It was a common question posed to the Red Sox manager this spring, as everyone did their best to figure out how to space out a left-handed heavy lineup that was sure to crumble when the CCs and C.J.s and Davids and Franciscos came calling.
Terry Francona answered the steady stream of inquiries, but also wasn't shy about expressing some amazement at the concern. We'll deal with it, he essentially said. And that they have.
After pulling off a come-from-behind 4-3 win against the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday, the Red Sox improved to 27-12 in games started by left-handed pitchers (Francisco Liriano was on the mound for Minnesota). They've won 23 of the last 28 such affairs and 11 of the last 12, including the pasting of CC Sabathia the other night in Fenway Park.
One major factor in the success against southpaws is the resurgence of David Ortiz, whose OPS versus lefties has gone from .599 in 2010 to .978 in 2011, as well as the monstrous numbers put up by Dustin Pedroia (.700 OPS in '10, 1.165 in '11).
Elsewhere, Francona often plays the matchup game. Early in the year, he could plug in Jed Lowrie, who had a scorching April, much of it done at the hands of lefties. Lowrie owns a .992 OPS against left-handers.
Jason Varitek has continued his career-long trend of producing plenty against left-handers, now sporting a .286 average. His mix and match with Jarrod Saltalamacchia has enabled the Boston catching tandem to be one of the more productive in the league. And Darnell McDonald, once part of the problem in an outfield that was not doing all that much outside of Ellsbury, has slowly and quietly regained his form versus opposite-handed hurlers.
All three were factors in the Tuesday night effort.
McDonald, given one of his rare starts in right field despite owning an average less than half that of Josh Reddick's (.331 to .165), followed a leadoff walk by Varitek in the fifth with a long home run to left, tying the game 2-2 against Liriano.
It doesn't mean McDonald is going to start stealing all the playing time from Reddick, but the occasional start against a lefty is always in the cards, and McDonald's silent resurgence will only help in that process.
"It's good to get contributions from everybody on the whole team. Today it was me," McDonald said. "I was able to get a ball in the air and fortunately it went out. It was 1-2, two strikes on me, so really just trying to put the ball in play. You know, he left one over the middle of the plate, I put a good swing on it. You know, two-run bomb."
Since bottoming out at .117 following a hitless effort against Toronto on July 4, McDonald is 9-for-28 (.321) with two home runs, three doubles, six walks, nine RBIs and 11 runs scored in limited action. He's produced a 1.084 OPS in that sporadic, but extremely productive, stretch. Reddick's been great but has just two hits in his last 15 at-bats against left-handers.
"That's what we need from Mac," Francona said. "You know, Mac's sitting over there batting right-handed against some of these lefties. He has that ability to do that, and it's huge because we climbed right back into the game on one swing."
Lowrie's walk in the sixth began another rally against Liriano. Carl Crawford, who has struggled against left-handers this year but has recently shown signs of turning that around, also drew a free pass. That set up Varitek's single to left, which scored Lowrie to give the Sox their first lead of the game.
Of course, the decisive RBI of the game came in the seventh, when Ortiz hit a 40-foot tapper that caused Twins reliever Phil Dumatrait (yes, a lefty) to stumble trying to make an out at home, resulting in an infield single.
That won't go down in the annals of big hits for Ortiz. But it was another case of Boston getting the better of a lefty, something which was once a concern but is now an expectation.