Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Charmed City

Have you ever watched one of those National Geographic specials set in India where they have the snake charmers? You know, the guys who play that flute-like instrument and get the cobra to do whatever they want? Well, when it comes to Jon Lester and the Orioles, Lester calls the tune and the O's just do whatever the heck he wants.

Last night Jon Lester continued his complete and total dominance over the Orioles. He went seven innings and surrendered just five hits while striking out eight and walking none. That, more than anything, powered the Sox to their 4-0 win over Baltimore. It was Boston's eighth straight win over the O's going back to last year.

It was also Lester's eighth win over the Orioles in his career. In 10 starts against Baltimore, Lester is 8-0 with a 2.18 ERA. And last night you saw why Lester enjoys a record like that. He had command of every pitch in his arsenal. His curveball was incredible; sweeping down-and-in on righties. According to ESPN, his curve had an average break of 7.7 inches, the best in his career. Lester didn't allow a single runner past second base* and he got six of the seven lead batters he faced out.

Lester has got his groove back in a big way. His eight strikeouts last night gives him 114 on the year, only ten behind AL leader Justin Verlander. In his last three games he has walked just two batters. His record for June so far is 3-1 with a 1.85 ERA. If he continues this through the break and into the second half of the season, his early troubles will be forgotten.

The bullpen looked good as well. Delcarmen, Oki and Ramirez got the Sox to the last out of the ninth. Ramon just couldn't get that last out, though, so Paps came on for the close. And while that last out involved some acrobatics from Jason Bay with an impressive sliding catch, the end result was that Paps got his 19th save of the year and 132nd save of his career.

If that number sounds familiar, that is because it is the same number of saves Bob Stanley had for the Sox. Now Papelbon is tied with Stanley for the all-time team saves record. Obviously, Paps will break it very soon, perhaps even tonight. So congrats to Jonathan for tying the record and inevitably breaking it. One more thing; check out Papelbon's early numbers as compared to Mariano Rivera's. Not all that different. Over their first three full seasons as closers, Papelbon had 113 saves and Mo had 124. Mo's lowest ERA was 1.83 in 1999 while Paps' was 0.92 in 2006. And it goes back and forth like that.

On the offensive side of things, the Sox got it going thanks to, of all people, J.D. Drew. He came this close to hitting for the cycle, missing only a double. His leadoff triple in the first, followed by Pedroia knocking him in, was all the Sox needed for the win. But Drew's two-run homer in the fourth didn't hurt, either. Ellsbury went 1-3 with a run scored and two stolen bases, giving him 33 for the year. I think 2009 is the year Ellsbury will break Tommy Harper's single-season Boston record of 54 steals, which he set in 1972. Ellsbury is way ahead of his pace from last year and I don't think he's going to slow down. Another 50+ steal season and he'll be the only Boston player in history to have 50 or more steals in two or more seasons. He'd also be the first Boston player to register 50+ steals in consecutive seasons.

If there's one thing I am worried about, it is Youk's slump. For the month of June he is batting just .225 with a .799 OPS. His production has really tailed off and it may be time to move him in the lineup. Maybe swap him and Bay so Youk bats cleanup? Couldn't hurt any and it seems like every time Tito joggles the lineup, good things happen.

Tonight the Sox try to make it nine in a row over Baltimore. Smoltz will try to build off of those last couple of good innings from his 2009 debut and face Rich Hill, who is 3-2 with a 6.03 ERA. In his last game against Florida he was smoked, giving up six runs in less than five innings.


* And neither did any of the relief pitchers. It was a tour de force last night.

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