Boston Red Sox: 5 Things We Learned from the Minnesota Twins Series
What a difference three games can make.
After the debacle against the Yankees that saw fans openly rejoicing that the final game of the series had been rained out, it looked like things couldn’t get much worse for the Sox. They took their much-needed day off and traveled to Target Field in Minneapolis badly in need of a couple wins against a Twins team off to a poor 5-11 start.
The Sox had not swept a series since last July 22-24 against the Seattle Mariners, but that unfortunate streak has finally come to an end after three impressive wins against Minnesota. Although their record still stands at a lackluster 7-10, the Sox can now take this strong performance and use it as a momentum-builder as they try to salvage the first month of their season.
The offense, in particular, really came alive in this three-game set. They tallied 40 hits, 24 runs and combined for an impressive six home runs over the three games, giving the Sox pitchers plenty of breathing room.
On the other hand, the bullpen held together for the first two games before coming unglued in the finale.
After allowing just three hits and no runs in 5.0 innings over the first two games, this disaster of a relief corps nearly gave the game away to the Twins in the sixth inning on Wednesday. They coughed up four runs in the sixth inning before finally settling down, then Alfredo Aceves loaded the bases in the ninth inning but still managed to escape with a save and a 7-6 victory.
In all, it was a good series for the Sox. They proved Monday that they could come back in dramatic fashion, on Tuesday that they can hold onto a big lead and Wednesday that they could win a close one.
Here are five of the biggest things we learned about this team during the three-game sweep.
Mike Aviles Was the Right Choice at Shortstop
The starting shortstop controversy has become a thing of the past, as Mike Aviles has proven that he is more than capable of being an everyday shortstop.
He has stepped up for the Sox in a big way since Jacoby Ellsbury went down, batting .381 with four home runs and 10 RBI out of the leadoff spot.
Aviles has also provided solid defense at short, and while he’ll never be as good defensively as Jose Iglesias, he has made more than enough plays to warrant keeping him out there for the foreseeable future.
Aviles hit the ball especially hard against the Twins, going 6-for-13 in the series with a home run in both Tuesday and Wednesday night’s games.
He didn’t get cheated on any of them, either. The new leadoff man’s hits were almost exclusively rocketed line drives, with nary a blooper in sight.
David Ortiz Can Still Rake
Given the way Big Papi is swinging the bat, the “David Ortiz Diet” should become the next big thing in nutrition.
Ortiz has been destroying the ball all season, and this continued against his former team.
Ortiz went 4-for-10 in the series, clubbing a mammoth home run on Tuesday and driving in a total of three runs over the three games.
The most encouraging sign for fans should be the way Ortiz is hitting the ball to the opposite field.
Rather than trying to pull balls on the outside part of the plate like he has in the past, Ortiz is slapping the ball the other way and racking up singles to go with his .682 slugging percentage.
While Ortiz likely won’t maintain his .424 batting average all season, he is clearly in fine form and is showing no signs of regression despite his age.
Josh Beckett Is Going to Be Fine
Beckett has been fantastic over his last three starts, sporting a 2.57 ERA and averaging 7.0 innings per outing.
He was very strong against Minnesota, allowing just two earned runs over 6.0 innings of work.
What has made Beckett so effective thus far has been his control.
His sharp breaking ball on Tuesday night worked well with his fastball, and the three walks Beckett allowed were not at all indicative of his ability to control every pitch's location.
After slogging through a 37-pitch first inning that saw Beckett get squeezed by the umpire on many questionable calls, the right-hander mowed through the Twins' lineup with relative ease, needing only 63 pitches to get through the next five innings.
After a brutal first start of the season, Beckett has quieted the critics (remember the thumb injury?). The longer he continues to be effective, the quicker fans will forget about last September.
Cody Ross Has a Flair for the Dramatic
Carl and Jacoby who?
Initially slated to be a platoon player, Ross has instead proven that he is a viable everyday player for the Red Sox.
His five home runs and 16 RBI both lead the team, and he has provided strong defense at all three outfield positions.
The heroism that earned Ross the 2010 NLCS MVP award was on full display Monday night, as he clubbed a game-tying two-run homer in the seventh inning followed by a game-winning solo shot in the ninth.
After Monday's effort, Ross had gone deep five times in his last eight games. with four of the home runs coming against right-handed pitching. If he can keep producing like this against righties, he will earn a regular spot in the lineup even when (or if) Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury return.
Fans Should Be Concerned About Clay Buchholz
Buchholz has been awful this season, plain and simple.
Against the feeble Twins lineup, he surrendered 10 hits, three walks and five earned runs in 5.1 innings.
The type of hits he has given up are particularly troubling. The Twins were slamming line drives all over Target Field, and Buchholz was lucky to give up just two runs while he was on the hill (the bullpen allowed all three of his runners they inherited to score).
While it is still early in the season, the 8.87 ERA he now sports is obviously a major issue. He is certainly not as bad as his numbers indicate, but just how good is he?
Given the long-term investment they have made in him, the Sox are certainly hoping that Buchholz will soon revert to his 2010 form.
However, the right-hander has shown no sign of emerging from this deep funk.