|Ross sparked Boston to a win on Monday by slugging a pair of home runs|
After a demoralizing weekend series with the Yankees at Fenway sent the 4-10 Red Sox plummeting to "rock bottom," the beleaguered Bostonians were fortunate to cross paths with the lowly Minnesota Twins, a team that lost 99 games last year and hasn't gotten much better (5-11 entering the series). It was a much needed breather in the schedule for the Sox, who had been pitted against the Tigers, Blue Jays, Rays, Rangers and Yanks in a brutal stretch to open the season. The odds were in Boston's favor, as they had their top three starters lined up for the series, but the they way they'd been playing lately you couldn't take anything for granted. The team seemed to be at a crossroads; they would continue to sputter or they'd get back up and dust themselves off. Sure enough, after a hard-fought bout with the pesky Twins, the Red Sox emerged with three consecutive victories that, God willing, puts their early season woes in the rearview mirror. Even if the sweep didn't help much in the standings, where they are still last place in the AL Beast, it has to be a confidence booster, right?
The Red Sox, despite winning the trio of games, did not dominate the series; they took a pair of one-run wins (games they just as easily could have lost) sandwiched around a classic Boston blowout, an 11-2 pounding in which the Sox rapped out 18 hits and put the game out of reach early. The fireworks display overshadowed another solid start from Josh Beckett, who limited the Twins to just two runs in six innings while tossing 65 of his 100 pitches for strikes. The night before, Cody Ross, the one-man comeback, single-handedly dug Boston out of a 5-3 hole after another subpar outing from Jon Lester by blasting a two-run homer in the seventh and a go-ahead solo shot in the ninth off a stunned Matt Capps. Daniel Bard, who made his first appearance out of the bullpen this season, vultured the win and Alfredo Aceves recovered from a shell-shocked performance in Satuday's nightmare to earn the save.
Even last night, as the defending champion Boston Bruins were eliminated from the playoffs by the Washington Capitals in overtime of Game 7, the Olde Towne Team held on to win after nearly coughing up a 7-1 lead. The Sox scored early and often, giving Clay Buchholz a nice cushion as he cruised through five innings of one run ball. But then Minnesota put a five spot on the board as they batted around in the sixth, knocking Buchholz out of the game and inducing three pitching changes from Bobby Valentine. After trimming Boston's once sizable lead to just a run, they were poised to erase the deficit with bases loaded and only one out when Matt Albers extinguished the five alarm fire by getting Sean Burroughs to bounce into an inning ending double play. The Twins bullpen stifled Boston's bats, and it looked like Minnesota would enjoy a walk-off win when Alfredo Aceves loaded the bases with two outs in the ninth. Thankfully, Aceves buckled down and clinched the sweep by punching out Denard Span to end the game.
The series was a microcosm of Boston's season thus far. The offense, sans Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford, can still score runs in bunches and rake with the best of them. Mike Aviles, Ross, and Ryan Sweeney have all performed better than anyone could have expected, and David Ortiz is hitting like it's 2004 again. However, the starting pitching is hit or miss and the bullpen remains shaky. Aceves has thrived in low leverage situations and is not a reliable closer, so you have to wonder if Bard will ever get an opportunity to fill the ninth-inning void left by Jonathan Papelbon while Andrew Bailey remains sidelined. In this division every game counts (as we saw last year), and you can't afford to blow ninth inning leads because you've got the wrong guy on the mound at the end of a close game.
Tonight the Sox begin a four game series with the Chicago White Sox, who lead the AL Central with their 10-8 record. David will take their cuts against Phillip Humber, who hurled a perfect game against the punchless Seattle Mariners in his last start. Boston will counter with their southpaw, Felix Doubront, whose excellent start against New York on Saturday was wiped out by the 'pen's pathetic showing. Hopefully he can start the series off on the right foot by shutting down Paul Konerko, Adam Dunn and co.
I'd settle for a split here in a Sox vs. Sox matchup. The White Sox are no pushovers, and their starting pitching looks much better this year with a resurrected Jake Peavy and converted reliever Chris Sale giving the rotation some much needed firepower. This is a much better team than last year, and they have some big bats in that lineup.