But this weekend’s massacre, in which the Red Sox won three of four games and scored 37 runs against the Yankees, was payback for past wounds. The Red Sox had two dramatic come-from-behind victories, and Mariano Rivera blew two saves. The series was filled with drama, and no lead was safe. It felt awfully like the epic battles these teams had in 2003 or 2004, which is fitting, because this Red Sox team has elicited comparisons to that group on more than one occasion.
Best Offense In Baseball
The Red Sox lead all of baseball in runs scored through 145 games. This offense is legitimate, and anybody who doubts that hasn’t been paying attention.
They may struggle to hit good pitching at times, but so do most teams. That’s why it’s called … wait for it … good pitching.
The key to beating an elite starting pitcher is to knock him out of the game early, and get to the soft underbelly that is most club’s middle relief core (the Yankees bullpen had a 10.19 ERA this weekend).
Though the Red Sox only scored twice off of Hiroki Kuroda yesterday, for example, they forced him to throw 117 pitches in six innings and knocked him out of the game.
Many like to point to the improved character of this Red Sox team as the main explanation for its multitude of come-from-behind wins. But the real reason why no lead is safe against the Red Sox is because nobody in the lineup gives away at-bats.
The Red Sox had a lowly .315 on-base percentage in 2012, and there were easy outs littered throughout the lineup. John Henry and Larry Lucchino pledged a renewed emphasis on acquiring players with on-base skills last offseason, and it has paid huge dividends thus far.
Shane Victorino And Mike Napoli Had Big Weekends
Victorino and Napoli, two players who were perceived to have been signed last winter as stopgaps to help bridge towards “the next great Red Sox team,” have become key cogs in, well … the next great Red Sox team.
The legend of Victorino continued to grow in New York, as he delivered the game-winning hit on Thursday night and two home runs as well. Victorino is now slugging .563 as a right-handed batter against right-handed pitching, which leads one to wonder if he’ll ever bat regularly from the left side of the plate again.
When asked last month about why he’s hitting right-handed against right-handed pitchers, Victorino said, “Don’t ask me about hitting right-handed.” Okay.
But regardless of the reason why Victorino changed his approach, the results have been spectacular. According to the baseball analytical website fangraphs, Victorino has been the most productive hitter in baseball over the past 30 days:
Napoli has been one of the more productive hitters in baseball thus far in September, as he’s hitting .474 with four home runs in his first 21 at-bats of the month. He blooped the two-out, two-strike single to centerfield that started the game tying rally on Thursday night, and smashed the game tying grand slam on Friday evening.
There are few hitters more streaky than Napoli, and the Red Sox hope this is the start of a prolonged hot streak that will last deep into October. Napoli’s torrid streaks have carried the Red Sox at times this season, and one can make the case he’s been a more productive hitter this year than his $154 million predecessor, Adrian Gonzalez:
Napoli 2013: 21 HR, 85 RBI, .830 OPS
Gonzalez 2013: 19 HR, 87 RBI, .790 OPS
Red Sox Need Jacoby Ellsbury To Compete For A Championship
Ellsbury, much like Victorino and Napoli, has been a major part of the Red Sox’ success this season. Which is why the news of the compression fracture in his right foot is all the more disconcerting.
John Farrell is optimistic Ellsbury will return this season, which is a necessity if the Red Sox are going to compete for a World Series title.
Ellsbury originally suffered the foot injury when he fouled a ball off his foot against the Orioles two weeks ago, and re aggravated it when he stole second base prior to scoring on Victorino’s game-winning single in the 10th inning of Thursday’s game.
The sequence in which Ellsbury re aggravated the injury demonstrates the value he has to the Red Sox at the top of the lineup. At his best, Ellsbury is a dynamic force and one of the best leadoff men in the game. He leads the American League with 52 stolen bases, and has only been caught four times (not quite as good as Quintin Berry, who has never been caught stealing in his big league career, but not too shabby). Ellsbury has scored 89 runs, has a .355 OBP and 47 extra base hits.
Ellsbury is an above average player who is having an above average season. He has had the misfortune of being labeled as “injury prone” because 220 pounds of Adrian Beltre crashed into him in 2010 and Reid Brignac slammed into his shoulder in 2012.
Whether or not the Red Sox should invest in Ellsbury after the season is a fair debate. But there is no debating the fact that the Red Sox need Ellsbury at the top of the lineup if they are to go where they want to go this postseason.
Middle Relief Still Needs Work
Koji Uehara has tossed 27 consecutive scoreless innings, and hasn’t allowed an earned run since July 2. He is the best closer in the game right now, and should be used liberally in October. He’s on a historically good run, and Farrell should lean on him just as Terry Francona leaned on Keith Foulke in 2004.
But the bridge to Uehara remains shaky, as the Red Sox bullpen struggled to put games away this weekend. The Yankees scored at least eight runs in three consecutive games, many of which came in the latter innings.
With a comfortable seven and a half game lead in the division, Farrell must be willing to experiment in the seventh and eighth innings, and find reliable arms besides Craig Breslow and Junichi Tazawa.
Brandon Workman would seem to be at the top of the list, as Farrell has shown a proclivity to summon him out of the bullpen in high-leverage situations. Then again, Farrell also had Workman pitch in a 16-run blowout last Wednesday, which led to his unavailability for Thursday night’s affair.
With the volatility of relief pitchers, the Red Sox made the right decision to not surrender elite prospects for a Francisco Rodriguez or Jose Veras type at the trade deadline. But because they’ve made a commitment to solving their bullpen problems from within, they have to see what they have. Expect Franklin Morales, Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa to receive more high-leverage opportunities over the final three weeks of the season. The only way to find out if they can get outs is if they’re given the opportunity to do so.
Derek Jeter’s Career Is Over
Though the Yankees lost three of four games to the Red Sox, they still remain on the periphery of the AL playoff picture (the Rays lost seven of 10 games on the west coast last week).
But it seems likely the Yankees will finish this playoff push without captain Derek Jeter, who is out indefinitely after he reinjured his ankle in Saturday’s game.
Jeter is hitting .190 in 63 at-bats this season, and looked like the worst player on the field at times this weekend.
It always seemed as if Jeter would end his illustrious career on his own terms. But this ankle injury has seemingly zapped the last of his offensive abilities. Alex Rodriguez, if his 211 game suspension is reduced, may outlast Jeter in pinstripes. Who knew?
Photos via AP