Over the past few weeks — Monday night's sloppy 14-inning affair notwithstanding — the Red Sox have been on an absolute tear. The Sox are 17-4 in the month of July, and all aspects of their game appear to be clicking.
This recent success is a prominent subject in this week's mailbag.
John Lackey has seemingly turned things around. What is different?
–Tyler, Portsmouth, N.H.
Confidence. I think he has started to get on a roll and is finally feeling it again. That said, his curveball seems to have a sharper break lately and his stuff is better. I think he is now throwing his pitches with conviction more now. In his career, he has been a pretty streaky guy. With the Angels, he would go on long winning streaks. It is possible we are now starting to see that from Lackey with the Sox. His timing could not have been better with the recent absences of Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz.
Mike Lowell was on with you this weekend. What are your memories of his career?
–Ryan, Saratoga, N.Y.
I'll always remember how he carried himself. I first gained appreciation for him at the Boston Baseball Writers Dinner when he was a member of the Florida Marlins. He was receiving the Tony Conigliaro Award for his battle with cancer. He spoke at the dinner and was very impressive in explaining his gratitude for the award and what he had been through individually. My respect for him only grew as I got to know him during his tenure here. There was always a class about him as he handled the game, fans and his charitable efforts with grace and dignity.
Has Jacoby Ellsbury's approach changed at the plate?
–Dusty, Stoneham, Mass.
For years we heard that Ellsbury should stick to line drives and mostly concern himself with getting on base so he can use his speed and keep the leadoff hitter approach. Well, now he is getting on but using all methods and means to get there. Home runs now are a big part of his game, but he's really doing it all. He is pretty strong, as Fenway is not the easiest of parks to pull home runs as a lefty. He has flown by his previous home run mark by a long shot and there is a lot of baseball still to be played. Maybe he has changed his a approach a tad, but I would be hard-pressed to find anything in his current game that needs changing.
Daniel Bard has been amazing. Do you think he will be a good closer?
–Josie, Westwood, Mass.
Different mentality, but yes I do. It reminds me of the Mariano Rivera–John Wetteland combination the Yankees had before their great run with Rivera. Rivera was setting up Wetteland back then, and when he took over the closing job, he became the greatest closer the game has ever seen.
I am not saying Daniel Bard will have the same success that Rivera has enjoyed, but this process of easing into the role and allowing him to learn what it takes to be a major league closer can only help his progression. All of that said, Jonathan Papelbon has been very good in 2011. Despite all the guessing as to his future, it would be great if the Red Sox could keep them both in their current roles as it significantly shortens the game for Terry Francona.
Is the Clay Buchholz situation more than is being reported?
–Greg, Amherst, Mass.
I think there is still pain there and it may be a situation where he may have to try to pitch through it. I think a lot of the team's extra medical checks are in efforts to make sure that pitching with the pain would not cause any further damage. However, if he is unable to go, it definitely changes how the Red Sox will approach things at the trade deadline. Yesterday he had, by all accounts, a very good bullpen session. However, he needs more of those and than likely a few rehab starts before we can form an accurate estimate as to when he will be able to return.