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Adam Kaufman

Shane Victorino is a Difference for Red Sox, but Not THE Difference in Recent Turnaround

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In the five games since Red Sox outfielder Shane Victorino has returned from the disabled list, the club has three wins against the Blue Jays and Rays. The veteran has appeared in four of those contests, including each of the victories to help Boston back to within one win of the .500 mark.

The Sox can clear the break-even point for the first time since they were 2-1 on April 3 with a day-night doubleheader sweep of the visiting Rays on Thursday.

Since getting throttled 14-5 by the Yankees last Thursday in their rubber match, the Red Sox are on a roll. They’ve out-scored their division opponents by a combined 23-18 margin and scored at least seven runs three times after doing so just once through their first 23 games.

Many are crediting the presence of Victorino, in part because of his spot in the two-hole lengthening the lineup and the production that’s come along with it, and partially due to the wins that have followed.

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After an abbreviated spring training and nearly a month missed to a hamstring strain, the right fielder is batting .316 (6-for-19) with two RBI and three doubles, plus an .807 OPS. His contributions have been timely, between a sac fly to give the Sox a lead on Tuesday and a ground-rule RBI double to cap a five-run frame an inning later.

Victorino deserves the praise he’s received. But, remember, he’s not doing it alone.

Last Friday, the day after Victorino’s season debut, Will Middlebrooks returned from an almost three-week stint on the DL for a right calf strain. With both players in the lineup for that night’s 8-1 shellacking of the Jays, it signified the first time in 2014 that Boston has had its regular arsenal of offensive options intact.

Over the last four games, Middlebrooks is batting .286 (4-for-14) with a home run, a pair of doubles, four RBI, four runs scored, and a walk.

In that same time, others have gotten hot and developed more consistency as well.

Leadoff-man-for-the-moment Dustin Pedroia has hit safely in every game, batting .278 (5-for-18) with two RBI, two runs, and two walks.

Slugger Mike Napoli is hitting .400 (4-for-10) with a double and an RBI. He’s also scored twice and walked four times.

A.J. Pierzynski, who recently drew criticism for his work with the pitching staff behind the plate, has been hammering opposing hurlers at the dish. Like Napoli, he’s hit .400 (6-for-15) over his last four outings, along with a grand slam, a double, six RBI, and four runs scored.

And the defensively sturdy and offensively rising Jackie Bradley Jr. has followed suit with a .400 (6-for-15) average of his own, aided by four doubles and a triple. He’s driven in four and scored three times, and also drawn a walk and stolen a base.

Victorino’s impact is generally on the middle of the lineup but the trickle-down effect has been instrument to his club’s success. The lower-third of Boston’s order, featuring the likes of Pierzynski, Middlebrooks, Bradley, Xander Bogaerts, David Ross, and Jonathan Herrera, has hit .378 (17-for-45) in that span with 10 runs, 10 RBI, a homer, eight doubles, a triple, and a pair of walks.

On the mound, starters Jake Peavy, Clay Buchholz, Jon Lester, and John Lackey have each worked at least seven innings to combine for a 3.10 ERA over 29 frames and a 0.97 WHIP. Fortunate, since the bullpen has faltered of late.

The point here is simply that Victorino has been part of the solution, as he was always expected to be after a tremendous if injury-plagued 2013. But let’s hold off on making him a favorite for team MVP. At least until the Red Sox reach .500.

Follow me on Twitter at @AdamMKaufman


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