Bullish Future for Boston Bats as the Playoffs Approach


October 2, 2009

Bullish Future for Boston Bats as the Playoffs Approach Every week, The Lineup will take a comprehensive, numerical and often uproarious look back at the previous week of Red Sox action both on and off the diamond.

We'll run through the highlights of the last seven days, exploring the main themes, the standout players and the odd numbers, streaks and occurrences that make baseball so great.

But this time, with the Red Sox' playoff berth finally sewn up, we're all about looking ahead to the playoffs, position by position.

So, without further ado, let's get this playoff party started.

Bullish Future for Boston Bats as the Playoffs Approach
As the AL Division Series against the Angels approaches, it's becoming clearer that Jon Lester will start Game 1 for the Red Sox, while Josh Beckett will go in Game 2. The consensus is that Clay Buchholz will get the call in the third game back in Boston, and that if the Sox need a fourth starter, it would be Daisuke Matsuzaka (who gets another start Friday against the Indians).

But it's the top of the rotation that's at the forefront of most fans' minds. Despite his early run at the Cy Young, Beckett has been less than consistent over the last month and a half, while Lester just keeps on getting it done — as he did on Thursday against the Indians.

With his 6 1/3 innings of two-hit, shutout ball, Lester improved to 7-1 with a 2.73 ERA over his last 13 starts. Over his last 22 starts dating back to May 31, he's gone 12-3 with a 2.31 ERA. In fact, he is one of just six American League left-handers since 1990 to record at least 15 wins, 200 innings and 200 strikeouts in a season, joining Johan Santana (four times), Randy Johnson (four times), CC Sabathia (once), Barry Zito (once) and Chuck Finley (once). That's solid company to be in.

A quick note on closer Jonathan Papelbon, who will lead the Boston bullpen into the postseason: Paps recorded his 38th save of the year on Thursday and has converted each of his last 13 opportunities since July 30. Over that period, he has put up a terrific 1.50 ERA with 31 strikeouts.

Bullish Future for Boston Bats as the Playoffs Approach
It remains to be seen if he becomes the everyday catcher in the playoffs, but it sounds fair to call Victor Martinez the almost everyday catcher moving forward. He has now hit safely in each of his last 27 starts since Aug. 28, hitting .347 with two homers and 15 RBIs in those contests.

Overall with the Sox, he's raking at a .335 clip with 12 doubles, seven homers, 36 RBIs and 29 runs. Since he arrived in town, he's made 29 starts at catcher and 21 at first base. And while it's conceivable that Jason Varitek gets a start here and there in the postseason, V-Mart's playing time is likely to skew toward the catching side over the coming weeks.

And how could we forget about young backstop Dusty Brown, who made news from the mound during Wednesday's 12-0 debacle at the hands of the Blue Jays. The 27-year-old righty yielded one run on two hits and struck out a batter during his one inning of action, his first career pitching appearance. Brown became the third position player to pitch for the Sox this season (after Jonathan Van Every and Nick Green) and the first catcher in franchise history to take the mound.

Bullish Future for Boston Bats as the Playoffs Approach
With Martinez behind the plate, Kevin Youkilis is the clear choice at first base for the Sox. Youk is 7-for-19 (.368) with six RBIs over his last six games. Monday against the Jays was his ninth career two-homer game, his fourth this season.

Say what you want about his .215 average and one homer and seven RBIs since coming over to the Sox, but Casey Kotchman's glove could play a major role in the playoffs. He has played 183 consecutive games (166 starts) at first base since he committed his last error on June 20, 2008 (1,550 total chances). Furthermore, his career .998 fielding percentage at first is the highest in baseball history among players with at least 3,500 total chances at that position.

Designated hitter David Ortiz, who should play most days in the postseason (except possibly against Angels lefty Scott Kazmir), has at least one RBI in six of his last nine games with 13 total in that span. He has 76 RBIs since June 6, second in the AL behind Bobby Abreu's 77. That date also has some significance for Papi going yard, as 27 of his 28 homers this season have come since June 6, tops in the AL over that time.

Bullish Future for Boston Bats as the Playoffs Approach
Dustin Pedroia is the everyday second baseman for the Red Sox moving forward. Book it. Consistency is the reason: His three hits Tuesday night against the Blue Jays marked his 20th game this year with three or more hits, tied for third most in the AL. In fact, he's second in the majors with 57 three-plus-hit games since the start of 2007, trailing only Ichiro Suzuki's mark of 62.

Bullish Future for Boston Bats as the Playoffs Approach
Though Youkilis could see time at the hot corner, the majority of starts will go to Mike Lowell (as long as he's healthy). Despite receiving a hip injection earlier this week, he was in the lineup on Thursday and went 1-for-4 against the Tribe. Lowell has 33 RBIs in his last 44 tilts and is hitting .301 since coming off the DL back on July 17.

And you'd normally see him listed at short, but Jed Lowrie got his first start of the season at third base on Wednesday. He went 0-for-3 at the dish but made a couple of spectacular plays in the field (though he followed several up with poor throws to first).

Bullish Future for Boston Bats as the Playoffs Approach
The job at shortstop is Alex Gonzalez's. His glove work is without peer, at least on the Red Sox' roster. And he's been hitting the ball, too. In fact, Gonzalez has hit safely in 25 of his last 34 games, batting .315 with three homers, 11 RBIs and 21 runs scored in that stretch.

As to the status of Nick Green in the postseason, we haven't heard anything since the middle of last week. As Tom Caron suggested, "it was telling that he remained out of the lineup Wednesday night with a cast of reserves getting the nod against Roy Halladay."

Bullish Future for Boston Bats as the Playoffs Approach
Jason Bay is the man in left field. He's hit a career-high 36 homers, passing his previous mark of 35 in 2006. He has 16 RBIs in his last 15 games and a career-high 116 on the year. More numbers, you say? Bay's batting .308 with 24 RBIs over his last 26 games and has 41 RBIs in his last 45 games.

Bullish Future for Boston Bats as the Playoffs Approach
Jacoby Ellsbury will be penciled into the leadoff spot every night, and deservedly so. The 26-year-old speedster has eight RBIs over his last 11 games and is batting .337 with 18 runs and 10 stolen bases in his last 23 games (with hits in 18 of those contests). Ellsbury is also fourth in the AL having turned in his team-high 59th multihit game of the season on Thursday, the most by a Red Sox center fielder since Doc Cramer's 60 in 1939.

Bullish Future for Boston Bats as the Playoffs Approach
Finally, we head out to right, where J.D. Drew is still nursing a sore shoulder. But Drew's recent performance should give Red Sox Nation plenty of hope looking ahead to the postseason.

See, Drew has reached base safely in 24 of his last 27 games, knocking hits in 20 of those contests and batting .358 with six homers, 16 RBIs and 16 runs scored over that time. He's batting a cool .360 with 10 dingers and 23 RBIs since Aug. 9, the fourth-best average in the AL in that time.

Rocco Baldelli, who will also see time in mop-up duty and as a pinch hitter, started in right on Wednesday but was inexplicably moved to third base in the seventh. It was his first career appearance in the infield. Another first for the Rhode Island native: Baldelli stole his first base of the season in the second inning of Wednesday night's tilt, his first swipe since April 23, 2007, against the Yankees.

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