The Boston Red Sox were just 15-14 in May, going through some tough road swings and suffering from inconsistency on both sides of the ball. They could have easily finished 14-15 if not for yesterday’s 8-2 victory at Toronto, and who knows how the game would have ended up without the changes manager Terry Francona made to the lineup?
The Red Sox entered Sunday’s game 1-4 in their previous five games, and they scored only 13 runs in that span. Francona felt it was time to make a radical change in order to spark the offense to produce like they had as recently as the beginning of May.
He mentioned how the lack of production from the majority of the lineup was becoming more prevalent.
“When everybody is hitting on all cylinders, that can maybe not be noticed,” Francona told Ian Browne of RedSox.com. “But when we’re not, it becomes a little more noticeable.”
It certainly helped that Jon Lester had perhaps his strongest outing of 2009 on Sunday, allowing just one run and striking out a season-high 12 in six innings. But with everyone’s new spot in the batting order came a sudden abundance of power.
The biggest hit of them all came off the bat of Dustin Pedroia, who busted open a 1-1 game in the fourth inning with a three-run home run to left field. What looked to be a pitcher’s duel changed completely as the second baseman pulled the ball just barely over the wall between the foul pole.
It was Pedroia’s first home run since his first at-bat of the season on Opening Day. It had almost been long forgotten that Pedroia, who hit 17 home runs in his MVP 2008 season, has a little pop to his bat.
“It’s in him,” Francona said of his power. “I think when his groin was bothering him, I think it was hard for him to do that. He finds ways to still be a good player. It was easier for him for a time period there to just use the whole field and not take those swings. In [Sunday's] game, that was huge.”
Kevin Youkilis, who batted third for the first time this season, hit two home runs of his own, his eighth and ninth of the season. The first bomb came in the first inning into the second deck in right-center. The other was a hard line drive into the left field bullpen in the eighth inning.
Jason Bay immediately followed Youkilis with his 15th dinger of the season into almost the exact same spot. Bay is off to one of the best starts of his career, putting up elite numbers (.288/.415/.627, 49 RBI) and not yet experiencing a prolonged slump.
David Ortiz, still batting sixth after moving behind Mike Lowell, nearly hit his second home run of the season when he hit the ball all the way to the center field wall to lead off the fourth inning. He settled for a double and scored on Pedroia’s home run.
Perhaps the most curious move in the lineup was Jacoby Ellsbury dropping to eighth in the order rather than his customary leadoff spot. He went 1-for-3 with a walk and a sacrifice bunt in the fourth to put runners in scoring position for Pedroia’s eventual home run.
Because the changes were so radical, and that Ellsbury is infinitely more valuable leading off rather than hitting in the lowly 8-hole, it’s likely the Red Sox will revert back to a similar lineup they had been fielding as they head to Detroit to take on the first-place Tigers.
With his speed, Ellsbury is the clear leadoff man. With their high contact rates and on-base percentages, it’s only natural that Pedroia and J.D. Drew would remain 2-3. And Youkilis and Bay are about as good a 4-5 combination as any in the league right now.
Needless to say, the Red Sox offense is not in dire straits. But a reboot was needed, and it looks like Francona did just the right amount of fiddling with the lineup to get the spark they were looking for.