This post first appeared on BaseballDigest.com
On May 20th,I called the Boston Red Sox average, following a record of 22-20 after 42 games on the season. Not long after the article was published, the Red Sox started to turn a corner that may ultimately change the direction of their season.
Since May 20th, the Red Sox have a 9-4 record. If you go back to May 18th, the Red Sox are 12-4 in their last 16 games. This includes an impressive 5-1 record against the Philadelphia Phillies and Tampa Bay Rays. In the five victories against the teams with the best records in their divisions, the Red Sox outscored them a combined 37-7, with two shutouts.
Simply put, the Red Sox offense woke up, and their pitching staff began stringing together impressive starts.
Big Papi Is Back, And He’s Back Big
As the old saying goes, “You live by the sword, you die by the sword”, and that is certainly true when it comes to the Red Sox winning and losing with the bat of David Ortiz. Of course, Ortiz is not the only component to the offense, but he has shown an unbelievable asset to their winning ways. The slugger hit a paltry .143 in April, with nearly three times as many strikeouts as he had hits. When the calendar flipped to May, the offensive switch was turned on within David Ortiz and he began mashing the ball to all parts of the field.
Though the Red Sox dropped two of three to the Tigers in a trip to Detroit in mid May, David Ortiz rediscovered his swing. He cranked a few home runs and drove in a few runners with key hits.
Pitching Well Enough To Win
Within a few days of Ortiz’s hitting revival, the Red Sox pitching staff also seemingly turned a corner. After stumbling out of the gate to begin the season with 3 subpar starts, Jon Lester strung together 4 starts allowing 2 runs or less. Other than a May 15th start in which he allowed four runs, Lester has been the anchor of the rotation.
Clay Buchholz has shared duties with Jon Lester as a two-punch tandem that kept the Red Sox treading water during the first several weeks of the season. Despite two rough starts in early May, Buchholz has allowed 2 runs or fewer in 7 of his 10 starts.
Poor Pitching Does Not Help
Though the Red Sox have appeared to change direction with their winnings ways, there is still a major concern for the rest of their pitching staff. John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka have both struggled thus far in the 2010 season to find consistency. Following 8 innings of 1 hit ball against the Philadelphia Phillies, Dice-K issued 8 walks to the Kansas City Royals in his next time out. Lackey stumbled in May with three poor outings following three great outings, and only a few days ago labored through six innings versus the Oakland Athletics allowing 12 hits and 4 walks.
Josh Beckett had a up and down season entering mid May, and landed on the disabled list after his May 18th start. Tim Wakefield, displaced by the crowded group of starters, returned to his slot in the rotation following three appearances out of the bullpen. Wakefield responded to the change well at first, throwing 8 shutout innings against the Phillies, but threw two clunkers in a row at the hands of the Royals and the Oakland Athletics.
The Red Sox do not need Tim Wakefield to be an ace in the back end of the rotation. However if it turns out the team looks to him rather than Lackey, Matsuzaka, and Beckett to win key games, they will undoubtedly have a tough time reaching their goal of playing in the postseason. Wakefield fills a back end starter roll perfectly. Sometimes the team wins, sometimes they are blow out losses. The number one factor for a fifth starter is the ability to take the ball every fifth day. In the case of Tim Wakefield, the team rolls whichever way the knuckler flows.
Since the season started, Scott Atchison has been optioned to Pawtucket, designated for assignment, and brought back into the Red Sox ‘pen. Scott Schoeneweis has been released, and Jonathan Papelbon has earned three straight saves since imploding against the New York Yankees on May 17th for 4 runs in a 11-9 loss.
How the bullpen performs the rest of the way is as important as the success of the starters. If Manny Delcarmen’s implosing on June 3rd against the A’s is any indication, the Red Sox front office may start looking for relief help sooner than later.
Regular Outfielders Return…Or Not
Part of the off-season hype surrounding the Red Soxwas the defensive difference that shifting Jacoby Ellsbury to left field in favor of newcomer Mike Cameron in center field. Within 12 games of the 2010 season, both players were off the field and on the disabled list. By late May, both players returned and immediately made an impact.
The problem lies in the reality that within a week of returning, both players were out of the lineup again. Ellsbury has been placed back on the disabled list, and Cameron remains day-to-day, though hasn’t played since May 30th. The defense of these players, when healthy, is as important to the Red Sox success as their offensive production is.
The Road Ahead
The Boston Red Sox head off on a 7 game road trip to Baltimore,which just fired their manager, and then to Cleveland, which were recent participants in an Imperfect Game, before returning to Fenway for another three game set with the Philadelphia Phillies. Despite the concerns mentioned here, the Red Sox could be in a far worse situation such the ballclubs are that they’re facing over the next week. With Big Papi continuing his torrid pace, and Lester and Buchholz anchoring the rotation, the Red Sox should pop out on the other side of this road trip with their dignity still intact.