Finally. Finally we got a series from the Red Sox we can be proud of. Finally we got two consecutive good starts from our starting pitchers. And not just good starts: great starts. Clay Buchholz pitched eight innings of two-run ball and Jon Lester pitched nine. Finally we are starting to see what management told us all season long: this team can be great.
And yet there were things I saw tonight that concerned me despite it all. Angel Sanchez may provide us with a right-handed bat off the bench that’s a little more spry than Mike Lowell, but he is no more the answer at shortstop than Marco Scutaro is. He made some of the plays tonight, including turning two nifty double plays, but he didn’t make all of them. His range is better than Scutaro’s, but only just. He also went 0-3. He gets some leeway, this being his first game in the majors this season and all, but we have to wonder if he is really the answer to the Sox’s problems. Now, he might still provide a better pinch-hitting option than Mike Lowell, who went 0-4 tonight and has an even shorter range of motion than Scutaro, Beltre or Sanchez. But on a team with as weak a bench as Boston’s, you have to wonder what exactly management’s thinking was when they called this guy up. Hopefully Scutaro’s “tennis elbow” injury heals up, because I don’t think Sanchez can be relied upon to contribute to this team offensively. Defense can only take you so far, and besides, his defense isn’t amazing, just good.
Thankfully, tonight we didn’t have to see Boston’s bullpen struggle through the later innings of play. Last night, we watched Daniel Bard just barely get by. With Lester’s complete game tonight and Buchholz’s solid performance last night, the bullpen is now nice and rested. They will be out of excuses if they blow any leads in the upcoming series with Philadelphia. The bullpen has by far been the weakest component of the Red Sox this year (second place: the combination of third base and shortstop), and this series did nothing to convince me that it has turned a corner. However, more consistent pitching performances like the ones we’ve gotten these last two games will go a long way towards minimizing our reliance on the bullpen, which will only lead to good things for the Red Sox.
During this series the Sox proved they can play with the better teams (the Twins are the AL Central division leaders). This is good, because they are about to go on a road trip where they will face some of the best teams in either league. Philadelphia is leading the NL East right now, and Tampa Bay has far and away the best record in baseball (they are the only team in either league with 30 wins already). The Sox will need to continue to do what we saw them do so well during this Minnesota series. They will need more quality starts from their pitchers and a solid combination of power and basic hitting on offense. But at least tonight we saw the heights this team is capable of reaching when they put it all together, and we’ve seen that, should they play enough games like this, they might be good enough to get to the playoffs and do so some damage come October. Finally.