May 2012 was a transformational month for the Boston Red Sox.
After Josh Beckett surrendered seven runs in just 2.1 innings in an 8-3 loss on May 10—Beckett’s first start after his infamous off-day golf game—the Sox were 12–19 and looked like a team in disarray.
Fast-forward three weeks and Boston—while still in the AL East cellar—is two games over .500 and just 2.5 behind the division-leading Orioles and Rays. The Sox haven’t lost back-to-back games in three weeks.
The factors sparking this turnaround have been myriad. A leaps-and-bounds improvement by the bullpen. Offensive contributions from both established stars and plucky role players. A greater sense of control exhibited by Bobby Valentine.
As the Sox prepare for their final game of May, all 25 players on the active roster get a grade for the month. Most are positive, while others need to step it up if the Sox want to be stamped as contenders.
Read on to see if you agree with these May report cards.
Give Aceves credit for turning around his season after a horrid first month as the Red Sox closer.
He’s still prone to occasional hiccups such as the blown save against Tampa last Sunday. But unlike April, when he was more piñata than pitcher (10.20 ERA, .300 BAA and 2.00 WHIP), an outing like that has become an aberration.
In May, Aceves has made batters miss more (.197 BAA and 20 strikeouts in 18.2 IP) and has exhibited much better command (2.97 BB/9 IP, compared to 6.43 in April).
And there’s a palpable confidence that was missing in the season’s first month. Then, it appeared that Aceves was trying to blow batters away instead of baffling them with his wide array of pitches, as he did in 2011.
Now he’s back to confounding batters instead of challenging them with cheese all the time. And he’s stabilized the Boston bullpen—and turned around his season—as a result.
Albers was one of the few highlights in Boston’s bullpen during its disastrous April, and he followed that up with a very strong May.
In addition to a mid-90s fastball that sneaks up on batters, Albers can go to a sharp slider to get big outs. His 2.25 ERA in the first month got the job done, and he continues to punch out batters (11 strikeouts in 13 IP) and give them little to hit (.140 BAA).
There are moments of wildness with “Fat Albers,” and the last thing you want as a manager is your relievers putting baserunners on in the later innings. And if his tailing fastball drifts too far inside, it can go a long way (as it did at Kansas City on May 8).
That said Albers’ willingness to eat up innings (three outings of 2.0 IP) and his swing-and-miss ability have been big assets to an improving Boston bullpen.
Who could have envisioned the onetime Hanshin Tiger becoming a lockdown pitcher for Boston in middle relief?
The Red Sox have not been shy about using the 36-year-old Atchison (11 May appearances) or stretching him out (two or more IP in six games). All told, Atchison has thrown 17 innings in May—and hasn’t allowed an earned run.
He doesn’t possess overpowering stuff, but he has impressive command of his pitches (six walks in 29 IP for the season) and induces weak swings from opposing lineups (.174 BAA).
Don’t be fooled by the lack of high-pressure situations he’s seen (just two holds on the season). His Memorial Day outing against the Tigers demonstrated his ability to thrive in such situations.
And for those instances when Boston’s starting pitchers are shown the door early, Atchison is an innings-eater ready to spare the rest of the bullpen from overworking itself.
Aviles cooled off considerably after a very solid April, during which he hit .291 with five home runs and 18 RBI while ably filling the leadoff spot vacated by an injured Jacoby Ellsbury.
But don’t go crying for Jose Iglesias just yet. Aviles continues to prove that he’s more than capable of alleviating the shortstop woes that have plagued the Red Sox over the past decade.
While his season average has dropped to .265, he can still put the bat on the ball (leadoff homers in consecutive games against the Phillies) and drive in runs when given the chance (15 for the month).
He’s also the rare Red Sox hitter who performs better away from Fenway (.276 road batting average vs. .255 at home).
And after everyone clamored for the slick-fielding Iglesias to be the starter out of spring training, Aviles has committed only three errors on the season.
There’s also the qualitative stuff that doesn’t show up in the box score, such as hustling down the first base line to prevent a double play and allow a run to score; or showing some fight in a close win over a division rival.
In a season that started out with pundits questioning Boston’s heart and desire, Aviles is—and will continue to be—proof that the Red Sox have both.
Bard has been victorious in three of his past four starts, but it hasn’t been pretty.
In only one of those four starts (May 13 against Cleveland) did Bard make it through six innings. That can be partially attributed to a strict low-90s pitch count, but it’s also a product of Bard’s wildness.
Bard walked at least two batters in all six of his May starts. In four of those starts, he walked four or more.
And his velocity has dropped as the season has progressed. He struck out six fewer batters in May than in April despite throwing 14.2 more innings.
It remains to be seen if Bobby Valentine will put an end to Bard’s “advisement” stage (as Bard has asked) and let him exceed six IP and/or 100 pitches on a regular basis.
If Bard’s wish is granted, will he stop pitching timidly and become the power starter he envisions of himself?
Based on stats alone, Beckett is deserving of an A-. But his conduct and acrimonious relationship with Boston’s media and fans will always be the elephant in the room.
I didn’t mind his golf game. What I did mind is that he wasn’t more disappointed in himself when he didn’t make it out of the third inning in his May 10 start against the Indians.
For someone in their seventh season in Boston, Beckett sometimes lacks compassion for his team. It’s hard to figure out if he tries to dominate because he wants to help his team win or if he wants to win for himself.
Either way, Beckett was dominant in his three starts to close out the month, going seven or more innings in each and surrendering no more than two runs.
If Beckett needs to pitch angry in order to dominate, so be it. What the Red Sox could do without is perpetually reminding Beckett that that’s what he’s in Boston to do.
Buchholz failed the first month of 2012 to the tune on an unsightly 8.69 ERA and .331 BAA. (How he managed to win three games is anyone’s guess.)
His ERA in May was a full three runs better, but a 5.60 ERA is not what you expect or want from Buchholz. And batters still teed off on him (.324 BAA).
So why no F for May? Because Buchholz’s latest start on May 27 provides reason for hope.
Against the division-leading Rays, he allowed two runs on eight hits with six strikeouts and only one walk. Bobby Valentine lauded Buchholz afterward for his “good changeup” and an “explosive fastball.”
More important was that when Buchholz missed his target, it wasn’t down the middle of the plate as it has been for much of this season.
Does it represent Buchholz gaining strength after missing most of last year with lower back issues? Was it an anomaly? Only time will tell.
Byrd has satisfied the Red Sox’s expectations when they acquired him from the Cubs in late April.
He has played a solid center field—flashing the leather on a few occasions—and rebounded from a horrendous start in Chicago at the plate.
Of course, if Boston’s outfield hadn’t come to represent a triage unit, Byrd wouldn’t be getting these opportunities. In terms of ability, he ranks behind Jacoby Ellsbury, Carl Crawford, Cody Ross and Ryan Kalish—all of whom have spent multiple weeks on the DL in 2012.
If he can continue to work with hitting coach Dave Magadan to simplify his swing, he’ll be closer to the hitter he’s been the previous five seasons, when he averaged .291 with 12 home runs.
Until then, he’s merely a serviceable outfielder.
After winning the No. 4 spot in the rotation during spring training, Doubront has rewarded the Sox’s faith in him by becoming their most reliable starter.
While he still sometimes struggles with control (14 BB in 34.0 IP during May), he’s starting to harness his power arsenal.
Look to his Memorial Day victory as proof, when he punched out Miguel Cabrera twice and allowed just two runs over six innings.
The next step in Doubront’s development as a reliable member of the rotation is cutting down on the walks and pitching deeper into games (he has not made it out of the seventh inning this season).
But all the signs point to continued improvement from the 24-year-old Venezuelan. Along with Jon Lester, he’ll give the Red Sox something that most teams would kill for: two effective power lefties in the starting rotation.
The offense just isn’t there yet from the 2011 Silver Slugger Award winner at first base.
At this same time last year, Gonzalez was hitting .329 with 10 home runs and 46 RBI. In 2012, his batting average is nearly 60 points lower, he’s hit six fewer home runs and has driven in 19 fewer runs.
But there’s reason to be optimistic, as A-Gon has a 10-game hitting streak going into the series finale with the Tigers.
If he can get back to hitting to all fields with power as he has in his previous dominant seasons, the home runs and RBI will come.
And let’s not forget the morale boost Gonzalez has provided since moving to right field on May 18, allowing both Will Middlebrooks and Kevin Youkilis to stay in the lineup. The Red Sox are 8–4 since then.
Tommy John surgery ended Hill’s 2011 season last June, and it’s been nice to see the Milton, Mass., native bounce back to become an effective lefty specialist out of his hometown team’s bullpen.
It’s not just lefties he’s confounded (they have just two hits off of Hill in 27 plate appearances). His .214 BAA against right-handed hitters gives the Red Sox the option of pitching him for an inning or more, as they did during six of his 13 appearances in May.
It also speaks to Hill’s growing confidence—and the team’s growing confidence in him—that the Red Sox are starting to use him in pressure situations.
He’s recorded a hold in five of his last six appearances and earned the win in that sixth appearance after pitching a scoreless ninth inning in Boston’s 3–2 walk-off win over Tampa on May 26.
Hill is yet another member of the Boston bullpen to enjoy a May renaissance. His ability against lefties and righties assures that his number will continue to be called.
For a pitcher expected to be the bellwether of the Boston rotation and one of the best starters in the American League, Lester has been decided “meh” ever since two strong starts to open his season.
His month was highlighted by a complete-game, one-run performance against the Mariners on May 14, but it was one of only two quality starts (out of five appearances) for the month.
Lester made it through only five innings in a May 9 loss to the lowly Royals and got shelled for seven runs over four innings in a May 25 loss to the Rays.
A .275 BAA for the month (nearly 30 points higher than his career average) is definitely concerning, as is his 4.79 ERA, which would be the highest of his career if it (gulp) held up for the season.
On the plus side, Lester has never been a great early-season pitcher (ERAs of 4.22 and 4.06 for his career in April and May, respectively). When the temperature climbs in June and July, his ERA drops into the mid to high twos.
Repeating that trend will go a long way in getting Boston back into the thick of the AL pennant chase.
Just when the Red Sox needed a shot in the arm, the arrival of their third baseman of the future gave them one.
Yes, he needs to exhibit more patience as a hitter (four walks in 95 plate appearances) and strike out less (more than 30% of his plate appearances have ended via the K).
But when a highly touted rookie is hitting the cover off the ball (six home runs and 21 RBI through his first 23 games), you don’t do anything to disrupt his flow.
It’s not as if he’s being fooled by major-league pitching. One could have hung laundry on the laser beam of a home run he hit over the Monster in Wednesday’s 6–4 win over Detroit.
And he’s proven he can deal with adversity. His rough patch from May 12–20, when he struck out 16 times in 34 plate appearances, may have been the undoing of a weaker player. But he fought through it.
American League Rookie of the Year, anyone?
Who doesn’t love having a flame-throwing lefty out of the bullpen?
Miller started 2012 in the minors rehabbing a left hamstring injury. Since being called up on May 6, he’s struck out more than a batter an inning and has exhibited control that’s been missing for most of his major-league career.
After beginning his season with eight straight scoreless appearances, Miller has been scored upon in two of his last three games. But he gives the Red Sox a lot of versatility with the ability to make a spot start should any of the regular starters falter or become injured.
And he’s just as tough on righties (.167 BAA in 14 plate appearances) as he is on lefties (.174 BAA). When you have those qualities, your team will find a place for you.
Morales’ most noted accomplishment for the month proved that he’s a team player.
The Sox and Rays exchanged bean balls over the course of five games in a week and a half, and Morales issued the latest salvo on May 25 against the Rays. In response to Dustin Pedroia getting beaned in the back, the Venezuelan lefty responded by hitting notorious Fenway hater Luke Scott.
As for his numbers—well, they could use some improvement. Especially considering the strong Mays that his fellow relievers enjoyed.
Morales can still bring the heat, but the lack of development with other pitches leaves little in the way of surprise for batters (.300 BAA for May). He’s surrendering more than a hit per inning while striking out less than one per inning.
With fellow lefties Rich Hill and Andrew Miller doing a better job of fooling batters, Morales could find himself on the outs.
Perhaps Nava will start leaving tickets for Erin Andrews at Fenway just as he did when he was at Pawtucket.
He’s showing great discipline at the plate (.429 OBP in 77 appearances) to go along with a solid .276 batting average and 15 RBI in 19 games.
And he comes up big when it matters most, hitting .333 with runners on base. How many lifetime minor-leaguers do you know who can send a 100 mph fastball from Justin Verlander to the opposite field for a bases-clearing double?
He’s even made playing left field at Fenway look easy, earning the praise of Bobby Valentine with plays like his outfield assist on Alex Avila in Wednesday’s win.
Even when Nava loses his starting job once Jacoby Ellsbury, Carl Crawford and Cody Ross return from the DL, he’s proven that he’s worthy of a major-league roster spot. He can hit, he can field, and he can do both in pressure situations.
It was inevitable that (Slightly Less) Big Papi was going to slow down after a torrid (.405 BA) April.
In spite of his .257 average for the month, Ortiz is still well positioned to have a great walk year. He’s making contact (only 14 strikeouts in 119 May plate appearances) and hitting with power (14 of his 25 hits in the month went for extra bases, including six home runs).
And he continues to go to the opposite field with authority. That’s when you know Papi is locked in.
There’s also a leadership aspect to Ortiz this season that hasn’t been apparent in previous years.
With the team bottoming out earlier this month, he called a closed-door meeting both to get his teammates on track and to relieve the mounting pressure on Bobby Valentine.
It’s no coincidence that Boston’s surge started soon afterward.
Padilla is another reliever who enjoyed a nice bounce-back month in May with a 2.92 ERA over 12 appearances and 12.1 IP.
What has endeared Padilla to manager Bobby Valentine is his ability to make baserunners disappear. He has inherited 16 of them in 20 appearances this season, and not one of them has scored.
The 34-year-old Nicaraguan was at his best on May 21 at Baltimore. With runners on second and third and one out, he induced a weak pop-up to left field too shallow to score the runner on third. Padilla then fanned Nick Johnson to extinguish the fire.
Ever since Mark Melancon proved to be a disaster as a setup man, Padilla has stepped up and gotten the job done.
Padilla’s penchant for attacking the zone—not to mention a menacing look that dates back to his time with the Phillies—makes him a prime candidate for that role going forward.
Just another typical, solid month from the Muddy Chicken.
While he would like his .290 average for the month to be better (his career average is .304), he’s still getting on base (.355 OBP) and driving in runs (14 RBI in 26 May games).
Throw in some Gold Glove-caliber defense (just one error on the year) and the heart of the Red Sox is performing up to his usual expectations.
This is what makes the situation surrounding the torn abductor muscle in his right thumb disconcerting.
Here the Red Sox are getting past their awful start when their team leader goes down—just the latest injury in a season that’s been filled with them.
None of this reflects badly on Pedroia, of course. In the spirit of this report card column, consider it the equivalent of your favorite student (if you’re a teacher) transferring to another school.
Podsednik has made quite the impression coming to the Red Sox off the scrap heap.
Perhaps knowing that his time as a major-leaguer might be coming to a close, the 36-year-old hit .323 in nine games at Pawtucket after his acquisition from the Phillies on May 11. Twelve days later, with injuries mounting in Boston’s outfield, he found himself back in the show.
All he did then was club his first big-league home run since September 2010, a solo shot that proved the difference in a 6–5 win over Baltimore.
That wasn’t his final blaze of glory, either. In three starts since that smashing debut, Pods has gone 7-of-15 at the plate and has looked positively giddy to be on a major-league roster again. (His enthusiasm after scoring on Daniel Nava’s bases-loaded double on Tuesday says it all.)
Playing time will be limited for Podsednik when the regular outfielders get healthy, but he’s sure to be a viable option as a pinch-runner and defensive replacement as the season progresses.
It’s unfair to grade Punto based on a month in which he started only six games.
Still, through 47 at-bats in a Boston uniform, Punto has looked overmatched. He’s struck out 18 times and has delivered just one extra-base hit.
Punto should approach his career .247 batting average the more he plays. Boston isn’t asking him to duplicate Dustin Pedroia’s productivity if Pedroia heads to the DL, but they’re not asking for nothing either.
For now, Boston should be happy that they have a good glove man filling in for the Laser Show. He may not be as smooth as the reigning Gold Glove second baseman—as was evidenced by his game-sealing sprawl and throw on May 29—but he’s reliable.
The Red Sox will take that for now. Hopefully it won’t be for long.
If he goes on to have a productive pro career, Saltalamacchia—a first-round draft pick of the Braves back in 2003—might look back on May 2012 as the month where he put it all together.
The 6'4", 235-pound catcher has always had great natural power. He’s just never been in a big-league lineup often enough to wield it.
In Boston he is, and his five home runs for the month—including a pinch-hit, walk-off blast against the Rays this past Saturday—helped pick up the slack when Boston’s usual big bats went cold. He also hit .297 with seven doubles and 13 RBI.
And the marked improvement of the pitching staff—the bullpen in particular—is likely due in part to Salty becoming a better pitch-calling catcher. Imagine the lessons he must have learned from being an understudy to Jason Varitek during ‘Tek’s final season in Boston.
The fact that he hasn’t been mentioned more for All-Star consideration is baffling. Start stuffing those ballots, Boston fans.
Give Shoppach credit for making the most of his opportunities as Jarrod Saltalamacchia has become the clear-cut starting catcher for Boston.
Originally drafted by Boston in 2001, Shoppach hit over .300 in May. His highlights at the plate included his first home run as a member of the Red Sox (a no-doubter that cleared everything in left) and his first career triple.
A solid defensive catcher and pitch-caller throughout his career, Shoppach continues to excel in those areas as well. He was behind the dish for Jon Lester’s complete-game victory against Seattle on May 14, and on the season he’s thrown out 29% (4-of-14) of would-be base-stealers.
He’s as good a backup catcher as you could ask for if you’re a major-league club. If he continues to swing the bat decently and produce good games from the pitchers he backstops, he’ll be in the lineup every now and then.
Sweeney gets solid marks for May based on his defense alone.
What was your favorite catch of his this month? When he robbed Philly’s Carlos Ruiz of an extra-base hit in the gap? Or his two gems against the Tigers on May 29, one coming in and the other moving out? Or his “Fight the Sun Special” on May 13 against Cleveland?
And while he’s cooled off since a red-hot April, Sweeney is still hitting .315 on the season with 15 doubles (third on the team, T-12th in MLB).
It was right around the time that Boston started heating up when Sweeney’s average started to drop. (A concussion suffered on his diving catch in Philly didn’t help matters.) But a 3-for-4 showing in his return from the DL on Memorial Day was an encouraging welcome back.
If Sweeney continues to be a highlight reel staple in the outfield, his bat will take care of itself.
If there’s a silver lining to be had in all of Boston’s injuries, it’s that Kevin Youkilis saw playing time as soon as he left the DL without pushing out eventual successor Will Middlebrooks.
While Middlebrooks has continued to thrive as a Rookie of the Year candidate, Youkilis has reminded fans (and team) during his eight games back that, when healthy, he can still rake.
In 31 plate appearances this month, Youkilis has reached base 12 times and has hit a pair of home runs (the same number he had in 72 April plate appearances). One of his taters came in his second plate appearance off the DL.
Whether it’s at third or first base, it’s good to keep Youk in the lineup every day. It keeps him happy and allows him to mentor Middlebrooks while sharing a dugout and a clubhouse with him.
And as Youkilis’ average and power numbers continue to climb, the Red Sox will feel the benefits in the standings.