Monday, June 8, 2015

Sox Sweep, Starting to Hit

Hanley Ramirez has helped lead the charge for Boston (NESN)
The Red Sox earned their first sweep of the season yesterday, coming from behind to beat the Oakland A's 7-4 at Fenway Park.

Things were looking pretty bleak for Boston as "Sweet Caroline" faded from the stadium loudspeakers, for the Sox entered the bottom half of the eighth facing a 4-0 deficit. Their chances of winning at that point stood at a slim four percent. By inning's end, however, it was a whopping 97 percent. In the span of three outs the odds had completely flipped with Boston exploding for seven runs and eight hits against five different A's pitchers. When Tommy Layne preserved the lead to secure his first save since 2012, the Red Sox clinched just their second win of the season in a game where they trailed after seven innings.

The meltdown by the A's bullpen wasted a phenomenal start from the rookie Kendall Graveman, who blanked Boston through the first seven innings before Rusney Castillo finally touched him for a home run to lead off the bottom of the eighth. Bob Melvin promptly yanked Graveman, who exceeded 100 pitches during Castillo's at-bat, only to watch Oakland's seeming comfortable lead evaporate. When the dust settled at the end of the inning, Boston had gone from being down four to being up three, snatching victory out of the jaws of defeat and reminding everyone that no lead is ever truly safe at Fenway.

The big inning continued a recent resurgence for the Red Sox at the plate. After averaging a pitiful 2.83 runs per game during May, Sox hitters have appeared to turn the corner as of late. In the admittedly small sample size of seven June games, Boston's batted .300 and increased its average scoring output by nearly one run. It's no coincidence that this uptick in offense, combined with steadier pitching, helped the Sox go 5-2 last week.

In particular, the middle of the order has really stepped it up. Hanley Ramirez has rediscovered his early season power stroke with three home runs and nine RBI over his past 11 games. Mike Napoli's caught fire after a brutal start, slugging six home runs and compiling a 1.024 OPS since May 18th. Blake Swihart's also been better since struggling after his initial call up, notching hits in 9 of his last 11 games including his first career home run.

Dustin Pedroia and Xander Bogaerts aren't the only ones hitting anymore, but Boston's offense still isn't firing on all cylinders. David Ortiz and Pablo Sandoval are slumping badly, and Mookie Betts has underperformed the massive expectations he created with his monster spring training. If they can get going soon too, then the Red Sox will go on their first real sustained run of excellence of the year. If they hit like they're capable of hitting, then Boston will look like the first place team everyone thought they'd be coming into the season.

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