|05.30.11 at 9:57 am ET|
Nobody has more wins this month than the Red Sox (19).
No team has a better batting average (.288), OPS (.824) or slugging percentage (.472) in May than this team.
Their starting pitchers have combined for a 3.69 ERA in the last 29 days.
And, most importantly, the Red Sox find themselves in first-place on May 30 for the first time since 2007 (when they were 10 ½ games ahead of second-place Baltimore).
So, the question is: How good is this team?
But, as we sit here, perhaps one of the most telling aspects of this club is that you could make an argument that the Red Sox have five players who are the best in the American League at their respective positions.
This list could be extended to Rich Hill, who is one of two relievers with at least eight appearances to not have allowed a run, joining Jose Contreras.
But for now, let’s focus on the regulars:
STARTING PITCHER: JOSH BECKETT
Yes, his ERA jumped up to a whopping 1.80 after giving up two runs in six innings Sunday night (1.00 for the month of May), but that is still best in the AL. He also has the league’s best batting average against (.189).
FIRST BASEMAN: ADRIAN GONZALEZ
He has the most RBI among AL first baseman (45), but doesn’t lead in any other major offensive category. Gonzalez has the third-most homers (9), the second-best OPS (.911), and trails Casey Kotchman in batting average (although the Rays’ first baseman has 108 fewer plate appearances). Still, consider the overall production, along with the fact he hasn’t made a single error, and the first-year Red Sox makes a strong case.
THIRD BASEMAN: KEVIN YOUKILIS
Sure, Youkilis might have a subpar batting average (.252), but no AL third baseman has a better OPS (.876), with Adrian Beltre the only member of the group totaling more extra-base hits (23 to Youklis’ 22).
CENTER FIELD: JACOBY ELLSBURY
As a leadoff hitter, Ellsbury joins Minnesota’s Denard Span in scoring the most runs in the AL (29), while totaling the best batting average (.318) and second-best OPS (.848). When comparing him to centerfielders, Ellsbury’s OPS is second only to Curtis Granderson. The Sox’ outfielder also has more stolen bases (19) than any other AL player at his position.
DESIGNATED HITTER: DAVID ORTIZ
No DH has more home runs (10), and only Travis Hafter ‘ who comes in at 85 less plate appearances than Ortiz ‘ claims a higher OPS than the Sox’ slugger’s .902. Ortiz has more total bases than any other designated hitter (100), while having reached base above and beyond any of his counterparts (78).
|05.30.11 at 7:09 am ET|
One of only three pitchers in the majors to record seven wins, Jon Lester (7-1, 3.36) takes the hill Monday night as the Red Sox return home after a successful seven-game road trip (5-2). Since being charged with a loss on Opening Day, the hard-throwing lefty has reeled off wins in his last seven decisions, most recently in a 14-2 victory over Cleveland. In that win, Lester held the Indians scoreless in six frames.
Lester looks to continue his dominance Monday, pitching the first game of a six-game homestand against White Sox righty Jake Peavy. Peavy (1-0, 3.00) has walked just one batter in 18 innings this season and had his last start cut short after three innings due to a lengthy rain delay. Peavy has made just three starts this season, 10 months after having surgery to repair a detached latissimus dorsi muscle in his back. One of those starts was a 111-pitch, three-hit shutout against the Indians.
In addition to leading the American League in wins, Lester is sixth in both strikeouts (70) and walks allowed (27). He is also third in the league in run support at 9.56 per game. Though the Boston bats have been on fire, the offense may look different as the Red Sox played a doubleheader against the Tigers on Sunday. It is likely manager Terry Francona will give a couple of his starters the night off. Francona won’t feel pressured to start any single starter as no Red Sox players have had consistent success against Peavy. In fact, at least five members of Boston’s starting lineup have never faced the Chicago starter before.
Lester has the number of a few White Sox batters, including Alexei Ramirez, who is just 1-for-10 against the 2010 All-Star. Paul Konerko is the lone Chicago hitter who has hit Lester well in the past. In 15 plate appearances, Konerko has one home run, four RBIs and a .333 average.
|05.29.11 at 10:54 pm ET|
The main culprit in handing the Sox just their second loss of the seven-game road swing was Detroit starter Justin Verlander, who out-dueled Sox starter Josh Beckett halting the Red Sox’ five-game win streak.
Here is what went wrong (and right) in the loss …
WHAT WENT WRONG
– Beckett didn’t have great command, particularly of a curveball he threw just 13 times out of his 107 pitches. The Sox righty walked a season-high five batters, including his second batter of the game, Andy Dirks, who came home with the Tigers’ first run in what would be a two-run first inning for the Tigers.
– The Red Sox not only couldn’t get to Verlander with any runs, but also failed to drive the starter from the game prior to the eighth inning. The hard-throwing righty threw 132 pitches, surpassing his previous season-high of 127. The pitch total was the second-most thrown by a pitcher this season, coming up just one short of Tim Lincecum’s 133. Verlander’s final pitch, a walk to Ellsbury, was clocked at 100 mph.
– The Red Sox squandered their best chance to rally, in the eighth inning, when finally drove Verlander from the game while putting runners on first and second (thanks to a Drew double and Ellsbury walk). But against Tigers’ reliever Joaquin Benoit — who had allowed three of his five inherited runners to score this season — Dustin Pedroia flew out to left field to end the threat.
– The Tigers were able to add an insurance run in the eighth inning against Red Sox reliever Scott Atchison, when Don Kelly rifled a single into center field, scoring Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera had reached second after Ellsbury came up short in his diving attempt at a sinking liner, which ultimately got behind the centerfielder, allowing the slow-footed first baseman to get into scoring position.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
– Following the two-run first inning, Beckett settled down. The Sox starter didn’t allow a run in his final five innings while keeping the Sox in it against Verlander. Beckett’s ERA still stands at 1.80, best in the American League.
– Kevin Youkilis executed a head’s up play in the seventh inning after beating a potential force play at second base on a one-out grounder from David Ortiz. After beating what would have been the beginning of a double play ball, if not for the steal attempt, Youkilis saw the Tigers hadn’t called timeout and raced to an uncovered third base. Unfortunately for the Red Sox, Carl Crawford grounded out to end the inning, stranding Youkilis.
– Reliever Rich Hill did it again, pitching another scoreless inning, this time striking out two of his three batters. The lefty has now pitched eight times, giving up no runs and just three hits while striking out 12 and walking two.
|05.29.11 at 6:38 pm ET|
|05.29.11 at 4:27 pm ET|
Until Sunday, David Ortiz hadn’t hit a pinch-hit home run for the Red Sox since April 27, 2003. That was his first homer as a member of the Sox, and on Sunday Ortiz picked the right time to connect on homer No. 302 for Boston, going deep in the ninth off of closer Jose Valverde and give the Sox a 4-3 lead, a score that would be the final in the opener of Sunday’s doubleheader in Detroit.
Here’s a look at what went right and wrong in the win:
WHAT WENT RIGHT
— The fourth career pinch-hit homer for Ortiz was the game-winner for the Sox, as he drilled a 3-2 pitch from Valverde into the stands for his 11th HR of the season with one out and no one on base in the ninth inning. Ortiz — who was pinch-hitting for Jarrod Saltalamacchia — has now homered in both career at-bats vs. Valverde.
— Sox attacked old friend Victor Martinez from the start, stealing four first-inning bases off the Detroit catcher. Jacoby Ellsbury — after a leadoff double — swiped his league-leading 19th base of the season. Dustin Pedroia stole a pair of bases in the inning, the second coming on a double steal with Kevin Youkilis (the first SB of the season for Youkilis).
— Pedroia hit his second home run of the road trip — and fourth of the season — with a third-inning shot off Tigers’ starter Andy Oliver. Pedroia now has a modest six-game hitting streak and has a batting average of .249 for the season, his highest mark since May 3.
— Mike Cameron got the start in right field vs. the left-handed Oliver and hit a solo homer in the second inning, his third HR of the season (first since his two-HR game vs. Seattle on April). Cameron added a single in the sixth inning and now has back-to-back multi-hit games (his last appearance was in the 14-2 win at Cleveland on Wednesday). The veteran had a batting average of .143 after his 0-for-3 performance vs. the White Sox on May 22, he now stands at an even .200 for the first time since April 16.
WHAT WENT WRONG
— The Sox only managed to plate a single run in that four-SB first inning, one an Adrian Gonzalez sacrifice fly that scored Ellsbury. Jed Lowrie fouled out to first base with just one out and Pedroia on third and Youkilis on second following the double steal, and Carl Crawford popped out to shallow left field to end the top of the first.
— In 173.2 innings pitched last season, Buchholz allowed just nine home runs. It took only 63.0 IP for Buchholz to match that number in 2011 after rookie Andy Dirks went deep to lead off the fourth inning. And Buchholz would later give up his 10th HR of the season when Brennan Boesch hit an absolute blast to right in the sixth innings. Assistant trainer Greg Barajas visited the mound to look at Buchholz after the Boesch HR, but the right-hander would stay in the game.
— It sure looked like another hugely productive offensive effort was coming from the Sox after picking up a run in each of the first three innings against an elite prospect in Oliver, making his first start of the season. But the southpaw settled down, tossing three scoreless innings to finish his start. The Sox had chances in the fourth and sixth innings to add to a 3-0 lead, but Pedroia flied out to left field with two outs and Cameron on second in the fourth and Saltalamacchia was retired on fly out to shallow center with two outs and Cameron again on second.
|05.29.11 at 8:00 am ET|
To those who follow the comings and goings of both the Red Sox and Tigers on a regular basis, the pitching matchup for the second game of Sunday’s doubleheader will look awfully familiar. Indeed, Justin Verlander and Josh Beckett faced each other when Detroit played in Boston on May 19. In that game, Beckett bested Verlander as he allowed just one run over six innings in a 4-3 Sox win before being pulled with neck stiffness. The Detroit fireballer was no slouch either with a quality start (8 IP, 3 ER, 9 strikeouts, 0 walks) of his own. Both pitchers earned no decisions after Boston reliever Daniel Bard allowed back-to-back home runs in the eighth to tie the game at three apiece before Carl Crawford hit a walk-off single in the ninth.
If Beckett’s (4-1, 1.69 ERA) performance against the Tigers in his last outing isn’t enough to instill any confidence from Red Sox fans, his career numbers at Comerica Park certainly should. In two career starts at the Detroit ballpark, Beckett is 2-0 over 14 2/3 innings pitched with just one earned run allowed. He has also struck out 17 Tigers on their own turf in that time. Another set of stats that should add to the good feelings concerning Beckett’s start is his performance thus far in the month of May. In five starts and 30 innings pitched, he has allowed just two earned runs for a monthly ERA of 0.60 to lower his American League-best mark in that category to 1.69.
If those numbers don’t frighten Detroit hitters, their own batting figures against Beckett certainly should. As a team, Detroit is hitting .205 against the righty. In fact, no Tiger with more than four plate appearances against Beckett has an average higher than .231 in such situations. Miguel Cabrera, he of the .313 career batting average, has yet to grab a hit, going 0-for-8 with a walk when facing Beckett.
If nothing else, the Tigers can at least take solace in the fact that they will be sending their own ace to the bump Sunday night. Verlander (4-3, 3.42 ERA) had been one of the best pitchers in the junior circuit with a no-hitter, the second in his career, already to his credit this season. But the tall righty came back down to earth slightly in his last start on Tuesday against the Rays. In that outing, Verlander allowed a season-highs in hits (nine) and runs (six) over six innings while striking out a season-low two batters.
The Sox bats will look to jump all over a potentially vulnerable Verlander, and expect middle-of-the-order hitters Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz, both of whom have two home runs and three RBI against the righty, to possibly lead that charge. Also, Red Sox manager Terry Francona would be well-advised to keep Jason Varitek behind the plate as he has been for nine of Beckett’s 10 starts this season. The Boston captain is 2-for-5 with two RBI and a walk against Verlander while fellow backstop Jarrod Saltalamacchia is 0-for-6 with four punchouts. Read the rest of this entry »
|05.28.11 at 12:27 pm ET|
For your Memorial Day weekend, here’s my first “Thirty Clubs/Thirty Nuggets”:
The Red Sox have batted around in every inning except the 5th and 9th this season. Last year, they not only batted around in every inning, but they were one of only three teams to do it at least TWICE in every inning. The Rays and Phillies were the other two.
New York Yankees –
124 different major league hitters have seen 75 or more changeups this season, but none have handled the change worse than Derek Jeter, who is 1-for-23 with six strikeouts against it (+1.27 quality points per pitch; Keep in mind that positive quality points always favor the pitcher). Here are the bottom three against the change (min. 75 seen):
+1.27 – Derek Jeter, NYY
+1.07- Colby Rasmus, STL
+1.04 – Jason Bartlett, SD
Opponents are batting just .108 (8-for-74) against Jeremy Hellickson the first time through the order, the lowest such average in the majors among starting pitchers:
Average against Hellickson the second time through? .306, 22-for-72 with 12 extra base hits including four home runs.
The home run by the A’s Josh Willingham on Friday night was the 15th allowed by the Orioles to the opponent’s cleanup batter this season, the most in the majors:
15 – Orioles
11 – Royals
11 – Mets
Since the start of the 2008 season, the O’s have allowed 123 HR to opponent cleanup batters, 16 more than any other team.
In his 10 starts this season, Kyle Drabek has averaged 5.3 full counts, the highest average in the majors (min. 8 starts):
—————————————————————————————————————————– Read the rest of this entry »
|05.28.11 at 3:30 am ET|
Red Sox starting pitcher Clay Buchholz has been dominant in his last five starts. In that span, he owns a 3-0 record, 1.64 ERA and has held opposing batters to a .195 average. Buchholz (4-3, 3.30) will try to sustain a team that is likewise streaking, as the Sox have won 12 of 14 en route to first place in the AL East.
However, Buchholz has been a bit rocky on the road. Seven of the eight home runs he’s allowed this season have come away from Fenway Park. In his career at Comerica Park, Buchholz is 1-0 with a 5.23 ERA. One more statistic worth noting is that Buchholz’s ERA is over a full point lower this season in night games (2.95) than day games (3.98). In 82 career plate appearances, current Tigers batters have just five extra-base hits and 18 strikeouts against him.
Detroit will send left-handed pitcher Andy Oliver to the hill. Oliver (0-0, -.–) will be called up from Triple-A Toledo to make his first big-league start of the season.
In nine minor league starts this season, Oliver has recorded a 4-3 record with a 3.31 ERA. In five starts with the Tigers last season, Oliver — a highly touted prospect whom the Tigers took in the second round of the 2009 draft — was unimpressive. He finished 0-4 with a 7.36 ERA. In 22 innings he allowed 22 runs and struck out 18 batters while walking 13. He also allowed three home runs last season.
The Red Sox scored 14 runs on both Wednesday and Thursday. Though they only managed a half dozen in Friday’s victory, they have scored at least three runs in 16 of their last 19 outings. No current Red Sox hitters has faced Oliver in major league action (though Josh Reddick is 0-for-3 with a walk and Drew Sutton is 1-for-2 with a walk against him in Triple-A this year).
Tigers vs. Buchholz
Miguel Cabrera (15 career plate appearances): .154BA/.267 OBP/.231 SLG, 1 double, 2 walks, 3 strikeouts
Austin Jackson (11): .100/.182/.200, 1 double, 1 walk, 4 strikeouts
Jhonny Peralta (11): .333/.364/.444, 1 double, 3 RBIs, 3 strikeouts
Ryan Raburn (10): .333/.400/.667, 1 HR, 2 RBIs, 1 walk, 3 strikeouts
Brennan Boesch (9): .111/.111/.111, 1 RBI, 1 strikeout
Alex Avila (6): .400/.500/.600, 1 double, 1 walk, 1 strikeout
Brandon Inge (6): .000/.500/.000, 2 walks
Scott Sizemore (6): .000/.000/.000, 2 strikeouts
Ramon Santiago (5): .000/.200/.000, 1 walk, 1 strikeout
Victory Martinez (3): .000/.000/.000
Don Kelly and Casper Wells have not faced the Boston starter.
Red Sox vs. Oliver
No Boston hitters have faced the Detroit starter.
|05.27.11 at 9:48 pm ET|
They didn’t score 14.
Even so, the Red Sox offense once again struck quickly, plating five runs in the third inning to turn a 2-1 deficit into a 6-3 victory. But the Sox’ fourth straight win was about more than just offense.
Once again, Red Sox starter Tim Wakefield delivered as much as the Sox could have hoped for. The knuckleballer was incredibly efficient, needing just 83 pitches to sail through seven innings of work. Though he was touched for a run in the first and a solo homer in the second inning, the Tigers could do nothing with him thereafter, going 2-for-19 (both singles) over the rest of his outing.
In four starts this year, he has a 3.80 ERA; the Sox are 3-1 with him in that role. Wakefield also collected his 195th career win (most among active pitchers) and he has 181 victories as a Red Sox, moving within 12 of the team record.
WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX
–Wakefield continued a run in which the Sox have received significant contributions from players who either weren’t in the majors to start the year or whose roles have been redefined. Since both Daisuke Matsuzaka and John Lackey were placed on the disabled list last Monday, the tandem of fill-ins Wakefield and Alfredo Aceves has gone 2-0 with a combined 2.87 ERA in four starts; the Sox have won three of those contests. Read the rest of this entry »
|05.27.11 at 8:05 pm ET|
Until Wednesday, Carl Crawford had never started a game as the No. 6 hitter in a lineup. Now, it appears that he might be ready to occupy that spot for a while.
When the season began, the Sox had Crawford batting third; that lasted all of two games, until he went 0-for-7 with four strikeouts. He then began something of an odyssey, making stops in the No. 7 spot (1 game; 2-for-4), the No. 2 spot (3 games; 2-for-12), and leading off (7 games, 3-for-32) before settling into a place near the bottom of the order, where he spent 32 of 33 games batting either seventh or eighth.
It was there that Crawford slowly began to restore his season’s credibility. He was hitting .127 with a .318 OPS when he was bumped out of the leadoff spot. Though his results were unspectacular batting seventh and eighth, he was better, hitting .248 with a .638 OPS.
But even though Crawford delivered some important moments from that portion of the batting order — most notably, three walkoff hits — he delivered his first electrifying performances over his first two games in the sixth spot in the order. Moved up to that position on back-to-back games with J.D. Drew sidelined, Crawford went 4-for-4 with a homer on Wednesday and 4-for-5 with a pair of triples on Thursday.
Put another way: Crawford had as many hits (8) over nine at-bats in his last two games as he did over the course of 60 at-bats in the first 14 contests of the year.
That being the case, it was little surprise to see Crawford back in the sixth spot on Friday night, with Drew still sidelined. For that matter, it appears unsurprising that Crawford is likely poised to remain in the sixth spot once Drew (hitting .232 with a .705 OPS) returns.
Manager Terry Francona has maintained throughout the year that he wants Crawford hitting somewhere near the top of the order. While moving Crawford to sixth doesn’t quite fulfill that vision, with the top five all but set with Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Adrian Gonzalez, Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz, the sixth spot seems to represent the most obvious lineup promotion for Crawford.
“I think I kind of like the idea of moving him up in the order,” Sox manager Terry Francona said before Friday’s game. “First of all, I think it’s justified. He’s hot as can be. I didn’t want him to hit eighth for the whole year. I think that was pretty obvious. I don’t want to move Pedey out of the two-hole. I can see that being that way for a while, yeah. as soon as I say that, something will happen. That’s the way it works. [But] I like the idea of him hitting up there a little bit higher.”
It’s not necessarily a perfect spot. Whereas Crawford would have been hitting behind a couple of players (Ellsbury and Pedroia) who can take part in an aggressive running game in his season-opening third spot, he is now stationed behind Adrian Gonzalez, Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz — players whose lack of speed could occasionally block Crawford on the bases.
Nonetheless, with the likes of Jed Lowrie and Drew hitting behind him, Crawford is hitting in a spot that will feature hitters who are comfortable working deeper into counts and permitting him opportunities to steal. Moreover, Crawford is giving flashes of the idea that his bat has potential as a run-producing weapon while hitting behind three players — Gonzalez, Youkilis and Ortiz — who figure to be on base with some frequency.
That being the case, while Crawford had never had his name written into the sixth spot of the lineup before Wednesday, he is likely to have that experience quite a bit going forward.
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