When 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:
||Strike (swinging), Strike (looking), Strike (swinging), A Lind struck out swinging
||Strike (looking), Strike (foul), S Rolen grounded out to second
||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