|Closing Time: Battery-powered win for Red Sox over Cubs||06.16.12 at 10:27 pm ET|
Save for Daniel Bard, Jon Lester has been the biggest puzzle in the Red Sox’ rotation. In past years, he has struggled for a month (or so) to start the year, but by the time June would arrive, he seemingly always found his typical dominant form. Indeed, even when amidst April struggles in recent seasons, he had still been punching out batters at elite rates, suggesting that his stuff remained among the upper echelon of pitchers in the American League.
Now, finally, he may be returning to that form. On Saturday, Lester overmatched the Cubs for much of his outing, plowing through six shutout frames while scattering five hits before faltering in a three-run seventh, in a game in which the Red Sox held on for a 4-3 victory in Chicago. Yet perhaps more important than the line of three runs in 6 2/3 innings was the fact that Lester punched out eight and walked just one.
In his last four starts, Lester has 29 strikeouts and four walks in 26 1/3 innings. While his ERA during that stretch remains high (4.10), the high volume of swings and misses that he is once again getting — he has 9.9 strikeouts per nine innings in his last four starts, after getting just 6.0 per nine innings in his first 10 starts — suggests that Lester’s stuff is once again playing in a fashion that should permit him to have outstanding results.
The left-hander has yet to lock into one of his typical mid-summer runs of dominance, but his recent ability to blow the ball past opponents suggests that it could be coming sooner rather than later after a longer-than-anticipated wait.
WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX
– Jarrod Saltalamaccia had been struggling. In seven games from June 6-15, the switch-hitting catcher had seen his OPS drop more than 100 points (from .917 to .799) thanks to a 2-for-26 stretch in which he hadn’t worked a single walk or racked up a single extra-base hit. In that stretch, he was hitting .077/.074/.077/.151, dragging his season totals from spectacular for a catcher to merely very good.
But on Saturday night, batting cleanup for the first time this year,he was once again the middle-of-the-order masher who helped carry the Red Sox lineup in May. He went 2-for-3 with a double, a two-run homer and a walk, giving him 12 homers and 12 doubles this season. He leads all big league catchers in homers, and his .835 OPS is neck-and-neck with A.J. Pierzynski for the highest mark in the American League.
– Will Middlebrooks went 1-for-4 but delivered a key run-scoring single for his first RBI in eight games dating to June 2. However, after clubbing 13 extra-base hits in May, he does not have an extra-base hit in the month of June.
– Though Adrian Gonzalez went 0-for-2, he did walk twice, the third time this year and first since May 11 in which he walked multiple times. His OBP for the year is now .316.
– Setup man Vicente Padilla submitted a dominant eighth inning, requiring just 12 pitches to turn in a perfect inning in which he struck out two Cubs.
WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX
– Dustin Pedroia went 0-for-4 with four groundouts. Since returning from his thumb injury, he is 6-for-44 (.136) with a .220 OBP, .159 slugging mark and .379 OPS in 11 games. Pedroia continues to say publicly and in conversations with team officials that his thumb is not bothering him. Regardless of the cause, however, he remains mired in his worst slump of the year.
– Ryan Sweeney went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. In his last 17 games, he’s hitting .200 with a .265 OBP, .244 slugging mark and .509 OPS.
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