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Welcome to the final installment of Red Sox Weekly Review, covering all things Spring Training. The Red Sox had a full slate of games this week in an effort to get their starters fully stretched out and ready for Sunday night’s opener against the New York Yankees at Fenway. So let’s get right to the games.
Monday’s matchup against Tampa Bay featured a strong performance from starting pitcher Josh Beckett. He went six innings and only gave up two earned runs while striking out eight. The problem with this game wasn’t the starting pitching, it was the relief pitching and the hitting. Boston didn’t get on the scoreboard until the seventh inning, and by that point the Rays were already up 5-0. Despite 13 hits from the Red Sox, nobody had a particularly strong day. There were no home runs, and none of the starters had multi-hit games except for Marco Scutaro, who started this game despite being slated for ninth on the final roster. Compounding problems was Alan Embree, who gave up three earned runs in less than an inning of work. His ERA sits at over 40, and he clearly is not capable of pitching in the major leagues. I wonder if he ever will be again. The final score was Tampa Bay 9, Boston 3.
Boston continued its torrid offense on Tuesday with a follow up game against the Tampa Bay Rays. They belted out 16 hits against Tampa pitching, scoring early and often. In a game that featured mostly players who will play in the minors, the Sox played were still able to stay with Tampa’s starters and pulled out a tie, 9-9. Big hitters of the night were Josh Reddick (3-5 with two runs scored), Anthony Rizzo (3-5 with two RBIs), and Tug Hulett (2-4 with two runs and two RBIs). The pitching staff for this game was also comprised almost entirely of soon-to-be minor leaguers, with the exception of Daniel Bard, who allowed four earned runs in his 0.2 innings of work. This game says very little about the Red Sox this season, but it says a lot about the potential of our farm system. To hold their ground against a major league roster like Tampa Bay’s is impressive. I predict big things in Pawtucket this year.
The name of the game Wednesday was score early and score often as Boston took on the Baltimore Orioles. The Red Sox banged out a whopping seventeen hits against the hapless Orioles, winning the game 14-6. Dustin Pedroia had a strong game, going 3-5 with two runs scored. Victor Martinez had an even stronger game however, going 3-5 with two home runs, driving in a whopping six runs. This solid hitting was complimented well by starter Jon Lester, who went seven strong innings, giving up just one earned run on three hits and three walks (also three strikeouts). Lester looks ready for the regular season. He will make an excellent #2 starter behind Josh Beckett, and the 1-2-3 punch of them and John Lackey will make the Red Sox incredibly difficult to beat in a three-game series.
Thursday’s match-up against the Twins had little at stake, seeing as the Red Sox had already clinched the “coveted” Mayor’s Cup. Boston got another strong start out of its starter, this time John Lackey. While only able to go five innings, he succeeded in allowing just one earned run to cross the plate. The Red Sox responded by putting up three in the fifth inning and two in the eighth, winning the game 5-3. The offense did not play as well as it had in the previous few games, belting out just eight hits (the Twins actually out-hit the Red Sox 10-8). Marco Scutaro continued to improve his batting average, however, going 2-3 with two RBIs from the lead-off spot. His batting average has finally climbed above the Mendoza Line (.200), and if he keeps this momentum up he may wind up surprising a few people with his production from the nine-hole. He may yet join the long list of above-average shortstops that no one expects.
The Red Sox took on the Washington Nationals on Friday, beating them 7-2. The game featured the two things we’ve come to expect from this team so far: great hitting and strong starting pitching. The pitching star of the game this time was Clay Buchholz, who went six innings while only giving up one earned run and two hits overall. He may yet prove he can pitch in the major leagues, although the Nationals are a far cry from the Yankees or the Rays. Offensively, Boston returned to form with 12 more hits, out-hitting Washington 12-5. The hits were very evenly distributed this game, with no player getting more than one. Jason Varitek’s hit did drive in 3, however, which helped break the score open for Boston in the sixth inning. In that inning Boston scored six times and put the game out of reach. Solid relief pitching after that was enough to seal the game and get Buchholz the win.
Boston finished its preseason with another game against Washington on Saturday. The goal of this game was most likely to evaluate two pitchers: Tim Wakefield and Daisuke Matsuzaka. Whoever pitched better in this game should have cemented his spot as the fifth starter come Opening Day. While Boston won this game, 6-1, Wakefield out-pitched Matsuzaka by just a hair. They both went four innings, however Wake gave up no walks and no earned runs, while Dice-K gave up a run and walked three. Taking Wake’s preseason 4-1 record into consideration, it seems most logical to me that Wakefield should start in the rotation and Dice-K should not. Wakefield will almost inevitably go down with an injury in the second half, at which point Matsuzaka will make a fine replacement. But for now, Wakefield is still the better and more experienced pitcher. Of course, should he struggle in this position, Daisuke will be right there to take his place. Offensively, the only things of note were home runs by Kevin Youkilis and J.D. Drew. Considering Drew’s poor preseason (batting average under .200), this may be a sign that he’s turning things around at the best possible time.
We learned a lot this preseason about our Boston Red Sox. We learned how strong our starting rotation is. We learned that the offensive can still be incredibly dynamic despite its off-season losses. And we learn that should there be struggles or injuries, there are a core of minor league players who are ready and raring to go. The Red Sox did an excellent job building up momentum heading into this regular season. They went 4-1-1 in the final weak and are riding a four-game winning streak into tonight’s game against the Yankees. But all of that will be for naught if Boston can’t keep it up in the regular season. After a full month of game, practice is finally over. Now the real games begin.