By Matt StraubOur State of the Red Sox column is back for its sixth installment with Josh Beckett putting criticism aside and pitching like an ace again and a pivotal stretch on the horizon. As always, we want to hear what you have to say about your favorite (or least favorite) team below in the comments section. And check back next week for the latest from the Red Sox right here.
We’ll get to why I now believe Josh Beckett reads this blog in a second, but first we have to look at the big picture. The Boston Red Sox have begun a critical part of their schedule that features both a difficult slate of games and an important one. The season has reached the quarter pole now, which means, while there’s still all kinds of time left, we’re getting to the point where trends are starting to develop. It’s easy to explain away a bad spell with “it’s only April,” or “it’s only May.” It’s about to be June, however, which means the time for excuses is running out. As the time for the Red Sox to start their climb towards at least the middle of the pack in the AL East, however, the Red Sox ran up against the beginning of one of the toughest parts of their schedule. Believe it or not, the Red Sox have responded. After dispatching Seattle as a warm-up, the Red Sox started the killer three-week run of games by splitting with Tampa Bay and then taking two of three at Philadelphia. There’s three quarters of the season to go, but there is life in the Red Sox yet.
|Josh Beckett was on his game this week. (AP photo)|
The High PointBoston grinded out a huge, 5-3, win over the Rays Thursday night. After losing the first game of the quick two-game set, the Red Sox sent a bit of a message to the division that they were not going to be pushovers by taking the game and earning the split. Manager Bobby Valentine spoke of his team’s desire to win the game, and it showed. Felix Dubront won his third-straight start to move to 4-1 this year. The young lefty has been a big boost to the beleaguered rotation, but got help from Cody Ross, who homered and drove in four. The win sent the Red Sox to Philadelphia feeling good about themselves, and they won two of three there to end the week at 5-2.
The Low Point
This is being picky, but we’ll go with Wednesday, when the Sox lost a heartbreaker, 2-1, at Tampa. The key play came in the sixth, when Cody Ross struggled to find a shallow fly ball off Luke Scott’s bat. He lost it briefly looking at the roof of the dome in Tampa, which is a terrible place to play baseball. He caught it, but got spun around in the process and couldn’t throw home in time to prevent a run from scoring on the play. The gaffe made his performance the next night even nicer to see. Ross is quickly becoming a key part of the Red Sox, even if his miscue hurt the team in a quest for a sweep.
|Mike Aviles made history this week for the Sox. (AP photo|
Mike Aviles: He became the first Red Sox player to lead off a game with a home run on consecutive days since Harry Hooper in 1913. He also homered in Friday’s game and was 7-for-14 with three homers in the Phillies’ series overall. He’s not a true leadoff man, but he has filled in nicely for Jacoby Ellsbury.
Josh Beckett: Last week’s edition of the State of the Red Sox might as well have been titled “why Josh Beckett is a jerk.” He still doesn’t get it in many ways, but Red Sox fans have long accepted his stubborn nature when he pitched well. This week, he looked like the ace he’s being paid to be, so he has earned the right to play golf anywhere he wants. Maybe last week’s rant in this space inspired him. Beckett took the criticism he received last week and brushed it aside as easily as he brushed aside opposing hitters. Seven shutout innings against Seattle were nice, but lots of people beat the Mariners. His outing in Philly, however, was more impressive. He went 7 1/3 innings, giving up just one run. He should have come out earlier in the eighth, having clearly tired, but Valentine got lucky for one of the few times this season, and his moves either worked out or didn’t hurt him late in a big win.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia: He hit one of the longest home runs in the majors this year Sunday and showed he can work with Beckett, who many believed preferred to throw to Kelly Shoppach. More importantly, he is hitting .327 in May after a .240 April, meaning the Red Sox no longer have a hole in the lineup created by a healthy player. The ones they have because of injuries were bad enough. Plus, he played this weekend after a suffering a nasty gash Friday that required stitches.
Dustin Pedroia: While his value to this team is unquestioned, it’s only fair to say he had a bad week. Still, he’s over .300 for the season and remains one of the few leaders on what is often a rudderless ship.
Adrian Gonzalez: For the first time, I’m starting to wonder if the pressure of Boston is getting to Gonzalez. Slumps are one thing, but when you start ripping umpires and try to make up for them by guaranteeing home runs, you look desperate. He finally hit one this weekend, giving him three for the year, but he really seems to be pressing. In the past, he has managed to get through homerless droughts by keeping his average up with singles and doubles, but nothing is working right now. The one thing I have to give him is his willingness to play right field in Philadelphia, including making a nice sliding catch.
Daniel Bard: This move to the rotation just isn’t working. Bard looks to have lost all the confidence and intimidation, not to mention velocity , that made him a good reliever. It never ceases to amaze me how often teams mishandle pitchers and their roles. From Joba to Aroldis Chapman to Bard, teams insist on moving guys around and not letting them be great at what they did to get to this level.
Three at home against the first-place Orioles in what should be an interesting series. The Red Sox have already shown the Orioles won’t bring out any extra competitive juices despite last year’s fiasco, but maybe their quest to get back in the hunt will make them keep playing well regardless of the opponent. Baltimore catches a break as it will miss both Beckett and Jon Lester. From there, Tampa comes to town over the weekend. We might know soon if the Red Sox are serious about getting back into contention.