The Red Sox, winners of 11 of their last 14, have finally started to look like the team that was assembled in the offseason.
The starting pitching, for the most part, has been excellent, and the offense has averaged a healthy five runs per game. They've been doing it against some of the best competition in the majors, recording eight of those 11 wins against teams that were in first place.
Even more impressive is that they've done almost entirely without their leadoff man. Jacoby Ellsbury tried to make a return to the field, but his ribs clearly aren't yet healed. The Sox have done fine lately, but his absence at the top of the lineup could catch up them.
How much have the Red Sox missed Jacoby Ellsbury?
–Nick, Attleboro, Mass.
I think a great deal. We underestimate his contributions on many fronts. This is a guy who is truly a game-changer. If he gets on base to start and inning, it changes the entire complexion of how a team will approach things. It changes the mind-set of a pitcher and can alter his effectiveness. Speed can change many things from a defensive structure as well, with many moving parts and sometimes holes in the infield if he is on the move. It's an element that right now, opposing teams are not concerned with. Its just not part of the Red Sox' game unless he in there.
It is very hard to replace 70 stolen bases, and hopefully this additional time on the disabled list will make him fresher and stronger for the second half of the season.
Do you think John Lackey will be more consistent as the season progresses?
–Stephanie, Los Altos, Calif.
I do. I think John's sort of finding his way here. He is trying to replicate his success in L.A. and doing it with different voices helping him. You cannot help but get used to the coaches and staff in one place if that's all you know. He came here and is trying to find his groove. Admittedly, hasn't done that yet. Tuesday night was one of those games where he hung in there and battled and found a way to win but did not have his best stuff. In the past, he has gone on one of those extended streaks of wins. I think he will again in the near future.
How do you explain the turnaround fro David Ortiz in May?
–Stanley, Biddeford, Maine
Honestly, I am not sure I can. He went from being late on fastballs in fastball counts to returning to the offensive prowess of the early years of Big Papi. I don't get it — other than the amount of mental pressure he was feeling and how things progressed quickly this season. The talk right out of the gate was: What to do about Ortiz? Release him? Bench him? Platoon him? I do think that all the talk took its toll on him. He is a proud man who was really down, and he took it on the field with him.
That said, I honestly did not expect him to do what he did in May. There were no early signs that he could do this. I am happy for him and for the Sox. He is good person and a good teammate, so it is nice to once again hear the Fenway faithful roar as he makes his approach to the plate.
It seems the schedule is kind to the Red Sox coming up. How do the Red Sox avoid playing down to some of these teams level?
–Marcus, Dorchester, Mass.
It is a concern. Two weeks ago, we were lamenting about how we would find out a lot about this edition of the Sox because we were seeing a really tough schedule with the likes of the Yankees, Phillies, Twins and Rays. It all went really well and the team seemed to click and finally find some identity.
While the schedule coming up here in the next week provides the Orioles and Indians, it is equally as important, but for different reasons. These are games and teams you simply have to win against. The head-to-head matchups with the Rays and Yankees are important, but only if you are able to take advantage and take care of business against the lesser teams in the American League. Time will tell if the Red Sox can do this.
Kevin Youkilis walked 31 times in May. Has he changed his approach?
–Tom, Quincy, Mass.
I don't think he has dramatically changed his approach. He has always been pretty selective. I think pitchers have changed their approach and he has simply adjusted. They are very careful in dealing with him now. He has become one of the game's best, and he is getting the respect that comes with that. He is not swinging at bad pitches out of the zone and consequently is walking an amazing amount of the time. The name of the game is getting on, and he is doing so at an amazing rate.
The 31 walks incidentally ties him with Ted Williams' walk total in May in 1947 for the second most in that month. Pretty good company.