with a series against the A’s before coming to Boston. Lester draws Wang (0-3, 34.50 ERA) in the opener, Beckett faces A. J. Burnett (2-0, 3.20), and Masterson and Pettitte (1-0, 2.51) tangle in the finale as the Red Sox will not face CC Sabathia in this series.
Wang has been horrible so far this season, allowing 23 runs in six innings over three starts amid talk of a demotion. However, Burnett has been the ace signing so far with 17 strikeouts in 19.2 IP and two quality starts in three tries, but the question with him has never been ability, but his durability. Pettitte appears rejuvenated going two-for-two in quality starts so far.
The Yankees’ issues seem to be concentrated where they have been for years: in the bullpen, which has been abysmal (besides Mariano Rivera). Another big money signing, Mark Teixeira, has missed a couple games already, but is back, healthy, and hammering the ball. Robinson Cano, in what may be a scary sign for the Yankees offense, is leading the team in hitting, but is normally a second half guy. And, Nick Swisher is hitting .333 and has four home runs already for the Bombers, who have 20 home runs in 13 games.
This series, unlike the Twins series, will probably feature some offense. The Red Sox have to win the opener and then have the luxury of splitting the second and third game. With the Red Sox trotting out the top three starters for the series, they could pull off the sweep, especially if they can get into that Yankee bullpen early in games.