Monday, August 3, 2009

Just What The Doctor Ordered

What do you do when your team is 3-7 in their last 10 games and in danger of falling far behind the AL East leaders? You get down on your knees and thank the MLB schedulers for putting three games in Baltimore on your calendar.

With a timely trade and a rejuvenated offense, the Sox swept through Baltimore. The highlight was the 18-10 victory yesterday afternoon.

The newest member of the Red Sox, Victor Martinez, has shown exactly what he will add to Boston's offense. He went 5-6 yesterday with a double and four RBI. Martinez adds a element of flexibility to the lineup that the Sox have not enjoyed this year. If Lowell needs a break, he can play first and Youk moves to third. If Papi needs a break he can bat in the DH slot. And if Varitek needs a day off, as he did yesterday, then Martinez can play catcher. And the benefit there is what it does to Boston's lineup as far as batting.

With Martinez catching, Boston has their catcher hitting third instead of seventh or eighth. It allows Youk to bat cleanup and Papi to bat fifth. It makes Mike Lowell, a guy hitting .300 with an OPS of .826, your seventh hitter. In this specific instance, Martinez makes the entire Boston lineup a lot more dangerous.

It also doesn't hurt that Jacoby Ellsbury is finally showing that he can be a steady, top-of-the-order hitter. Yesterday Ellsbury went 2-5 with two walks and scored four runs. He has had two or more hits in nine of his last ten games and has gotten on base in 10 straight games. In those 10 games Ellsbury has scored 12 runs and stolen seven bases. His batting average is up 16 points (.298 to .305) and his OBP has gone up 18 points (.337 to .355) over these last 10 games. This is what makes Ellsbury such an important part of Boston's future; combined with his stellar defense he contributes in all aspects of the game.

But Ellsbury isn't the only one who has caught fire. Pedroia has been hitting the ball with regularity. Youkilis has been on fire, boosting his average from .291 to .315 over the last seven games and raising his OPS to 1.002 (a 47 point jump) over the same span.

And how about the newbie? I had the pleasure of watching Josh Reddick play in Portland. He is Boston's top outfield prospect in their farm system and he's shown why that is over the past couple of games. He plays great defense and he can swing the stick. His solo shot in third is a testament to the fact that he has some pop. I would rather see him in right than J.D. Drew. He's another kid with a bright future in Boston.

The same cannot be said for Clay Buchholz, in my opinion. The fact that he couldn't go five innings after being staked to a 14-6 lead says more about where he is as a pitcher than anything else. He has all the tools to be a great pitcher; anyone who has seen Clay pitch over the past two years knows that. But he is as mentally soft as any pitcher I have seen take the mound in Boston since John Wasdin.

Buchholz made a huge stink about getting to the majors, about how he didn't deserve to be kept down in the Bucket. Now he gets his chance and wilts like a hothouse flower. He rolls his eyes when a fielder doesn't make a play. He hangs his head when a batter gets a big hit. He allows the mistakes of previous at-bats to affect how he pitches to the current batter. And now he's keeping everything up in the strike zone. Did anyone see that awesome curve of his on display yesterday? I sure didn't.

And the problem here is two-fold. Not only does Clay's ineffectiveness mean that Boston only has two effective starters right now (until Wakefield returns), but it also damages his trade value. I know we heard that Clay was included in multiple trade scenarios. But not being able to move him could end up being a big mistake. Every outing like this chips away at the image the Sox had crafted for Clay; that of the "sure thing". When the season opened, everyone in the majors considered Buchholz the Holy Grail of the Boston system. After yesterday's debacle, how many opposing GMs and scouts feel the same way? And if his next outing is the same, how many more will decide that Clay is the ultimate AAAA pitcher?

But let's focus on the good things right now. Like being only a half-game back of the Yanks and Takashi Saito sucking it up and pitching two awesome innings yesterday to try and spare the rest of the pen. And on the fact that the Boston batting order has become a lot more dangerous in the past 72 hours. The real test comes over the next week as Boston travels to both Tampa and New York. It's the AL East Rumble. Let's hope Boston is prepared for it.

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