By Matt Straub
Opening StatementWhen Sunday night’s game was over, I turned to someone and said “They held off the Cubs!” That’s where the 2012 Boston Red Sox have taken the Nation. Every win seems a struggle that should be cherished. That’s how you’re supposed to feel about a football game. In that sport, every game is hard. Baseball’s difficulty comes from the grind of a 162-game season full of ups and downs. The Red Sox seem to just be trying to avoid the downs. Somehow they have made it through one of the toughest stretches of schedule in recent memory while hanging on the edge of that hill. That haven’t fallen down yet, but they don’t seem to be making any upward movement. Oh, and it’s also given the Nation a level of play where hanging on against the Cubs is exciting. But that’s just the cynic in me talking. In actuality, a 4-2 week is nothing to scoff at. If you do that in the majority of the weeks that make up the grind of the year, you’re going to be in great shape. You don’t need 10-game winning streaks in baseball, though they help. If you go 4-3 over 20 weeks, you’re 80-60 with 22 games left and on the way to a 90-win year. Now, throw in some hot streaks and you’re a title contender. Let’s not look too far ahead, however. After all, this was a good, if scary, week to break down.
|David Ortiz continues to hit for the Red Sox. (AP photo)|
The High Point
Wednesday’s dismantling of Miami was an example of what this team is supposed to do. Felix Doubront continued his path to potential stardom with seven three-hit innings and the offense scored 10 runs, including a homer from David Ortiz that hit a night club. Yes, the new stadium in Miami has a night club, but that’s a conversation for a different blog post. This is about the totality of what the Red Sox can do. They have the ability to outpitch teams and the lineup to outmuscle them. When they do both on the same night, it’s fun to watch. It hasn’t happened as much as it should for some reason, but if it ever does, the Sox could start climbing the hill again soon.
The Low Point
The Boston Red Sox lost to the Chicago Cubs Friday. That actually happened. Daisuke Matsuzaka was solid, giving up just three runs, but the Red Sox couldn’t do anything against Ryan Dempster. He’s a fine pitcher, one who will be pitching for a contender in a playoff race somewhere by next month. But his team’s defense made three errors and the Red Sox still couldn’t score. The low point of the low point came when Dempster tripled past Adrian Gonzalez, who is still trying valiantly to play right field while the Red Sox continue to be paralyzed by confusion over what to do with Kevin Youkilis. It’s beyond frustrating at this point. The guy the Red Sox are paying $154 million to play first base and hit home runs isn’t playing first base nor hitting home runs. I have no idea if sticking him in the outfield is messing with his head and causing some of his offensive woes, or if it’s draining him physically, but it certainly isn’t helping. And all of this is happening so Youkilis can go up there and make outs all the time.
|Scott Podsednik has 14 hits in his last 10 games. (AP photo)|
Franklin Morales: I’ve been hard on him in recent weeks because he has been less than spectacular in relief. But he has also been building his arm strength up so he could help the rotation, which he did Sunday night when he made a spot start for Josh Beckett. The ace is on the disabled list with shoulder trouble, though Bobby Valentine insists it’s not serious. Morales, meanwhile, struck out nine in five sharp innings. He’s not a long-term answer in the rotation, but if he can fill the jack-of-all-trades role that Alfredo Aceves vacated this year, the Red Sox bullpen will be much better off. Of course, I think he’s the third different pitcher I’ve said that about this year.
Clay Buchholz: I think it’s fair to say that four consecutive good starts is more than a fluke He might not be the “no-hit kid” anymore, but Buchholz is starting to earn that pretty record he has been sporting all year, but which seemed like stolen property in April and May. He’s 3-0 with a 1.13 ERA in June over 24 innings. With Beckett on the shelf, Buchholz will have to be great for at least the next three starts or so, since the bullpen will be used more heavily behind Morales or whoever else replaces Beckett.
Scott Podsednik: In a season where the Red Sox have already reached double-figures in outfielders used, the veteran has been a big lift, going for 14 hits in his last 10 games, including six multi-hit games. Of course, he got injured Sunday night. This is bad for two reasons. One, it’s another productive player out. Two, it might give the Red Sox an excuse to avoid making a decision on Youkilis when Cody Ross comes back, which is expected to happen this week. Putting Podsednik on the DL (if the injury turns out to be significant) would make things easy for a front office that doesn’t want to make any tough calls.
Kevin Youkilis: He has started to hint that he would be fine with a trade, and his recent postgame quotes indicated he feels like there are some people who don’t like him. While I don’t have a ton of sources, I know a couple of people in the know, and let’s just say this was not exactly a well-kept secret. “Youk” has worn out his welcome in Boston, and the Red Sox are messing up their lineup to showcase him for a trade. The problem is he’s hitting so terribly he might be ruining what little trade value he has. While I admit to being biased (I never liked him), I don’t think it’s unfair to say the Red Sox might end up having to release him. We haven’t hit “Manny at the end” territory yet, but we’re getting there.
Josh Beckett: Except for my one rant here a couple of weeks ago, I’ve long been a Beckett fan. But if he can’t stay healthy anymore, the Red Sox have a big problem. And if this is a minor injury, as the manager suggests, Beckett needs to demand to take the ball. If he’s truly hurt, I understand. But the Red Sox are in too much peril for precaution. If Beckett felt like he could have pitched tonight, he should have. Either way, the Red Sox now have a huge hole to fill in their already suspect rotation.
Alfredo Aceves: If Mark Melancon has another couple of good outings, it might be time to make a switch at closer. Watching Aceves is going to cause me to pull my hair out before year’s end. It just never feels safe when he’s on the mound in a tight spot. Over four or five innings, I have faith in him. For one, not so much.
The farce that is interleague play comes to Fenway this week, when the Marlins and Braves visit. Boston plays Miami twice this year, which is odd because I thought the Braves were Boston’s “rival” because they once played in Beantown. Either way, Boston has a chance to do something if it can get through this week. Next week is easier, and if the Sox can make some noise here, there’s a chance the Sox could have three straight good weeks under their belt before the Yankees visit in July. Of course, this is the 2012 Red Sox. They’re just as likely to get swept by Seattle as they are to sweep the Yankees. It makes for a frustrating journey, but the good moments are enough to keep them from falling off the cliff.
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