Ted Williams. Carl Yastrzemski. Jim Rice. Dwight Evans.
Four names that any Red Sox fan knows and loves. This elite group includes the only four players to have hit 300 or more home runs in a Red Sox uniform. And on Saturday, it added a new member.
David Ortiz became the fifth Boston player to accomplish the feat when he clubbed a fourth-inning, two-run shot off of Carlos Zambrano. It sailed over the Green Monster and into the waiting (and lucky) hands of CNN anchor John King. Unfortunately, the runs wouldn’t be nearly enough thanks to an error-plagued eighth in which the Boston defense fell apart. But the home run, which was Papi’s only hit of the night, was still an epic shot.
The 9-3 loss was the lone blemish on last week’s 5-1 record. Boston defeated the Orioles on Monday and saw Tuesday’s game postponed due to rain. They then swept a two-game set with Detroit thanks to a pair of one-run victories. Friday, the bats erupted for a 15-5 blowout win, and the week closed with Sunday’s 5-1 triumph that left the Sox a mere half game out of first in the A.L. East.
After their 2-10 start, the Red Sox have gone an impressive 23-11 (.676) to get back in contention. And despite some injuries to the rotation, the club seems to be in excellent shape. Slumping players are returning to form, the middle of the order has been devastatingly effective, and the retooled bullpen is holding its own. After a bad April, things are most certainly looking up.
Adrian Gonzalez has to give up his coveted title this week. The man protecting him in the lineup has been living on base lately, posting a .600 OBP over the past week. Youkilis is hitting .400 over his last 20 at bats and has four doubles, a triple, a homer, five walks, seven RBI and five runs scored in his last seven games. Those are video game numbers.
Youk’s slump seems to be well behind him, as his season average is now up to .281 and his OPS stands at .963. He’s hitting .353 in the month of May, and his production has skyrocketed. That probably has a lot to do with how well the top half of the order is hitting as a whole, but Youkilis has been a major catalyst in Boston’s recent hot streak.
Game of the week
Friday 5/20 (Red Sox 15, Cubs 5)
It was a season high in runs (15) and hits (19). Seven different players had multi-hit games. Jacoby Ellsbury, Kevin Youkilis, and Adrian Gonzalez combined to go 10 of 17 with six runs scored and nine RBI.
The offensive barrage was aided by four Chicago errors, but in reality this was simply the Boston lineup showing what kind of damage it is capable to doing. Jon Lester yielded a career-worst 12 hits while giving up five runs in six innings, but his teammates picked him up with more than enough run support.
The big news is that Daisuke Matsuzaka will miss up to two months, and possibly more, after suffering an ulnar collateral ligament sprain coupled with a flexor mass strain. As I discussed, this is addition by subtraction for the Sox. While a severe injury to a starting pitcher is rarely a good thing, this one isn’t all bad either. Matsuzaka had been inconsistent this season, and was a real liability every time he took the mound. Now Boston will be forced to field some alternative arms.
John Lackey is also on the D.L., but received a cortisone shot last Monday and is responding well. He should be back relatively soon, which may or may not be helpful. In his absence, Alfredo Aceves turned in a solid start on Saturday, going five innings while allowing a single run. The bullpen imploded in what would be a 9-3 loss, but Aceves showed that he can be effective.
Expect to see more of him, as well as Felix Doubront. And apparently, Tim Wakefield is still in the mix as well. He started Sunday’s game and earned a victory with 6.2 innings of one-run ball.
Josh Beckett is telling everyone that the neck stiffness that cut short his Thursday start is no big deal. Beckett said after the game, “it was tough to get loose. [I] battled through the first few innings. Went down in the third and fifth innings, throwing between innings trying to get loose. It would never loosen up. A little muscle spasm in there. I don’t think it’s anything serious. Better to be cautious with the situation we have with the starters.’’ Keep an eye on this issue, but for the moment, it appears to be a minor problem.
The Red Sox activated reliever Dan Wheeler from the D.L. following his recovery from a calf strain. He needs to put April behind him and come out strong. Bobby Jenks is progressing after a biceps injury and should be back with the team soon.
Marco Scutaro is not close to returning from an oblique injury. No timetable has been set for his return.
In the minors, Junichi Tazawa is continuing his comeback following Tommy John surgery last year. His velocity is improving, and he reportedly hit 87 on the radar gun last week in a rehab start with High-A Salem. He may receive a September call-up.
Surprise of the week
Though he’s still splitting time with Jason Varitek, Jarrod Saltalamacchiais showing signs of life. He has three homers in his last four games and doubled in the game-winning run last Wednesday in a 1-0 victory over Detroit. In fact, he’s hitting .400 with a pair of dingers and three RBI over his last ten at bats. It’s obviously a tiny sample size, but encouraging nonetheless.
If Salty can become a contributor, it would be a pleasant shock for the Sox.
Random stat of the week
Plunked on Saturday, Kevin Youkilis became Boston’s all-time record holder in the hit by pitch category. Pitchers have connected with Youk 72 times, one better than Mo Vaughn’s 71.
Quote of the week
“I heard people talking about [the milestone] yesterday for the first time. It’s an honor for me to be mentioned in that category with those guys that played here for a long time. Through the years, they were putting up great numbers.”
– David Ortiz on becoming the fifth Red Sox player to hit 300 home runs with the team.
It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. It’s been a pleasure watching you rake, Big Papi, keep up the good work.
Minor league update
The Red Sox designated Hideki Okajima for assignment after acquiring lefty Franklin Morales from the Rockies. A player to be named will be shipped to Colorado in return. Morales is a one-time prospect whose control issues were too much for the Rox to bear, but a change of scenery could help.
The team also signed Kevin Millwood, who had been under a minor league contract with the Yankees. Millwood opted out of that deal to sign a similar contract with the Red Sox. The way he’s pitching now, it’s unlikely that he’ll figure into the club’s plans. But if Millwood can somehow return to form, he could offer useful depth. It was a low-risk, low-reward move.
The team also designated Daniel Nava, who had been with the PawSox. His fifteen minutes of fame came last year with a debut grand slam, but since that memorable moment, Nava has struggled. He’ll catch on somewhere else.
Jose Iglesias was sent back to Pawtucket after a cup of coffee call-up. He temporarily replaced Marco Scutaro, but was swapped out for the more versatile Drew Sutton. Sutton will serve as a backup at multiple positions, but shouldn’t see much playing time.
With the first round of interleague play behind them, the Red Sox will turn their attention to the A.L. Central. This week will offer a tough test in the form of three games at Cleveland. In case you haven’t noticed, the Indians are the best team in baseball at 29-15. No, I have no clue how it happened, but somehow this club, picked by some to finish last in the division, has posted a +66 run differential through the first 44 games. That’s tops in both leagues.
Last time the two clubs got together, the Tribe swept Boston. Now the Sox will look to return the favor and even the season series. But taking two of three would certainly be acceptable on the road. Clay Buchholz will face former teammate Justin Masterson on Monday, Josh Beckett will battle Fausto Carmona on Tuesday, and Jon Lester will take the ball on Wednesday. Cleveland’s starter for the finale has yet to be determined.
On Thursday, the Sox head to Detroit for four games with the Tigers. Alfredo Aceves will draw his second start of the year, going against the spectacular Max Scherzer. Friday has Tim Wakefield penciled in, taking on Rick Porcello. The weekend will feature Buchholz and Beckett against Phil Coke and Justin Verlander, respectively.
Now closing in on first place in the East, Boston can’t afford to ease off the throttle. This has to be another good week, meaning two more series wins.