Ask anyone – teammate, coach, manager, reporter – and he’ll tell you the same thing: Nick Punto is still finding his swing.
Punto found his swing Saturday at Toronto’s Rogers Centre, going 3-for-4 and falling a triple short of the cycle while driving in two and scoring two runs. The Red Sox beat the Blue Jays, 7-4, moving into sole possession of fourth place in the AL East.
Punto’s first hit came in a second-inning sequence of four consecutive Red Sox hits, beginning with a Ryan Sweeney single, off Blue Jays starter Kyle Drabek. After Will Middlebrooks drove in Jarrod Saltalamacchia and moved Sweeney to third with a single to right, Punto doubled to score Sweeney and make it 2-0 Red Sox.
With Middlebrooks and Punto on second and third, Daniel Nava then hit a line drive at Colby Rasmus in center field. The ball hit Rasmus in the glove and fell to the turf, and both Middlebrooks and Punto scored, putting the Red Sox up 4-0.
The play could’ve easily been ruled an error, but instead it was a called a two-RBI single.
Punto also singled in the top of the seventh but advanced no farther than second base, then homered in the ninth to make it 7-4 Boston. Facing reliever Carlos Villanueva, Punto crushed a 2-0 fastball into the second deck overlooking right field for his first home run of the season.
In a typical start by Philadelphia ace Cliff Lee, teams that manage two runs count themselves lucky. The Boston Red Sox scored five against the dominating lefty Sunday afternoon, and they didn’t waste them.
Mike Aviles and Jarrod Saltalamacchia both homered for the second straight day, and Josh Beckett held the Phillies to one run over 7.2 innings, giving the Red Sox a 5-1 rubber-match road victory over the Phillies Sunday afternoon.
Boston has now won eight of its last 10 games. They haven’t lost a series in three weeks.
Red Sox Go Score Early
Aviles led off his second game in a row with a home run, depositing a 1-1 off-speed pitch into the left field bleachers. He added an RBI single in the top of the second, driving in Marlon Byrd with a grounder between third and shortstop. Aviles finished the game 2-for-5, one of just two Red Sox to finish with two hits.
The Red Sox got to Lee again in the third, with Adrian Gonzalez (2-for-4) singling and Will Middlebrooks doubling with one out. That set the stage for Saltalamacchia, who crushed a 2-0 change-up from Lee into the standing area behind the center field seats for a 5-0 Red Sox lead. At this rate, perhaps Saltalamacchia should intentionallyget stitches in his ear before every game.
Lee settled down after Saltalamacchia’s home run, retiring the next 11 Red Sox. Despite several long innings early, three 1-2-3 middle innings allowed Lee to pitch a full seven on a season-high 112 pitches. He gave up nine hits and a walk, suffered his second loss of the season and saw his ERA rise from 1.95 to 2.66.
Lee also struck out six, including the side in the first. His curveball proved especially difficult for Red Sox hitters, dropping out of the strike zone at the last possible moment.
Cody Ross must be quite the social animal. Through his first four home runs this season, at least one teammate had always been on base, waiting at the plate to celebrate with him.
But sometimes, even Ross has to go it alone.
Ross homered twice – one two-run, one solo – tying and then giving the Boston Red Sox a 6-5 win over the Minnesota Twins Monday at Target Field. Daniel Bard picked up his first win in relief, and Alfredo Aceves recorded his third save.
Ross’ Homers Huge in Victory
The Red Sox entered the seventh inning down 5-3, still facing Twins starter Jason Marquis. Marquis had already thrown over 100 pitches when Jarrod Saltalamacchia – whose two-run golf shot in the second put the Red Sox up 3-0 – singled with one out, but Twins manager Ron Gardenhire opted to stick with him.
Ross made Gardenhire pay for his error just one pitch later, crushing a shot to left field to tie the game 5-5.
The tie held up until the top of the ninth, when Gardenhire went with closer Matt Capps. Ross came up with two down in the ninth, fouled one off, then deposited a knee-high pitch just over the right field wall for the 6-5 lead.
Some definite patterns are emerging with the 2012 Boston Red Sox. What has and hasn’t worked so far could easily continue through the entire season. So after five games, here are 10 predictions for the upcoming season.
1) The starting pitching will combine for 60 wins or fewer. So far, no starting pitcher has recorded a win, and none have even left in position for a win. While Jon Lester will probably finish the season with decent numbers, no other starter inspires any sort of confidence. Whether it’s Josh Beckett‘s attitude, Clay Buchholz‘s health or Daniel Bard‘s inexperience starting, the Red Sox will probably be winning a lot of games in the last couple of innings.
Speaking of which…
2) The Red Sox will record at least 15 late-game-comeback victories. In four of their first five games, the Red Sox have combined for 10 runs in the ninth inning and later. This team’s experienced, big-moment hitters never cower before opposing setup men and closers, and that should mean lots of late-game heroics.
Which is good, because…
3) The bullpen will finish with an ERA over 4.50. This bullpen is terrrrrrrible! Alfredo Aceves rocked a perfect ninth Monday, but the day before he gave up a three-run home run. And he’s supposedly their best!
Opening Day may be Thursday, but first the Boston Red Sox had to wrap up their final week of Spring Training. And while Boston won its final two games, finishing Spring Training with a respectable 16-11-4 record, thumb injuries to Josh Beckett and Andrew Bailey overshadowed the victories.
Beckett may yet make his first start, but Bailey will be out until the All-Star Break, further depleting a bullpen that looked less-than-impressive this spring.
But that’s an issue for another day. Let’s get on with the final Spring Training Update of 2012!
Red Sox 4, Nationals 2
Aaron Cook couldn’t pitch his way into the major league starting rotation, but he made a decent case to be the first man called up from Triple-A, holding Washington to just a run on two hits – one homer – and a walk with two strikeouts over five innings Monday. Cook’s final 1.88 ERA trailed only Beckett among the starters.
The Red Sox went up 4-1 in the bottom of the sixth on Jason Repko‘s RBI double – more than enough runs for their surprisingly effective relievers. Led by perfect innings from Vicente Padilla (hold) and Franklin Morales (save), the bullpen allowed just one run on three hits and no walks over the final four innings.
Opening Day is less than a week away. Who’ll be starting Thursday in Detroit became a lot clearer this week, when the Red Sox hammered out their infield and starting rotation. They optioned both Jose Iglesias (.200 BA, five RBIs in nine games) and Lars Anderson (.343 AVG, eight RBIs in 18 games) to Pawtucket Tuesday, then announced Sunday that Daniel Bard and Felix Doubront would complete their starting rotation.
Only the outfield remains unsettled, but Cody Ross will certainly be on the roster. Ross went 5-12 this week, homering four times, scoring five runs and driving in 10. He also won this week’s Spring Training Player of the Week award!
Ross played a big part in Boston’s 4-1-1 week. Who else helped out? Here’s the update from the final full week of Spring Training (delayed a day due to my NCAA championship preview).
Red Sox 6, Phillies 0
It seems Jon Lester can still dominate after all. Lester submitted the best start of the Spring, striking out 10 Philadelphia hitters while giving up just two hits and hitting a batter in seven scoreless innings. He threw six 1-2-3 innings.
Boston’s offense, meanwhile, banged out 11 hits Monday, including three home runs. Dustin Pedroia‘s first-inning home run made it 1-0, then Jarrod Saltalamacchia singled in the second and scored on a throwing error two batters later.
The Red Sox went up 5-0 in the fifth on David Ortiz‘s RBI single, followed by Ross’ third preseason home run. Non-roster infielder Mauro Gomez homered in the top of the ninth to make it 6-0.
Ladies and gentlemen, we have a new Spring Training Player of the Week! With a .571 batting average, three runs, four doubles and an RBI in four games, Mike Aviles takes over. Hopefully this award propels him to a fantastic season, finally giving the Red Sox some stability at shortstop.
The Red Sox finally had a bad week, going 1-6-1, bringing their record back to .500. Sports of Boston’s weekly Spring Training Update fills you in on the rest.
Twins 8, Red Sox 4
Jacoby Ellsbury‘s RBI single in the third Monday capped a three-run inning, and he finished with two of Boston’s nine hits.
The Red Sox led 3-2 going into the sixth, but Mark Melancon gave up a bases-loaded double to Minnesota center fielder Joe Benson, earning a blown save and the loss. Another rough outing from Scott Atchison (4.91 ERA in five appearances) made it 8-3 heading into the bottom of the ninth.
Felix Doubront started and went 4.2 innings, giving up two earned runs on eight hits, a walk and three strikeouts. Andrew Bailey allowed just a walk in a scoreless seventh.
Blue Jays 9, Red Sox 2
Daniel Bard started, giving up three runs in the second inning Tuesday but limiting Toronto to just a hit and a walk through his other four. Bard’s ability to let the second inning go suggests he has the composure to start games.
The Red Sox got two runs back in the bottom of the second on Aviles’ double and Kelly Shoppach‘s first home run of the preseason, but otherwise Blue Jays pitchers dominated, limiting the Red Sox to just five hits and a walk Tuesday.
One thing is clear a week into Spring Training: this Red Sox team can hit. In going 4-2-1 this week, the Red Sox averaged over five runs a game. Even with Jose Iglesias missing Sunday’s “B” game with a strained right groin, this crop of hitters look just as formidable as the league-leading 2011 Red Sox did.
Non-roster shortstop Pedro Ciriaco wins this week’s “Spring Training Player of the Week,” going 5-for-8. How did everyone else do? Here’s your weekly Red Sox Spring Training Update!
Red Sox 10, Twins 2
The Red Sox put Monday’s game away with a four-run second, beginning with a double by Darnell McDonald, who later scored on a single by non-roster invitee Josh Kroeger. A wild pitch moved Kroeger to second, Kelly Shoppach singled him to third, then Kroeger scored on RBI groundout. Shoppach scored on another wild pitch from Jason Marquis, and an RBI groundout by Ryan Sweeney chased Marquis and put the Red Sox up 2-0.
David Ortiz (2-3) led off the third with his first home run, and Boston scored five more in the top of the seventh to make it a 10-2 game. An RBI single by Will Middlebrooks (2-3) and an RBI ground-rule double by non-roster player Nate Spears made it 7-2, then Dan Butler‘s homer made it 10-2.
Clay Buchholz started and earned the win, pitching two scoreless innings while giving up just two walks with two strikeouts. Buchholz’s injury last year completely derailed both the pitching rotation and probably the season. A healthy Buchholz makes Boston’s top three starters as good as there is in baseball.
Red Sox 5, Orioles 4
Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia showed exactly whey they should be the Red Sox’s first two hitters Tuesday, with Ellsbury doubling to start the bottom of the first and reaching third on a single by Pedroia. Ellsbury then scored on a sacrifice fly from Ryan Lavarnway. Lavarnway added an RBI single immediately following Adrian Gonzalez‘s RBI double in the third.
Daniel Bard started, and Alfredo Aceves relived him in the third. Two players expected to play big roles on the Red Sox this season, Tuesday they combined for four no-hit innings, striking out four and giving up just one walk.
Red Sox non-roster pitcher Alex Wilson gave away the lead with four runs allowed over 1+ innings, getting lifted with none out and a man on second in the sixth. Clayton Mortensen came on, stranded the runner and threw 2 1/3 innings in which he gave up just one hit and struck out four.
With two out and Spears on second in the seventh, Ciriaco doubled to put the Red Sox up 5-4. Michael Bowden set the last five Orioles down in order for the save and a win for Mortensen.
It’s too late to undo firing Terry Francona, a rash decision born from the kind of rabid bloodlust that few fanbases besides Boston’s are capable of. But if John Henry wants to cut out the true cause of the Red Sox’s historic collapse, he needs to go one level higher and axe Theo Epstein.
Player misuse caused by bad lineups, rotation or bullpen order can certainly kill a team, and that’s the manager’s fault. But this Red Sox team had a faulty foundation, and that’s the responsibility of the general manager who built it.
The rotten core that killed this Red Sox team began five years ago, when Epstein signed J.D. Drew and Daisuke Matsuzaka for big-time bucks. Drew’s pedestrian .264 average, 16 home runs and 57.2 RBIs per season have not been worth the cost, but that’s nothing compared with Matsuzaka. The Japanese so-called superstar was a dud in Boston, failing to contribute anything meaningful from 2009 until Tommy John surgery essentially ended his Boston tenure early this season. On top of that, he became one of the most frustrating, least entertaining pitchers in recent Red Sox history. Fans hated him, and that likely translated into less revenue from him than other pitchers. This is the exact opposite of what Epstein envisioned when he signed Matsuzaka.
Were these the only two bad contracts of the Epstein Era, he keeps his job. But these were just the beginning of a downward trend of spending big money on big games that could never hack it in Boston. For example: the 2010 John Lackey signing – a desperate, panicked attempt to prove to the fans a year after losing Mark Teixeira that Epstein could still attract major talent to as tough a media market as Boston. Lackey didn’t even have a particularly good 2009 (11 wins, fewest since 2003; 3.83 ERA, highest since 2004), but it didn’t matter: Epstein took him and his histrionics anyway. The result? A winning percentage barely above .500 and an ERA over 5.00.
All good things must come to an end, including CC Sabathia‘s winless streak against the Red Sox this season and Boston’s explosive offense. Sabathia allowed just two earned runs in six innings Tuesday night at Fenway, and the Red Sox left 16 men on base, losing to the Yankees, 5-2. Boston now leads New York by just a half-game in the AL East.
Sabathia Keeps Runs Just Out of Reach
Sabathia lived on the outside corner Tuesday night. Lefty, righty, it didn’t matter: Sabathia pitched just about every batter away. While this generated a lot of base runners – 11 in six innings – it also meant few opportunities for that one big run-scoring hit. Adrian Gonzalez struggled most with this strategy, striking out swinging against Sabathia three times on breaking balls down and away. Gonzalez finished the game 0-5, the only Red Sox starter without a hit.