Saturday, June 27, 2009

Marching Through Atlanta

It's gotten to the point where a Josh Beckett start is all but a guaranteed win. As long as the Boston bats keep up their end of the deal, Beckett will put the team in a position to come out on top.

That has definitely been the case against Atlanta this year. In an odd scheduling quirk, Beckett has had two straight starts against the Braves. That has also meant that he has faced the same pitcher - Jair Jurrjens - two times in a row. I don't think Jurrjens has enjoyed the experience as much as Beckett.

Last night Beckett went seven shutout innings and gave up just six hits. He struck out six and walked none. For the second straight game, he utterly dominated the Braves. His combined line from the two games:

2-0 | 16.0 IP | 11 H | 0 ER | 0 R | 0 BB | 13 K

Over the last six times he has faced the Braves, Beckett is 6-0 with a 0.38 ERA. Domination, pure and simple. Owning a team like that makes it easier for the Sox to win. All it takes is a timely hit or two to get the decision.

The first one came in the fifth inning when Jurrjens hung a pitch over the plate to Ortiz, which he then deposited in the right-field stands for his seventh home run in the month of June. For the month Papi is batting .311 with a 1.091 OPS.

The second hit wasn't even a hit, just smart baseball. Pedroia got on second with a double, moved to third on a balk and then J.D. Drew got him home with a well-placed grounder to second. It was small ball at it's best, showing that the AL can play it as well as the boys on the Senior Circuit.

And thank God for it because the Sox were actually outhit 8-7 by Atlanta. But Boston made their chances count and the Braves couldn't get it done. They left nine men on base as opposed to just three left on base for the Sox.

And let us not ignore the milestone that Tito reached last night. With the 4-1 win Terry Francona now has 800 wins as a manager overall, 515 with the Sox. Only Pinky Higgins (560) and Joe Cronin (1071) have won more games managing the Sox. Pinky should fall at the end of this year. Cronin will take a little longer, but considering how well Tito has managed the Sox, he should have every chance of sticking around to see if he can beat it. Overall, Tito's 800 wins place him 69th all-time in MLB history.

Going off-topic...Thursday's debut for Smoltz was not exactly what everyone was hoping for. But it seems the overall opinion is chalking it up to "nerves". I guess that's possible; Smoltz did settle down after that first inning and showed pretty good control. But his fastball only tickled the low 90s and looked pretty hittable. Any success he has going forward will be using his off-speed stuff to set up that fastball. Kind of like how Wakefield will occasionally slip that high-80s fastball in and catch a batter flat-footed.

Boston has really good luck against Atlanta, going 13-6 against the Braves since 2004 and 3-1 so far in 2009. Hopefully that trend continues today as Wakefield takes the mound against Javier Vasquez. If that name sounds familiar, Sox fans, it's because Boston teed off against him regularly in 2004 when he played with the Yankees and 2006-08 when he played with the White Sox. Vasquez simply doesn't play Boston very well.

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