We’ll run through the highlights of the last seven days, exploring the main themes, the standout players and the odd numbers and occurrences that make baseball so great.
Without further ado, let’s get this party started.
With Josh Beckett and Jon Lester as the presumptive No. 1 and 2 starters for the Red Sox as the postseason approaches, the question of “What comes next?” is being flushed out over the regular season’s final weeks. En fuego Clay Buchholz and Daisuke Matsuzaka, too, have looked terrific of late and will no doubt be on manager Terry Francona‘s mind when the playoff rotation is being assembled.
But here’s a quick pitch in defense of knuckleballer Tim Wakefield. Wake received a fair share of criticism — even from writers on this Web site — after allowing five runs on five hits and seven walks (blech!) against the Royals on Monday night. To be fair, despite bringing a no-hitter into the fourth inning, he didn’t pitch particularly well on that wet, sloppy night.
But I’m willing to give him a pass, or at least a half-pass. Why? First off, he’s still struggling with his mobility after missing time with his back and leg issues. Second and more importantly, with the rain falling steadily throughout the early going Monday night and the Red Sox up 6-0 heading into the bottom of the third inning, Wakefield seemed to be — whether outwardly or surreptitiously — trying to get through five innings as quickly as possible because the umpires might stop the game anytime to put the tarp on the field. (In the midst of 20 games in 20 days, especially in the pouring rain, it’s no secret that the Sox wouldn’t have minded a short night in Kansas City.)
Was Wakefield intentionally throwing the game? No, not in the least. But was he targeting the middle of the plate a little more than he normally might in hopes of getting the Royals to put the ball in play more quickly? Possibly. Was he struggling to get a grip on the ball as it got soggier and soggier? Definitely.
It’s obvious that it wasn’t Wake’s finest performance, but come on, are you really going to leave the guy out of the team’s postseason plans because of one mid-September game in the rain against the Royals? I’m not yet ready to make that decision.
Victor Martinez got another two hits Thursday night to extend the majors’ longest current hitting streak to 23 games. Boston’s last streak that long was a 23-game run by Kevin Youkilis back in 2007. V-Mart is batting .352 (31-for-88) during the streak, which began Aug. 28. Over the last 50 years, only one other player — another catcher, interestingly — has recorded a hitting streak that long after changing teams in midseason: John Flaherty for the San Diego Padres in 1996 (27 games).
A big deal was made of Martinez catching Beckett on Wednesday night for just the second time this season, especially as Jason Varitek is the big righty’s usual catcher. Why the desire on Francona’s part to get Beckett more comfortable with V-Mart behind the dish? Well, he’s likely looking toward the playoffs, when the skipper is more likely to go with the Sox’ most dangerous lineup each night out. And based on each player’s current form, that lineup may not include Boston’s 37-year-old captain.
How much has Tek been struggling at the plate? While he has reached base safely in 23 of his last 34 games, he’s hitting just .165 (18-for-109) over that stretch. He’s hitting .158 (19-for-122) with one home run since the All-Star break. Another interesting stat: 37 of Varitek’s 74 hits this season — 50 percent! — have gone for extra bases (23 doubles and 14 homers).
David Ortiz homered Thursday against the Royals for the second straight game. And Papi’s driving the ball all over the park of late. He’s batting .383 (18-for-47) with four long balls and 12 RBIs in his last 14 games. And after his miserable start to the 2009 campaign, who would have thought he’d be leading the AL with 25 dingers since June 6? Not me.
Elsewhere on the first-base tip, Casey Kotchman tied his season high with three hits last Friday in Baltimore, his sixth three-hit game of the season, but his first since joining the Red Sox. Kotchman is also becoming more and more a part of this team, having appeared in seven of the team’s last nine games, a period during which he’s hit .368.
It’s Pedie’s longest streak since a career-high 17-gamer last season and is the second-longest current run in the majors behind his aforementioned teammate.
Veteran Mike Lowell has reached 25 doubles for the 10th straight season, the longest streak ever by a major league third baseman, passing the previous mark of nine held collectively by Wade Boggs, George Brett, Brooks Robinson and Harlond Clift.
Starting shortstop Alex Gonzalez has hit safely in 22 of his last 28 games, batting .337 (32-for-95) with three home runs, 11 RBI and 20 runs over that stretch. Combine those numbers with his typically slick work with the leather, and he’s likely to be penciled into the postseason lineup every day.
Where does that leave Jed Lowrie? Well, though he was considered the front-runner to start coming north from spring training, Lowrie has now served as a defensive replacement in each of his last four appearances for the Sox.
Where does that leave Nick Green, who has started 74 games at short this season? Well, Green is still suffering from the odd dead-leg situation that’s hampered him now for a week, and he won’t be back until next week at the earliest.
Jason Bay cracked his 36th homer on Monday, surpassing his career high of 35 that he set with the Pirates in 2006. His 36 ding-dongs put him third in the AL, while his career-high 115 RBIs are second in the league, behind only Mark Teixeira.
Whether it makes more sense to re-sign Bay next year or go after Matt Holliday is an intriguing question for the Red Sox. But with the way the Bay-Hey Kid is finishing off his 2009 season, he has to make more sense given Holliday’s struggles earlier this season in the AL.
Since 1954, Reggie Smith (57 in 1970) and Johnny Damon (57 in 2004) are the only Sox center fielders with that many multi-hit games in one season. The Sox all-time leading single-season speedster (he’s already broken the team record with 66 swipes so far in 2009) could take over first place as early as Friday night.
On Tuesday, Drew drew (HA!) his 80th walk of the season and now ranks ninth in the AL with 82 overall, his most since the 89 he took in 2006. Drew also joined Boston legends Dwight Evans (seven times), Jackie Jensen (four) and Ted Williams (once) as the only right fielders in Sox history with 20 homers and 80 walks in season.