After all the turmoil caused by a shoddy bullpen, starting pitchers not delivering quality starts, manager Bobby Valentine making questionable decisions and creating tension with his comments and the lineup lacking pop without Jacoby Ellsbury, the Red Sox needed a laugher. That is exactly what they delivered on Tuesday night at Target Field.
Fueled by a solid outing from Josh Beckett and an 18-hit eruption from the bats, Boston pounded the Twins, 11-2. The Sox are now 6-10 and despite their woeful performance in the young season, they are just 3.5 games behind their four American League East competitors, all of which are 10-7.
Shortstop Mike Aviles, who Valentine moved to the leadoff spot while Ellsbury is sidelined, was 4-for-5 with two doubles, a home run, two RBI and three runs. Adrian Gonzalez showed signs of life with three hits, two runs and two RBI.
No Red Sox hitter – and no hitter in the majors – is more locked in that David Ortiz, who ripped a 429-foot home run off Twins right-hander Nick Blackburn in the third inning and is batting .444 (28-for-63) with three home runs, 15 RBI and a 1.200 OPS. The slugger has more hits through the Sox’s first 16 games than anyone since Joe Cronin belted 30 in 1937.
Entering the season, the possibility existed that the Sox could part ways with Ortiz after the season, pick up Kevin Youkilis’ 2013 team option and move the infielder to the DH role. Youkilis continues to be hampered with aches and pains, and remains in a slump at the plate and has limited range at third base. At Triple-A, the team’s top overall prospect Will Middlebrooks is ripping International League pitching and playing plus defense at the hot corner. Baseball is a game that can change in the matter of days, but now it appears probable that the Sox will work out a multi-year deal with Ortiz to remain at DH and pencil in Middlebrooks at the third baseman next season.
As for 2012, the Sox have offensive depth with Middlebrooks, shortstop Jose Iglesias (who is still adjusting at the plate against advanced pitching at Pawtucket), catcher Ryan Lavarnway and Lars Anderson (who delivered a pinch-hit single for the Red Sox last night).
Though the lineup continues to lack Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury, the Sox are getting production from Cody Ross and Ryan Sweeney. Ross was hitless last night but has five home runs. Sweeney had two hits, an RBi and a run on Tuesday and is now batting .392. Ross and Sweeney also provide plus defense in the outfield.
New acquisition Marlon Byrd, who is also a strong defensive outfielder, added two hits and a run last night and is now 3-for-9 in his first two games with the Red Sox after opening the season 3-for-43 with the Cubs.
Even without Crawford and Ellsbury, offense has not been Boston’s Achilles heel. Pitching has been the main contributor to the team’s 6-10 record. Last night, Josh Beckett needed 39 pitches to finish the first inning (though several pitches appeared to be strikes but were called balls by home plate umpire Adrian Johnson). Then the right-hander settled down and allowed two runs and five hits over six innings.
Beckett is now 2-2 and has recorded three strong starts after getting pounded in his season debut at Detroit.
Scott Atchison followed Beckett with two perfect innings, striking out three. The 36-year-old right-hander now has a 1.54 ERA and a 0.86 WHIP in six outings and 11.2 innings. He is becoming a valuable piece to a shaky bullpen since he is effective as a long reliever.