Looking Up

MLB: MAY 14 Red Sox at AngelsWhen the Toronto Blue Jays came to town with a 3.5 game lead over the Boston Red Sox, it would be fair to characterize the first meeting of the two teams this season as surprisingly critical. One team was going to make a statement and thus far, it has been the Red Sox speaking the loudest.

In light of David Ortiz' home run last night, I thought it was a good opportunity to look at the collection of things working in the Red Sox favor since returning East and get a pulse from "all you FireBrandamaniacs" out there.

MLB: MAY 14 Red Sox at AngelsWhen the Toronto Blue Jays came to town with a 3.5 game lead over the Boston Red Sox, it would be fair to characterize the first meeting of the two teams this season as surprisingly critical.  One team was going to make a statement and thus far, it has been the Red Sox speaking the loudest.

In light of David Ortiz’ home run last night, I thought it was a good opportunity to look at the collection of things working in the Red Sox favor since returning East and get a pulse from “all you FireBrandamaniacs” out there.
* I started with the term FireBranders, but had a sudden moment of Hulk Hogan-ness most likely spurned on by Cyndi Lauper’s appearance on the American Idol finale last night.  She may have been the tipping point that pushed early WWF into the mainstream with Rock-n-Wrestling. But I digress.
Of the following, which of these recent items is most encouraging moving forward;
1. David Ortiz’ first home run of the season:  The home run was a moment in time that seemed to linger similar to that which you would expect out of a milestone moment (i.e. 500th career home run, etc).  Even though it wasn’t the traditional Papi-shot over the bullpen in right, it was encouraging to see him go opposite field/straight away with power that has been lacking so far this season.  More encouraging perhaps was the first swing of his next at bat.  While completely fooled by a change up, Papi was, for the first time in a long time, aggressive at the plate.  The swing looked more like the vintage Papi swing we had come to expect.  
It will be interesting to see if this translates to future success and the termination of the slump in much the same way his grand slam against Texas did early last season.  Ortiz had started the season hitting a paltry .111 with an OPS of .381 and only one home run over his first 16 games in 2008.  Even battling the injuries that plagued him last season, Ortiz would ride the season home from there going .292/.964/22 HR/85 RBI from there including a 38 game stretch leading up to his injury in Baltimore where he put up Papi-like numbers (.313/1.034/12 HR).  
2. Jonathan Papelbon’s clean save in game 1: Jonathan Papelbon has been effective, and by most standards of closers excellent.  But when measured against his past, he hasn’t been  up to his own standards.  His control has been a little off and he’s worked with more runners on than he has been used to as a result.
In the first game of the series, Papelbon looked like the Papelbon of old.  Note the first pitch strikes below and the ability pound the zone early in the count with a 94+ MPH fastball.  Working ahead of counts with his fastball is when Papelbon is most effective and able to mix in his slider and split to generate swings and misses out of the zone without running the count too far out of his favor.

Here’s the inning log for that appearance:

Adam Lind Strike (swinging), Strike (looking), Strike (swinging), A Lind struck out swinging
Scott Rolen Strike (looking), Strike (foul), S Rolen grounded out to second
Lyle Overbay Strike (looking), Ball, Strike (foul), Ball, Ball, L Overbay grounded out to first

3. Kevin Youkilis returns to the lineup with 3 hits: The offense certainly didn’t struggle too badly in his absence.  But seeing Youk return to the center of the lineup and push his average right back over the .400 mark inspires confidence in the offense’s ability to keep trucking moving forward.
4. The impending return of Daisuke Matsuzaka to the rotation and Justin Masterson to the bullpen: Whether Daisuke can do better than Justin Masterson has done in his stead is still a question mark.  But with Masterson’s struggles in the middle innings as he runs through a lineup the second and third times, it would be easy to surmise that the net effect of these dominoes will be positive.
5. Brad Penny and Tim Wakefield stepping up from the back of the rotation: With Jon Lester and Josh Beckett still finding either themselves, or a little good luck along the way, Penny and Wake’s back to back performances can’t be understated in their importance to this team at a critical juncture.
All in all, the first two games of this homestand have been exactly what Red Sox fans would have dialed up if they had a menu of outcomes to choose from.  Which of these positive steps do you think has the most lasting impact on the club’s success moving forward?

Categories: Brad Penny Daisuke Matsuzaka David Ortiz Kevin Youkilis Tim Wakefield

2 Responses to “Looking Up” Subscribe

  1. Ted May 21, 2009 at 7:38 AM #

    No question for me, Wake and Penny's performances have been the key. The Sox are a team that lives or dies by the big inning, for or against. When a starter can put up enough zeros through 6 innings to get to what is shaping up to be easily the best bullpen in the game, the offense will score enough to win most nights. This team is very well balanced offensively and defensively, and had Beckett and Lester gotten off to better starts, this team would have a nice cushion in the best division in baseball.

  2. Gerry May 21, 2009 at 7:51 PM #

    Almost fully agree with you, and your logic extends to tonight's 5 – 1 win, the sweep won by another 6IP shutout.
    But as much as the invincible Pen, it was great defense and timely hitting made those three wins possible; and will continue to carry the team just as they did through the opening blahs of Beckett, Lester, Penny, Matsuzaka . . . who are each hitting their stride.
    So, IMO Papi's HR & 2b last night and single and robbed of a single tonight; plus Ellsbury's streak and increasing OBP and R; Youk's return and the energy and confidence he brings to the team; Tek's resurgence as an offensive force; the heroics of J.Bay on offense and defense; and the conundrum for opposing teams that behind Paps lurk the remarkable RRami & Saito, a rejuvenated Oki & MDC, and because of Daisuke's return, a very experienced Masterson; plus two prize rookies (Bard and Jones), and J. Lopez in rebuild mode. This team is coming together now, in all its parts.
    Sorry to be so long. My point is, this is such a balanced team, the enhancement of each and every element is inter-related and synergistic. Wake, Penny & Lester without J.Bay, Tek & Paps just aren't enough. Put 'em all together, which happened this week, and they are the best in the game.