Though the Red Sox couldn’t find a slugging outfielder to replace the departed Jason Bay, they’ve found an unlikely source of lineup protection at the hot corner.
Three years ago, Mike Lowell emerged to buoy the lineup from the six-hole with a .324 batting average, 21 homers and 120 RBIs. In the postseason, he spent all 14 games in the fifth spot, batting .353 with two homers and 15 RBIs.
This season, Adrian Beltre has exceeded expectations filling a similar role in the heart of the Red Sox’ order. Fifty games into 2010, Beltre sports a .335 average with five homers and 34 RBIs, while playing a Lowell-esque style of wall-ball that has the 31-year-old veteran on pace for 45 doubles.
Beltre’s success has been infectious. After a homerless April, he’s totaled all five homers in May during the time David Ortiz has tallied 10 of his 11 on the season, while following the big bopper up and down the order.
Beltre watched Big Papi’s first seven bombs of the month from the on-deck circle, as the duo hit sixth and seventh, respectively, for Ortiz’s first six homers and moved up a spot for his seventh. Beltre went 2-for-4 in the May 1 breakthrough game that saw Ortiz connect on his second and third homers on the season. Then on May 5, Beltre unleashed his second homer in three games on the heels of Ortiz’s fourth of the season.
While Beltre has abused righties — .360 average, three homers and 29 RBIs – his .269 clip against lefties helps cushion Ortiz’s .241 average against southpaws.
Over the past few games, Big Papi’s jumped to third in the order with Beltre sliding into the fifth spot, as Kevin Youkilis and Victor Martinez alternated seats on the pine. Pending Martinez’s full-time return from a sore toe, Beltre’s move to fifth won’t likely be permanent. But how does the separation of Beltre and Ortiz affect Boston’s chemistry throughout the middle of the order?
It may actually enhance it. Clean-up hitter Kevin Youkilis throttles lefties — .405 average, five homers and 12 RBIs — and hits 136 points lower against righties. If Beltre’s prowess versus righties persists, Youk and company won’t complain if the third-sacker stays put in the five-hole.
A spot Mike Lowell kept warm when he won the 2007 World Series MVP.
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