The Boston Red Sox fared pretty well in their last two series. After one game against the Minnesota Twins, the Sox find themselves in first place in the AL East. They have a one game lead on the rival Yankees, and 1½ game lead on the Toronto Blue Jays, whom they swept in a three game series at Fenway. The Sox are fortunate that they will miss Roy Halladay in both series against the Jays. Following the Jays, the Sox welcomed the other team from New York, the Mets. They lost the series after Jonathan Papelbon blew his fist save of the season. The Rays are still below .500, and sit a solid five games out.
David Ortiz finally hit his first home run, but it didn’t save him from sliding down in the lineup. On probably the best team in the league, someone batting .195 shouldn’t be in the lineup, especially not third. Not only is he hitting under .200 with one home run, but his only job is to hit. Don’t get me wrong, I love Big Papi, but he is bringing the team down, and moving him down was the right decision. I am a little disappointed that J.D. Drew was the one moved up to third, though. I would have liked to see Jason Bay moved up to that third spot, allowing the first four hitters in the lineup to be batting over .300. If that isn’t going to produce runs then I don’t know what will. I know Francona loves his lefty right alternation throughout the order, but when you can bat four guys that hit like they do in a row, then you need to do so. I also would like to see Ortiz be put at first base for a few games, if he continues to struggle at the plate. It will take his mind off hitting and hopefully get him into a groove.
Kevin Youkilis is back from his injury, and started right were he left off. I would like to see the lineup be Ellsbury, Pedroia, Youkilis, and then Bay. Jason Bay has knocked in 47 runs with thirteen home runs. Ellsbury is riding a 21-game hitting streak and can keep it going with his speed. Pedroia and Youkilis get on-base over 40% of the time. Those four guys are just destined to score many runs, and the rest of the lineup isn’t bad, either. The next three would be Drew, Lowell and then Ortiz. They also can produce runs, especially if the top four have got some guys on for them. Don’t forget Jason Varitek, who has surprisingly hit eight home runs this year. The Sox are most likely going to make the playoffs, and this is the time to try out lineups that might improve your team.
People are starting to get a little worried about Jonathan Papelbon. He has given up a two run homerun in each of his last two appearances. It isn’t good, but don’t all of a sudden start throwing the guy under the bus. He has produced for the Red Sox over the past few seasons, and two outings aren’t the end of the world. The only thing I am worried about is his fastball. Yes he throws it at 95-96mph, but that’s all he has been throwing. If you are a fastball hitter, and a good one, you can hit off of him. If you know what he is going to throw every time, it makes it a lot easier to get hits. He has a splitter but has been scared to throw it this year, forcing him to resort to fastball after fastball. He will still be a very good closer if he doesn’t throw a splitter, but he won’t be the guy he was last year, and the guy he can be.
The Sox added John Smoltz to the roster over the offseason, but he has been on the DL sine then. He is on schedule to return to the team on June 19th, forcing a good problem for Terry Francona. The Sox already have six starting pitchers, if you include Justin Masterson, who has moved back to the bullpen with the return of Dice-K. When Smoltz is back, the Sox will have six very good starting pitchers, and are going to be forced to move one of them to the bullpen. Coming into the season, I figured it would be Tim Wakefield, but after he has pitched like an ace, it will probably come down to Brad Penny or Smoltz. Penny has been pitching better, and has already been starting for the Sox, so he probably has the edge as of now. I am sure the Sox will face more injuries to starting pitchers, but when all six are healthy, they will be forced to move someone to the bullpen.
The Sox are in a four-game series with the Minnesota Twins, and will stay on the road to face the Toronto Blue Jays, who seem to be coming back to Earth. I will admit they are much better than I had suspected, and I think they will stay in the hunt for awhile. If the Blue Jays can win the series with the Sox, they might find themselves back on top of the division again.