Jed Lowrie is on fire right now, batting .516 after his terrific performance on Patriots Day, a Massachusetts holiday marked by the running of the Boston Marathon and the Red Sox playing an 11 a.m. day game.
On Monday, Lowrie continued his torrid streak, going 4 for 5, with a home run and three singles as the Red Sox defeated the Toronto Blue Jays 9-1. Perhaps Lowrie's biggest hit was a two-run single with men on base with two outs in the bottom of the first inning to give the Red Sox a 2-0 lead. That gave a much-needed cushion to Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, who went on to pitch a sparkling seven-innings, giving up only one hit.
Who knows? In September, we might look back on this Patriots Day win as an extra BIG one, and we might look back on Lowrie's hot streak as the start of his new, larger role on this team.
Lowrie began the season as a utility infielder, but he's been in such a red-hot hitting zone that manager Terry Francona has left him in the lineup in the past few days. Lowrie keeps belting the ball. He's in one of those special streaks when a hitter "sees the ball" better than ever. His line-drive clutch single to right field Monday exemplified his ability to wait on the ball and go with it.
Lowrie now has 16 hits in 31 at-bats, two home runs and nine RBIs in only 11 games played.
Yes, Lowrie's on just one streak and Red Sox fans don't want to overreact...but, there are good signs here.
First, Lowrie just looks better than ever at the plate. He's more confident about when to swing or take pitches. He's performing his best as a "contact hitter" in his entire time on the Red Sox. (He joined the team in 2008, but has seen limited playing time due to injuries).
Plus, he's displaying a bit more power. Observers have long said Lowrie has this potential. Now, he's healthy and getting a chance to show it.
So, what does this mean for 2011? Lowrie will cool off, but, it seems more likely now that, at a minimum, he'll share time more playing time with starting shortstop Marco Scutaro. Francona will be even more predisposed to insert Lowrie in the lineup, particularly when the Red Sox face lefthanded pitchers.
After just 15 games, it's clear that the Red Sox need more good right-handed hitting in their lineup and Lowrie may provide a key part of the answer. Lowrie may end up playing a far more critical role on this team than anyone anticipated.
Instead of a utility player, he may end up as a valuable starter who can hit a variety of pitchers. Lowrie is a switch-hitter, but, currently, swings much better from the right side.
The Red Sox began the year knowing their lineup was a bit stacked with lefthanded hitters. Much of that seems unavoidable given the presence of Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, David Ortiz, J. D. Drew and Jacoby Ellsbury. That leaves Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Jarrod Saltalamachia and Scutaro as the only right-handed hitters. (Salty is a switch hitter).
Now, the situation is worse than that because Drew and Ortiz both don't hit was well vs. lefthanded pitchers, and Crawford doesn't seem to, either.
Suddenly, the importance of having a few good, reliable right-handed hitters seems even more significant. Enter Lowrie, who has given this whole team a giant, critical lift when they're teetering on the edge of a "danger zone" they lose many more games.
Somehow, this Patriots Day win felt like it meant much more for the struggling Red Sox, who will now play nine games on the road. Their record is now 5-10 and it's important for the team to try to put together enough wins so they can reach the .500 mark during May and stay in contention. Every win seems to count more now and that's why the contributions of Lowrie and Matsuzaka were significant in the April 18th win.
For Matsuzaka, pitching well was critical after his horrible performance in his last outing on April 11th, when he got shelled for 7 runs in the second inning. We know Matzusaka has talent. He just has a lot of trouble executing consistently. Today, his fastball had life and he threw it on the corners unlike in his previous start, when his fastball was slower, repeatedly down the middle and very hittable.
For Lowrie, it remains unclear if his streak will be remembered as a temporary upswing or the beginning of a new more permanent role on the 2011 Red Sox. If the team is to succeed, it will need an additional sparkplug who can hit right-handed—someone like Lowrie, even if he hits only 70 percent as well as he's hitting right now.