|Connelly’s Top Ten: Sox Done / Celtics 50 Wins – One Playoff Round / Belichick Contract Extension||Yoan Moncada and the Red Sox||Connelly’s Top Ten: David OverPriced, Sunday Bird, Complete Games (Or Not)||Two Red Sox Players Considered Serious MVP Candidates|
As the Red Sox hit the break, all is right with the Nation once again. The Sox had a great 5-1 week (3-0 versus Minnesota and 2-1 against Baltimore), which coupled with the Rays 0-7 week, turned the 5.5 game deficit into a half-game lead. As quickly as the Sox dropped back, they have regained the lead and put that miserable sweep far back in the rearview mirror. The Red Sox did it this week with a mix of good pitching and a lot of offense.
Scott Baker and Daisuke Matuszaka staged a classic in the Twins series opener with each going at least seven innings while neither allowed a run. Hideki Okajima came on in the eighth to finish the inning after Dice-K threw 108 pitches and earned the win as Jonathan Papelbon closed out the victory.
Manny Ramirez, as evidenced by this week, appears to be warming with the weather, and led the offense as the only Sox player with a multi-hit game and the game’s lone RBI. Minnesota figured out Jon Lester in the second game, getting five runs off him in his 7.1 innings.
Nick Blackburn held the Sox to only two runs through six, leaving the Red Sox down, but they stormed back with four in the eighth. Manny hit the game-tying home run and Brandon Moss got what proved to be the game-winner later in the inning. Papelbon shut the Twins down in the ninth to cap the come-from-behind victory.
The Sox wore out the Twins in the finale, opening up a tight 7-5 game with seven runs in the seventh to coast to an 18-5 victory. Josh Beckett lasted only five innings, giving up five runs and throwing 104 pitches. However, the Red Sox hammered Livan Hernandez for 11 hits as he did not even get out of the fifth, giving up six runs.
The most notable play of the game was the correctly overturned triple play in the seventh which led to the huge inning for the Red Sox. A play like that can make or break a team and it seemed to affect the Twins psyche. Brian Bass, who gave up the only run in the series opener, was the big victim allowing five runs in 1.1 innings. Manny continued his torrid series, adding three more hits, but Jacoby Ellsbury led the way with four knocks.
With the Twins hanging near the top of the Wild Card standings, it was a very important sweep for the Red Sox, regardless of how the Rays were doing. This was among the best series the team has played all season, as they got good pitching and even better offense. When the starters were not sharp, the bullpen was there to shut down the opposition.
The offense really appears to be firing on all cylinders, but an 18-run outing will definitely make it seem that way. Though J. D. Drew has cooled from June, when he was American League Player of the Month, others like Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia have stepped up. With David Ortiz getting closer to a return, this offense could get even better.
Despite a tough start to the season series with the Orioles, the Red Sox are finally starting to look like the better team, as they should. The Sox dropped the opener, but took the final two to win the weekend series.
Clay Buchholz returned to the big club with a short debut that lasted only five innings, surrendering four runs which is all the Orioles would need. The Red Sox got to Brian Burres for three runs in 6.1 innings, but the O’s bullpen shut them down for the final three innings. Manny and Moss were the only two Red Sox to register multiple hits in the disappointing loss.
The Red Sox got to Orioles starter Radhames Liz early in the second game, plating seven in the third, their second seven-run inning in three games. Kevin Youkilis topped off the scoring with a grand slam. Youk added two more RBI later in the game for a career-high six.
Tim Wakefield had the knuckler floating well as he went seven innings, striking out six and only walking one, while allowing two hits. One of the hits was a Ramon Hernandez solo home run, accounting for the Orioles lone run.
In the finale, Dice-K pitched six scoreless innings to earn the gritty victory and ran his record to 10-1. (Dice-K went 1-0 this week, despite 13.1 innings of scoreless baseball, both Red Sox victories). Okajima and Manny Delcarmen combined for two scoreless innings before Papelbon closed the gave for his thrid save of the week. He did it in uncharacteristic fashion, allowing three hits and a run.
A very good series win for the Red Sox as they are the better team and are finally asserting themselves in this matchup. The Red Sox got two phenomenal efforts from starters and continued great efforts from the bullpen. Buchholz’ outing disappointed, but it was only his first start back and he will have a lot of time in between starts, due to the All-Star break.
The Red Sox will get an extra long All-Star break, as they have Thursday off as well, before heading to the left coast to play the AL West-leading Angels. This team is all about its pitching, solid from the starters (John Lackey, Jon Garland, Ervin Santana, Jared Weaver, and Joe Saunders) to “K-Rod” Francisco Rodriguez, the Major League Leader in saves.
The first three starters (who will likely face the Red Sox in the series) in the list all have ERAs below 3.34 AND a WHIP below 1.13. As a unit, the pitching staff ranks in the top third, if not the very top, in many pitching categories including earned run average, batting average against, complete games, shutouts, quality starts, saves and save percentage. Despite their strengths, they are a well-below-average team in strikeouts.
The Red Sox likely will send Beckett, Dice-K, and Lester and will be facing an offense that ranks in the lowest third in the majors in every major category (runs, hits, home runs, average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage) with the notable exception of stolen bases.
They have also just gotten sparkplug Chone Figgins back from injury, though he is much cooled off from sizzling start to the season. Vladimir Guerrero is their leading home run hitter at 15, but is “only” hitting .286, off from the .300+ he’s used to hitting.
The Angels have World Series-calibur pitching and manager Mike Scoscia is one of the best at creating runs and if they add some power before the deadline, they will be a very scary team to meet in the playoffs. We should see three marquee pitching matchups and likely three close games. Either Papelbon or K-Rod should see critical innings. Due to the plethora of Sox batters who could get a game-winning hit, I think the Sox can grab two of the three here.
The next couple weeks will get real interesting for the division as the Rays have cooled. Do they add to their young core for a stretch run? What are the Red Sox looking for in the market? We know the Yankees will add something with Hank Steinbrenner, like his father, willing to jettison anything to win now. We also know, with that talent, that the Yanks have another run in them. Enjoy the All-Star Game and the biggest breather a sports fan gets all year!