It's early in the season, but so far John Lackey has been worth every last one of his 80+ million dollars that's he'll receive from his new contract.
Lackey pitched a solid 6.2 innings today and helped lead the Sox to a 6-3 victory over the Twins in Minnesota Wednesday afternoon. The win gave Lackey his first victory of the year and brought the Sox back up to .500 with a 4-4 record. They're 1.5 games back of the Rays with a game in hand.
Lackey wasn't perfect today; he walked more batters (4) than he struck out (2). But he allowed just two runs on seven hits and was able to limit Minnesota's run production by getting several timely outs. In the third inning, after allowing the the Twins to tie the game at two and having runners at first and second with two outs, Lackey got Morneau to fly out. In the fourth, with runners on first and second with one out, Lackey got Hardy and Punto to fly out. The result is that Lackey is now 1-0 in two starts with a 1.42 ERA.
Lackey didn't do it alone. Okajima came on in the seventh after Lackey recorded the second out and got Morneau to pop out with the bases loaded. In the eighth, after Daniel Bard surrendered a solo shot to make the score 6-3, he escaped without further damage. And Papelbon got his third save of the year despite walking two batters in the ninth, the last out coming with runners on second and third. The game could have gone south for Boston's pitchers at more than one point. But they held firm and kept Boston in the game.
And not to slag on Paps after he got his third save, but this year is feeling a lot like last year. He has three saves but those go along with a 4.15 ERA and a WHIP of 1.38. I don't doubt that, baring an injury, Paps will get his 35+ saves. But that high WHIP will kill him in the post-season, just like it did last year.
On the batting side of things, Dustin Pedroia continued his power-hitting ways. His solo shot in the fifth put the Sox up 3-2 and was Pedroia's fourth homer of the year. Pedroia said at the beginning of the year that he was going to hit 20 homers this year. Well, we're eight games into the season and he's 20% of the way there. Like Muhammad Ali said, "It ain't bragging if you can back it up." Well, Pedey is backing it up.
Marco Scutaro went 2-5 with a run scored and an RBI. His run scored came in the first to put the Sox up 1-0. This was a nice contrast to Monday's game, where he got picked off and wasn't there to come around on Pedroia's double. Yesterday he stayed on base, Pedroia hit a double and...voila!
And in substituting for Jacoby Ellsbury, Jeremy Hermida has really stepped up for the Sox. Today he went 1-4 with a bases-clearing double in the eighth that put the Sox up 6-3 and the game out of reach from the Twins. He's hitting .357 for the season so far with a 1.186 OPS. That likely won't hold for the season but Hermida is looking like a solid signing for the Sox thus far.
The series closer is tomorrow, with Wakefield going against Francisco Liriano. I like this matchup for Boston, because Liriano is very hittable. The Sox have dominated Liriano the past few years, winning both of his starts and posting a .405 batting average against him. Liriano's ERA against Boston between 2007 and 2009 was 13.50, the worst team ERA he had for any team over that three year period. If the Sox can get the win, they'll be back over .500 for the first time since their Opening Night win.