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The Blue Jays have something to prove

05.19.09 at 8:55 pm ET
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Toronto’s 27-14 record entering tonight was little short of a marvel. The team has been without its Nos. 2-4 starters (Dustin McGowan, Shawn Marcum, Jesse Litsch), without its closer (B.J. Ryan) for a few weeks, and without one of its youn hurlers (Ricky Romer) who was supposed to be the depth option of first resort. The succession of woes should have been devastating.

But the Jays have been nothing if not resilient. Their starters entered tonight with a 4.00 ERA that ranked third in the A.L., and the team has permitted just 4.2 runs per game, second fewest in the A.L.

Even so, there has been some skepticism, or at least curiosity, about whether the Jays could sustain that position. Their outstanding start, after all, has been forged not only with a patchwork rotation, but also without having faced the cream of the A.L. East.

Of the Jays 41 games, just six were against their divisional opponents: three (all wins) against the Orioles, and three (one win, two losses) against the Yankees. Toronto will soon make up for lost time.

Including tonight’s game, the Jays will play the Sox in six of the next 12 games, a span in which they will also play the Orioles three more times. Then, interleague will give the team another four-week reprieve.

But, starting on June 29, when the Jays will return to division play against the Rays, Toronto will play more than two-thirds (57) of its final 84 games against members of its division.

That is not to discount what Toronto has done thus far. By all accounts, their early-season run has been extremely impressive. But it is fair to suggest that it won’t be until July that the Blue Jays will truly have the opportunity to prove how well they stack up in the best division in baseball.

Jacoby Ellsbury Keeps Streaking

05.19.09 at 8:37 pm ET
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Jacoby Ellsbury hit a soft liner up the middle for a single in the bottom of the fifth, extending his hitting streak to 14 games. The streak is the longest active run in the majors, and the second longest of the centerfielder’s career, behind only an 18-game run that he had last September. Ellsbury is 1-for-3 tonight, and is hitting .348 during his streak, though he has just four extra-base knocks during the run. Ellsbury is the 10th major leaguer to hit in at least 14 straight this year. His extra-base hit total is the lowest during such a streak of that group, one behind Willy Taveras, who had five extra-base hits in his 14-game streak.

Ortiz’ third at-bat

05.19.09 at 8:34 pm ET
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With Jacoby Ellsbury on first and two outs in the bottom of the fifth, David Ortiz grounded harmlessly to second on a 1-1 pitch. Tallet has been living down and away against the Sox’ No. 3 hitter, who is now 0-for-2 with a walk tonight.

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Kevin Millar: Knuckleball Killer

05.19.09 at 8:24 pm ET
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One can make a case that there is no active player in Major League Baseball who owns as much success against Tim Wakefield as Kevin Millar. The former Sox entered tonight with a .444 average against Wakefield, is the second highest by any opponent who has faced the pitcher at least 25 times, behind only Dave Nilsson’€™s incredible .640 average. (Perhaps one should train to face the knuckleball by growing up in Australia and playing cricket?) Of his 12 hits entering tonight, Millar had three homers off of the Sox starter.

That number just inflated to four: Millar, leading off the fifth, crushed a hanging knuckler into the back row of the Monster Seats for a solo homer. But Wakefield retired the next three Jays in order, and so the Sox still possess a 2-1 lead entering the bottom of the fifth.

Read More: Kevin Millar, Tim Wakefield,

A Word About Tim Wakefield

05.19.09 at 8:19 pm ET
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In Tim Wakefield’s last outing prior to tonight, he had, unquestionably, his worst outing of the year. He gave up 11 hits and seven runs in just 4.2 innings. The man who had been the glue for the Red Sox rotation, submitting quality starts in five of his first six outings, failed to do so at a time when the bullepn was getting battered.

Tonight, Wakefield’s knuckler has again presented a quandary for the Blue Jays. Through four innings, he has been everything the Sox could have hoped, permitting three meager singles and a walk. He entered tonight having held opposing batters to a .224 average this year, sixth lowest in the American League, and since the start of 2008, opponents are hitting .227 against him, the second lowest mark in the A.L. in that span, behind only teammate Daisuke Matsuzaka. Tonight, the Jays are 3-for-16 (.188) off of him through four innings.

Ortiz’ Second At-Bat

05.19.09 at 8:08 pm ET
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In his much scrutinized return to the Red Sox lineup, David Ortiz just had his first poor at-bat. Jays starter Brian Tallet got a called strike on a first-pitch fastball, got a bad swing-and-miss on an 82 mph slider that was down and away, tossed a ball, then got another swing-and-miss on a slider. Ortiz is now 0-for-1 with a walk tonight.

Noteworthy: Ortiz is just the eighth left-handed hitter to strike out against Tallet this year. Lefties entered tonight hitting .306 with an astonishing 1.084 OPS against Tallet entering tonight.

Read More: David Ortiz,

The Jeff Bailey Era Does Not End Quietly

05.19.09 at 7:54 pm ET
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Kevin Youkilis is eligible to come off the disabled list on Wednesday, and so barring something unexpected, he will resume life as the team’s everyday first baseman on Wednesday…this despite the fact that the third-place finisher in last year’s MVP race went 0-for-6 in his two-game rehab assignment for Triple-A Pawtucket.

“I asked him if he wanted to go to Double-A,” joked Sox manager Terry Francona. “He said no.”

Jeff Bailey has been Youkilis’ replacement for these past two weeks. He hasn’t exactly distinguished himself during that time, hitting .182 with a .318 OBP and .364 slugging mark entering tonight. But Bailey has had his moments, most memorably a homer on Saturday in front of about 75-80 friends and family members from the state of Washington who made the trip to Seattle.

Tonight, Bailey stepped to the plate with runners on first and second, and lined a hit-and-run single to left-center that scored a run and put the Sox in position to score another when George Kottaras followed with a sac fly. The Sox are 8-6 entering tonight in games started by Bailey at first, including a 6-6 mark during this stint on the D.L.

After two, the Red Sox are up, 2-0.

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Ortiz receives ovation

05.19.09 at 7:27 pm ET
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David Ortiz received a warm and welcoming round of applause as he stepped to the plate in the bottom of the first for his first plate appearance since Friday. Ortiz fouled off one meaty pitch on a 2-0 count, but otherwise, Brian Tallet wasn’t close to the strike zone, and Ortiz ended up accepting a five-pitch walk. For all of his struggles, Ortiz has been walking: he drew at least one free pass n 10 straight games from April 30-May 19, the longest streak by a member of the Sox since 2005. He was not charge with an official at-bat, and so his homerless streak remains at 144 at-bats, still one shy of his career-long run of 145 that ran from Sept. 1998 through June 2000.

The Sox and Jays are underway, wth both sides going scoreless in the first.

Worthwhile audio: Ken Rosenthal was on Dale & Holley this morning discussing how the Sox might proceed with Ortiz, and the team’s preliminary conversations with the Indians about Victor Martinez. CLICK HERE for the interview. An interesting excerpt:

I just don’€™t know that his problems were as mental as much as they were physical. I don’€™t know if this isn’€™t simply age-related decline.
My suspicion is that it is to at least some degree bad…What happens next is really going to be interesting, because they’€™ve played this card now. They haven’€™t played the ‘€˜dropping him in the lineup’€™ card but Francona doesn’€™t want to do that because that would be disruptive to others. So really, this is it.
If he’€™s going to hit, it’€™s going to have to start happening soon, because at some point you have to make a decision on where your club is and what you need going forward. If in the interval he doesn’€™t start producing, that becomes a need.

Read More: David Ortiz,

Ortiz remains anchored in his familiar spot

05.19.09 at 5:11 pm ET
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Following his three-game hiatus, David Ortiz gave off the appearance today in the clubhouse of a man from whom a burden had been lifted. Though he is, for now, maintaining relative silence with the media, at one point putting his finger to his mouth and offering a friendly “Shhhhh…” in response to an inquiry about his return, the slugger seemed upbeat in all of his interactions, pronouncing that he felt good about life and his return home.

He returned home not just to Boston following a West Coast swing that took an unquestionable toll in Anaheim, where he concluded a three-game series by going 0-for-7 and stranding a dozen runners, but also to his customary third spot in the batting order. Red Sox manager Terry Francona suggested that he had no real desire to remove Ortiz from the lineup position where he has remained since 2005.

“I think our best lineup is with him hitting third. Saying that, if you look at the production, I told him if I ever decide to change that, I’€™ll tell you first. He understood that. The one thing I don’€™t want to do is start bouncing the lineup all over the place,” said Francona. “I still believe our best lineup is the one we have, or similar to it. So I’€™d like to give it a chance.

“When things aren’€™t going perfect, I want to make sure he understands that we’€™re here for him,” Francona added. “It’€™s too easy to run from players or run from problems. I don’€™t know that cures what you’€™re trying to do. We think we have good players. Sometimes when it’€™s not going the way you want it to, running away isn’€™t the answer.”

Francona was pleased with the apparent improvement in Ortiz’ demeanor during his time out of the lineup, praising the slugger’s behind-the-scenes work to restore his stroke and stating that Ortiz would have been used as a pinch-hitter for Rocco Baldelli in the waning innings of Sunday’s game. (The Sox did not get that chance, as Baldelli’s turn never came up in the ninth, and the Mariners had a walk-off win in the bottom of the inning.)

Now, with Ortiz back in the lineup, the Sox can start examining whether the first part of the season has been a wild aberration or something more serious. Ortiz is hitting .208 with no homers, 15 RBIs, and a higher on-base (.318) than slugging (.300) mark. He has gone 144 straight at-bats without a homer, one shy of his career-long drought (set in 1998-2000, and which included a full year in the minors).

The Sox are hopeful, of course, for a rebound to performance levels that would suggest a player who deserves to be back in the third spot in the lineup. If that happens, the team is confident that Ortiz can still salvage an impressive campaign.

“We’re expecting him to do some good things,” said Sox third baseman Mike Lowell. “He can put together a really good year in four and a half months. We’€™re going to need him if we’€™re going to be a team that competes for a championship.”

The Sox hope that they do not have to explore what might take place if such a turnaround does not occur.

Read More: David Ortiz,

Red Sox vs. Blue Jays Match-Ups, 5/19

05.19.09 at 3:29 pm ET
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If David Ortiz is back in the lineup for tonight’€™s game against the Blue Jays, he can take some measure of hope from his previous success against Toronto starter Brian Tallet. Ortiz has two hits ‘€“ a homer and a double ‘€“ in eight career plate appearances against the left-hander.

David Ortiz (8 career plate appearances): 2-for-5, homer, double, three walks
Jason Varitek (8): 2-for-6, homer, two walks
J.D.Drew (4): 0-for-3, walk
Julio Lugo (4): 2-for-3, walk
Mike Lowell (3): 0-for-2, sac fly
Dustin Pedroia (3): 2-for-3
Rocco Baldelli (2): 0-for-2
Jason Bay (2): 1-for-1, walk
Jacoby Ellsbury (2): 0-for-2
Nick Green (2): 1-for-2
George Kottaras (1): 0-for-1


The Blue Jays feature a couple of formidable foes for Red Sox starter Tim Wakefield. Foremost, former Boston teammate Kevin Millar has been an absolute force against the knuckleballer. His .444 average against Wakefield is the second highest by any opponent who has faced the pitcher at least 25 times, behind only Dave Nilsson’€™s incredible .640 average. (Perhaps one should train to face the knuckleball by growing up in Australia and playing cricket?)

Vernon Wells (60 career plate appearances vs. Wakefield): .255 average / .350 OBP / .294 slugging
Alex Rios (40): .231 / .250 / .538, 3 homers
Kevin Millar (29): .444 / .483 / .889, 3 homers
Aaron Hill (26): .292 / .346 / .333
John McDonald (26): .240 / .321 / .320
Rod Barajas (23): .227 / .261 / .364, homer
Lyle Overbay (17): .313 / .353 / .313
Marco Scutaro (17): .313 / .353 / .438
Scott Rolen (13): .182 / .308 / .273
Adam Lind (6): 1-for-6

Read More: brian tallet, Tim Wakefield,
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