Boston Red Sox: 5 Things We Learned from the Toronto Series
Although the Red Sox showed signs of improvement, they once again lost another series and now head to Fenway Park 1-5 and desperately in need of a win.
The Toronto Blue Jays proved that they are going to be a pest in the AL East all year, and very well could end up finishing ahead of the Sox. They showed that they can hit and that they also have a certified ace in Ricky Romero, who held the Sox to just one earned run in 8.1 innings of work.
In many ways, though, the Sox were their own worst enemies in this series. They went a paltry 4-for-23 with runners in scoring position, leaving 19 runners on base over the three games. No matter what team they’re playing, if the Sox keep producing numbers like those then they are going to lose a lot of games this season.
Kevin Youkilis continued to struggle, going 2-for-12 in the series, with both of his hits coming in Tuesday night’s 7-3 loss. What is more troubling about Youkilis’ rough start is the fact that the “Greek God of Walks” has yet to draw a free pass this season but does have an abundant strikeout total (six in 20 at-bats). It seems that Youkilis is expanding the zone for pitchers by chasing pretty much everything, and the pitchers are exacerbating the problem by giving him nothing to hit.
The offense as a whole sputtered, hitting a meager .200 (19-for-95) against a relatively pedestrian Toronto pitching staff. The low offensive output (eight runs in three games) put the pitching staff in a precarious position with no margin for error, and the Sox paid for this lack of support in dropping two of three games.
Despite the team’s struggles, though, there were some positives to be taken from this rough three game stretch. Here are five of them:
Felix Doubront Belongs in the Rotation
Though he certainly did not dazzle, Felix Doubront was effective in his first start on Monday. He gave up just four hits and two earned runs but did not factor in the decision.
His three walks contributed to his high pitch count (101 in just 5.0 innings), but he also had excellent stuff over the course of his entire outing in logging six strikeouts. Both his curveball and fastball were effective in keeping the Blue Jays hitters off balance, a continuation of his spring success and giving Doubront a nice foundation to work from for his next start.
Sox fans certainly were breathing a collective sigh of relief after this game; with all of the team's well-documented pitching struggles against Detroit, it was critical to get the series off to a strong start. Doubront's success gave both him and the team something to build upon going forward.
Alfredo Aceves Can Close
After a weekend series that saw Aceves face five batters and manage to put all of them on base, questions about whether he was fit to be the Sox’ closer were certainly legitimate. After a strong showing against the Blue Jays, Aceves has at least temporarily quieted some of the critics.
He was excellent in cementing Monday’s 4-2 victory, shutting down the potent Toronto lineup with a perfect ninth inning. Aceves showed the command he lacked in Detroit, using all parts of the plate and inducing two weak ground balls to go with one strikeout.
While Aceves will need to do a bit more to earn back the fans’ trust, his work in Toronto gave everyone a positive result from which to build.
Scott Atchison Is a Reliable Middle Reliever
After being shuttled between Boston and Pawtucket an amazing six times last season, Scott Atchison was an afterthought in this year's Sox bullpen. The right-hander was never seriously considered for an important role, and many fans forgot he was even still on the team.
However, after a nice finish last year (1.50 ERA in 12.0 September innings) and a strong showing in this series (3.0 shutout innings and a win on Monday), Atchison has proved that he can be a key cog in this year's relief corps.
Although the salt-and-pepper grey reliever might be mistaken for a coach rather than a player, he has done what several Sox relievers haven't been able to do: keep guys off the bases. Atchison told the Boston Globe’s Peter Abraham after Monday's win that “what works best for [him] is attacking the strike zone,” and that is exactly what he has done this season as he has yet to walk a batter in 4.1 innings pitched.
The Daniel Bard Experiment Will Require Patience
Bard made his first career MLB start Tuesday night, and the results were decidedly mixed.
First, the good: Bard struck out six in 5.0 innings, mixing his fastball and slider with occasionally devastating effects. He also showed good control, only walking one batter, throwing 65 of his 96 pitches for strikes and starting off 15 of the 24 hitters he faced with a strike.
Now, the bad: Bard’s control was perhaps too good; he gave up eight hits and five earned runs, although two of those runners were allowed to score by reliever Justin Thomas. He could not find a groove, giving up runs in three of the six innings in which he worked.
Despite all the clamoring after the weekend to immediately make Bard the closer, the Sox will need to exercise some patience with him. There were plenty of positives to build from, and the Sox will need Bard to keep improving in order to stabilize their rotation.
Dustin Pedroia Makes This Team Go
Pedroia was a monster against the Blue Jays, going 5-for-12 with a home run, two doubles and two RBI over the three game series. His ability to get on base and make things happen atop the lineup directly led to many of the Sox’ run scoring opportunities.
While Pedroia’s value can certainly be measured in statistics, more than anything else Pedroia sparks this team. After Monday night’s victory, manager Bobby Valentine told the Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo, “I don’t have enough words to talk about Pedroia…he’s a great player.”
Pedroia’s accomplishments are many: he’s won Rookie of the Year, two Gold Gloves and MVP in just five full seasons. After the retirement of Jason Varitek, Pedroia had become the de facto captain of this team, and the team will need his leadership as they try to come back from their poor start to the season.