A Gonzalez power surge has the Boston lineup on the right track
It's May 9th. Do you know where your Red Sox are?
Okay, so they're still below .500 at 16-18. And they're still in third place, trailing New York and Tampa Bay by four games. But despite a couple of setbacks, this team is coming around.
Over the past week or so, Boston has posted a collective OPS of .794. For the record, that's extremely good. If the starting pitching had held up all week, the Sox would be sporting a winning record, but John Lackey and Tim Wakefield were shelled mid-week. Daisuke Matsuzaka suffered a regression that we knew had to be coming after his back-to-back shutout efforts in April. His tight elbow is clearly an issue for him.
The week started off well, with 9-5 and 7-3 wins over Los Angeles that brought the Sox within a game of .500. But with the opportunity to even their record on the line, the Red Sox fell in 13 innings on Wednesday.
I'd love to call that the Game of the Week simply because of how it played out. Seven hours of rain-soaked baseball that didn't provide a conclusion until 2:45 AM on Thursday morning. If only Boston had won it would have been quite noteworthy. Instead, it was a disappointment.
Matsuzaka had to come on in relief after Boston burned through its bullpen. He was the eighth pitcher of the evening/morning, and was clearly not right. Whether it was his elbow or the hour, something was off-kilter, and a walk and three hits led to a pair of runs that iced the 5-3 Angels' win.
That loss took the wind out of Boston's sails. The week's opening victories faded to memories as Lackey was taken apart by his former club on Thursday. Blame fatigue if you like, but the Angels must have been just as tired. Yet they managed to put up plenty of runs in the 11-0 rout. Lackey was as bad as a pitcher can be, with a line that could hardly have been uglier:
4.0 innings/eight earned runs/10 hits/three walks/one K
Sad that it was actually his second worst start of the year.
On Friday, Tim Wakefield made a spot start and managed to go only 4.1 innings. He also surrendered eight runs, though two were unearned. Still, when you combine their numbers, Wakefield and Lackey posted a cumulative line of:
8.1 innings/14 earned runs/19 hits/seven walks/two K's
After seeing the Boston starters put together such an impressive stretch a couple of weeks ago, this was tough to take. Friday's 9-2 loss knocked the Sox to 14-18, and suddenly this year's slow start threatened to become something more irreparable.
A pair of weekend wins stopped the bleeding; Clay Buchholz had his best start of the year in Saturday's 4-0 victory over the Twins. A rain-interrupted five scoreless innings with one walk and six strikeouts was more than enough for Boston. On Sunday, Matsuzaka was anything but sharp, allowing four earned in six innings. But the bats were alive to the tune of nine runs on 14 hits.
In all, Boston tallied 34 runs last week despite Thursday's shutout loss. Jacoby Ellsbury has stepped up his game atop the lineup and is now boasting and .823 OPS to go along with his 10 steals. Kevin Youkilis has his on-base percentage above .400, and Jed Lowrie is still raking as the team's starting shortstop. In fact, five Red Sox regulars have OPS totals of .800 or better, and that's a very good sign.
Player of the week
For those concerned about Gonzalez and his lack of power thus far, the past week was an exercise in relaxation. The slugger drilled three home runs, added two more doubles, scored seven runs, drove in nine, and hit .321.
There has been some speculation about the health of Gonzalez's shoulder. He had off-season surgery, and it's entirely likely that he's still building up his strength. But don't worry. Gonzalez is going to be fine in the long-term, and if this week was any indication of what he can do, then Sox fans won't have any cause to question the trade that brought him to Boston, nor the contract extension that will keep him there.
Gonzalez's best day came on Sunday in the 9-5 win over Minnesota. He went 3-5 with a homer and two RBI. His OPS now stands at .873 on the season, and as his power returns and that slugging percentage rises, expect it to reach and exceed .900 in short order.
Game of the week
Monday 5/2 (Red Sox 9, Angels 5)
Dustin Pedroia is slumping. Badly. There's very little going well for the All-Star second baseman right now. He is 5-29 in the month of May, and his OPS is down to a devilishly poor .666. But last Monday, he was vintage Pedroia.
Prior to the game, the Angels' Jered Weaver was undefeated at 6-0. He had an ERA under 1.00 and was coming off of consecutive complete game wins. He had arguably been, to that point, baseball's best pitcher and had enjoyed a historically good April.
But in the fifth inning, Weaver's irresistible force met a 5'7" immovable object. Pedroia forced a 13-pitch at bat, fouling off nine offerings until he found one he liked. His liner to center scored two and put Boston ahead for good. More importantly, it seemed to undo something in Weaver.
It was just one at-bat in an early-season game. In the long run, it means very little. But in that moment, it was epic.
And the Red Sox made it stand up with a six-run seventh. Hisanori Takahashi came on in relief of Weaver. Adrian Gonzalez and Kevin Youkilis rapped back-to-back doubles and David Ortiz drilled a two-run homer as the game broke wide open. The 9-5 win was Weaver's first loss of the year. A game in which they could well have been outpitched became a much-needed victory for the still-struggling Sox.
Dan Wheeler and Bobby Jenks have been horrible options out of the bullpen this season. In a moment of incalculable convenience, both were injured last week. Both were placed on the DL, making room for pitchers who might actually be able to pitch. Wheeler and his 11.32 ERA suffered a calf injury while Jenks had a biceps problem. Jenks got an MRI that showed no structural damage, and both will likely return at the end of the 15 days.
Oddly enough, the Red Sox chose not to call up Alfredo Aceves, though he did join the team later in the week. Scott Atchison and Rich Hill replaced the injured arms, though Atchison was subsequently designated for assignment after allowing three runs in the 11-0 loss. Aceves has been the team's best middle reliever this season.
Marco Scutaro was also placed on the DL. His strained oblique allowed for the call up of future star Jose Iglesias. Scutaro was backing up Lowrie anyway, so it wasn't a great loss.
Surprise of the week
This week was surprising only in that Boston is still playing .500 baseball. Or worse. Watching the team drop a pair of games to Los Angeles after beating the Angels in 15 of their previous 16 matchups was unpleasant, but the 9-2 loss to the last-place Twins was inexcusable. Minnesota is enduring a wretched year so far. But Boston helped the Twins put up nine runs with a couple of key errors and some lousy pitching.
Will Boston finish the upcoming week...
Also surprising is this lineup. The week began with 16 runs in two games and then fizzled until Sunday's win. No one expects nine runs every game, but the inconsistency is maddening.
Random stat of the week
Boston had a ridiculous 16 foul balls in the fifth inning of Monday's game. Although Jered Weaver still managed a quality start in the loss, those fouls were his undoing.
Quote of the week
"Once we get into the later part of May, we're all going to start feeling better. It's got nothing to do with the park, it's got something to do with my swing. You start feeling things."
—Adrian Gonzalez following Sunday's 9-5 win
Let's hope he's correct.
Minor league update
Scott Atchison will likely clear waivers and report back to Pawtucket. Iglesias will serve as Boston's reserve shortstop while Scutaro is out and will return to the minors afterward.
After splitting four with Los Angeles, the Sox have a chance to take three of four from Minnesota with a win on Monday. Josh Beckett will face Nick Blackburn. Beckett was the starter in Wednesday's marathon loss, and he pitched well for 4.1 innings. But the rain cut his effort short. He'll look to continue his successful season and give Boston a three-game winning streak.
Tuesday and Wednesday feature a pair of games at Toronto. Jon Lester and John Lackey will face Kyle Drabek and Jesse Litsch, respectively. These are critical games and could help Boston distance itself from the fourth-place Jays.
And if that series is important, then the three-game set at Yankee Stadium is downright vital. New York has had its own woes lately, explaining why the Sox are only four game behind despite a losing record. The upcoming series will be big for both teams, but Boston has more on the line. The pitchers are expected to be Buchholz, Matsuzaka and Beckett for Boston, and Bartolo Colon, C.C. Sabathia and Freddy Garcia for the Bombers.
This post originally appeared on isportsweb.com