|Notes and Observations Week 15: Patriots Blow Out Dolphins 41-13; Clinch AFC East||Connelly’s Top Ten: Patriots Defense, Special Teams Carry Home Team||Fantasy Football Start ‘Em, Sit ‘Em: Week 15||Right Idea? Red Sox Bring in Rick Porcello, Wade Miley, Justin Masterson|
David Ortiz finally hit one out! It barely cleared the wall in center, but sometimes the right bounce is all a hitter needs to get going and break the slump. However, Big Papi’s slump continues, perhaps unsurprisingly, as he has not been hitting the ball well and continues to strike out. Ortiz’ home run helped the Red Sox to the sweep over the Blue Jays as they took over first place in the AL East this week, but they could have used his power in the series with the Mets, who took two close games before the Red Sox won on Sunday.
The Red Sox find themselves up half a game on the Blue Jays and only one game ahead of the streaking Yankees heading into this week’s four-game set in Minnesota and trip to Toronto for a three-game rematch, teams they are a combined 5-0 against in 2009.
The Red Sox could close in on first place with a sweep over the AL-best, but untested, Blue Jays, who had not yet played the Red Sox, Yankees, or Rays in division play until this series. The Red Sox took advantage of the opportunity, and the chance of a series without ace Roy Halladay, and took the brooms to the visitors.
Tim Wakefield has not had his best outings recently, but has stepped up when the Red Sox have needed wins this season and led the Red Sox to a series opening victory, 2-1. Wakefield gave up only one run, a home run to old buddy Kevin Millar, through eight and Jonathan Papelbon nailed down the ninth to save the victory. An unlikely pair, Jeff Bailey and George Kottaras, drove in the only runs the Red Sox would need.
Papi’s home run punctuated a cruise control 8-3 victory for Brad Penny in the second game. Jays rookie pitcher Brett Cecil gave up five bombs as he failed to get out of the fifth. Every Red Sox batter recorded at least one hit in the 15-hit barrage. Penny recorded another quality start with 6.2 IP and only two runs allowed, as unglamorous as it was with nine hits allowed and only two strikeouts, but it was more than enough.
Jon Lester returned to form in the series closing 5-1 victory, throwing 109 pitches over 6.1 IP and only allowing one run. Jason Bay homered again to maintain his torrid pace and Dustin Pedroia was the only Red Sox with two hits as the Blue Jays actually outhit the Red Sox 11-7.
The Blue Jays got a small victory in the series as deposed closer B. J. Ryan pitched two scoreless innings with three hits and three whiffs in two appearances in the series. His return to form, even as a setup man if Scott Downs maintains the closer role, is a must if Toronto will contend deep into the season.
This was a key series for the Red Sox as the Jays provide a good litmus test and they get a return bout very quickly. They just needed to win the series, but the sweep has the Blue Jays reeling.
The Red Sox played host to their second consecutive division leader as the Mets came to town to open interleague play, which the American League has been owning in recent years. However, the opener featured former Cy Young winner Johan Santana battling with the returning Daisuke Matsuzaka. Dice-K only threw 80 pitches in five innings as he struck out four and walked two. However, he could not scatter his five hits allowed and they turned into four runs.
Santana had his own problems, but they were in his defense as he overcame three Met errors to prevail, 5-3. Francisco Rodriguez, who the Red Sox know well from his Angel days, set them down in order in the ninth for the win.
The Red Sox suffered perhaps their most disappointing loss of the season in the middle game as they spoiled a great Josh Beckett outing (8.0 IP, 5H, 1R, 0ER, 1BB, 5K). Papelbon came in to close out the ninth as he had done so many times and gave up the game-winning two run home run to part-time catcher Omir Santos for his first blown save in 12 chances this season.
J.J. Putz gave K-Rod the day off and walked Kevin Youkilis, but the next three Sox batters failed to get the ball out of the infield as the Mets escaped with the 3-2 win.
The Sox, however, showed their character (one of a champion) in the finale. They rebounded from the heartbreaker to win a back and forth game 12-5. They fell behind a couple times and each time hit retook the lead behind a not so sharp Wakefield. They used Earl Weaver’s weapon of choice, the three run home run, twice (Mike Lowell, Kevin Youkilis) and a 4-5 performance from J. D. Drew to win the game.
Ortiz was the only Red Sox starter to go hitless, as his 0-5, 8 LOB performance put his average at .195, ugh. The Red Sox should have won this series, but they cannot expect Papelbon to be perfect. If he converts 11 of every 12 opportunities, the Red Sox will win plenty of games, but they wasted a brilliant Beckett performance. They closed out the series well to ward off the sweep to build some momentum.
The Red Sox travel to the Metrodome this week for a series with the Twins, who they swept in a Fenway doubleheader earlier this season and who have been streaky lately. They ride a four-game win streak, started with a 20-1 victory over the White Sox, after suffering a five-game losing streak.
The last time these two teams played was during was the controversial doubleheader on April 22. In Game 1, the game was well in the Red Sox clutches and called by rain early, despite the fact both teams played Game 2 later in the day.
The Red Sox now have four games in the AL’s worst ballpark, opened by Brad Penny against Francisco Liriano (2-5, 6.04 ERA, 1.46 WHIP). Lester duels with Nick Blackburn (3-2, 3.83, 1.35), Dice-K faces Kevin Slowey (6-1, 4.23, 1.39), and the series wraps with Beckett against Anthony Swarzak (1-0, 0.00, 1.00), who is a 23 year old rookie coming off his debut against the Brewers in which he threw seven shutout innings with three K’s for the win.
The Twins have fallen off the pace in the Central as what was a four-team race has diverged a little bit. Minnesota is a good offensive ballclub as they score a lot of runs with a mix of getting on base, selective running, and some pop, and Joe Mauer has returned since the last series and has picked right up (.438 BA, 10 HR/80 AB, .875 SLG) to aid Justin Morneau (.343, 13 HR, 40 RBI), who leads the Twins in most offensive categories.
The Twins problems stem from their disappointing pitching staff, sporting an ERA of 5.02 and only 260 punchouts, third from the bottom in the AL. Their pitching staff is, interestingly, consistently bad: 5.02 ERA for the starters, 5.01 for the relivers. Their starters have disappointed and they have yet to replace Johan Santana with a No. 1 starter. They seem to have a collection of good starters, almost like having five number three and fours, but no dominant force, likely accounting for the streakiness.
A good outing for Dice-K is needed to get him rolling again, but the Red Sox should have little problem taking three of four.
The Blue Jays troubles did not end in Boston as they went to Atlanta and got the broom treatment again as they are scuffling. If they fail to turn this around quickly, they could find themselves in fourth in the division quickly with questions mounting as to whether this team is going to compete or begin to implode.
Wakefield faces Scott Richmond (4-2, 3.63, 1.27), the 29 year old in his first full season in the majors. He looks like a solid prospect for the Jays in his first 13 starts dating to last season. Penny faces Brian Tallet (2-2, 4.47, 1.24) and Lester would appear lined up to face ace Roy Halladay (8-1, 2.52, 1.03) in the marquee matchup.
The Red Sox get Toronto’s A-List pitching staff this time around, so we will get a better look at the team than in the Fenway series. If the Red Sox take the first two, Halladay will more than likely prevent the sweep as he has done many times before. This series really could go either way, but the Sox should take two.