As a Red Sox fan, you weren't alone if you were starting to fret at this time last week. The Sox themselves were in the air, on their way to San Francisco for the start of a six-game trip to California after a late-night with the Yankees, and much of the Nation beneath them was worried about the state of a club that had lost seven of ten games, and three straight series, as they headed west to take on the reigning world champs and the hottest team in baseball.
But how can you not feel good about the way things are as they return?
You've got to feel good about winning four of six on the trip. The Giants aren't very good at this point, particularly offensively, though the Dodgers hadn't lost a series in more than two months since the Sox went in and took two of three. It's been noted -- ad nauseam -- that Boston avoided Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke while in LA, though a team doesn't win 42 of 50 with just two pitchers. Not only was it hot, but it's a very good team top to bottom -- and this weekend the Red Sox were just better.
You've got to feel good about the way the Red Sox continue to respond. Three times during this trip, a response was required: The first came right away, when the club few across the country on Monday after Ryan Dempster let one get away on Sunday's late night, and Jon Lester picked them up by pitching them to victory. The next came Wednesday, on the heels of Tuesday's tough and troubling loss. Hours removed from that frustrating failure, they jumped on Barry Zito early and pummeled San Fran, 12-1. Then the third came Saturday. They were shut down by Ricky Nolasco on Friday, giving the Dodgers all the momentum heading into the weekend, but they struck for four runs in the first inning and set the tone for the afternoon right there.
You've got to feel good about the starting pitching. Bookended by 8.1 innings from Lester and a complete-game three-hitter from Jake Peavy, Sox starters allowed only five earned runs over 46.1 innings of work -- good for a sterling 0.97 ERA. Nobody allowed more than two earned runs in any start, and the only performance that didn't last until the eighth inning was Peavy's effort in San Francisco.
You've got to feel good about Lester in particular. After allowing just a run over 15.2 innings on the trip, he's got a 2.31 ERA since the All-Star break. For the season his ERA is finally under 4 again, and if he could erase the brutal month that spanned from May 20 to June 21, his ERA for 2013 would be 2.94.
You've got to feel good about winning with almost nothing from David Ortiz. He started only three games, leaving one of them early with discomfort in his back and going 0-for-11 therein. Yet despite the lack of contribution from the team's cleanup hitter and leader in all three triple-crown categories, the Sox still scored 33 runs in the six games -- most of them while the 37-year-old rested for the stretch run.
You've got to feel good about the way Mike Napoli is trending. When he was at his hottest, in April, he showed an ability to carry the offense. After Sunday's homer and double left him 5-for-8 in Los Angeles, there's a sense his bat might be warming again.
You've got to feel good about Dustin Pedroia, too. The second baseman was barely above average offensively for the three months preceding the visit to his native California, but he went 11-for-28 there, compiling a 1.007 OPS. Maybe most encouraging was his five extra base hits, which were as many as he totaled in his previous 29 tilts.
You've got to feel good that Xander Bogaerts looks like he could make an impact. After going hitless in his first four big-league at-bats, the blue chip went 3-for his next-5, including an impressive RBI double to the gap in right-center on Sunday. It was expected to be the case, but he doesn't look at all overwhelmed.
You've got to feel good about the way Jarrod Saltalamacchia is lengthening the lineup. He's in the neighborhood of Yadier Molina and Joe Mauer this season as far as extra-base hits go -- he jacked his 11th homer Sunday to go with 34 doubles -- and to have that sort of thunder looming later in the lineup is imposing.
You've got to feel good about Koji Uehara's usage. To see Farrell call upon him for, and to see the closer successfully achieve, a four-out save was encouraging. So was his light workload for those worried that the Sox may burn out the 38-year-old. When Boston begins its series with Baltimore on Tuesday, Uehara will have thrown all of 34 pitches in the past two weeks.
You've got to feel good about Craig Breslow and Junichi Tazawa getting rest, too. The byproduct of seeing the starters get so deep into games is that it saves the bullpen. Breslow and Tazawa, Farrell's two favorite setup men, each pitched only 1.1 innings over two games during the trip. To go 4-2 while sparing those arms could pay dividends later.
You've got to feel good about shutting up Carl Crawford. He generally played well in the series. But he began it by saying he wanted to win all three games badly. He won one.
You've got to feel good that, for all their struggles over the past three weeks, the Sox' lead atop the AL East is still intact. They led by a game when they began a stretch during which they played 16 of 19 on the road, and during which they struggled en route to a 9-10 record -- but they still lead by a game as they return home. On one hand, they've missed an opportunity to separate themselves as the Rays struggled; on the other, though, there's now three fewer weeks for the Sox to protect their advantage.
You've got to feel good about what lies ahead. The Sox start a nine-game homestand Tuesday, then they'll have another in September, and finish with 18 of the final 30 games at Fenway Park. They've also got four more off-days than the Rays, so between the lack of travel, the comforts of home, and the idle evenings, the Sox should be more rested and energetic as the marathon nears its end. They'll be feeling good.
As well they should.
|Jacoby Ellsbury, CF||1-for-5, R, K, SB: He stole his 47th base off a pitcher with an excellent pickoff move, but maybe most impressive was that he managed to see 29 pitches despite the Dodgers peppering him with 21 strikes. On the night, Ellsbury hit 11 foul balls.|
|Shane Victorino, RF||2-for-4, 2 R, RBI, K, 2B, HR: His fifth multi-hit game in the last eight contests included another right-handed home run against right-handed pitching -- his second of the month and third of his career.|
|Dustin Pedroia, 2B||3-for-4, R, RBI, 2B: He had three hits, but the highlight was the flip he made to first, with his glove, to take a bunt hit away from old buddy Nick Punto.|
|Mike Napoli, 1B||2-for-4, 2 R, 3 RBI, BB, 2B, HR: Since snapping the skid over which he struck out in nine of 12 at-bats, he's hitting .368 with a 1.218 OPS -- and has struck out just twice in 21 plate appearances.|
|Jonny Gomes, LF||0-for-4, BB, 2 K: Gomes he's hitting just .234 on the season, which includes a .185 average over the past two weeks. For the season he's also hitting 66 points below his career average against lefties. But how much does Don Mattingly respect his ability to rise to the occasion when opportunity emerges? The Dodger manager intentionally walked Gomes with two aboard in the first.|
|Will Middlebrooks, 3B||1-for-4, R, 2 K: Middlebrooks didn't have a great stop in LA, as he went 0-for-11 with six strikeouts in those 11 plate appearances.|
|Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C||1-for-3, R, 2 RBI, BB, K, HR: Over the past 28 days, the catcher is hitting .311 with a .919 OPS. Last season over that same stretch, from July 28-Aug. 25, he hit .221 with a .554 OPS. (An ancillary benefit of the off days upcoming could be a chance to keep playing Saltalamacchia while still keeping him fresh.)|
|Xander Bogaerts, SS||2-for-4, RBI: He smacked the first pitch from Chris Capuano into the gap, scoring Middlebrooks from first when Skip Schumaker briefly bobbled the ball in center. It might've been generous scoring, but he was credited with the first of what will presumably be many RBIs.|
|Jake Peavy, P||0-for-4: He was so focused, he even made contact in all four of his times at bat.|
|Jake Peavy, SP||9 IP, 3 H, BB, 5 K, HR: When evaluating how Peavy will succeed on a given night, look for swings and misses -- of which he had 11 Sunday. When he gets at least eight in a start, his ERA this season is 2.53; when he gets less than that, his ERA is 6.20.|
The author is solely responsible for the content.