Adrian Gonzalez Doing Reverse of 2011 Season and Other Thoughts From the Week in Baseball


August 13, 2012

Adrian Gonzalez Doing Reverse of 2011 Season and Other Thoughts From the Week in BaseballIt was another typical week for the 2012 Red Sox. 

There were things to be happy about if you're a Sox fan, and there were things that probably made you want to boo someone off the field.

And at the end of the week, it was a 3-4 record that has Boston no closer to playoff contention than when they started the week. That's just the way things have gone this season.

Let's jump right into the good, the bad and the rest of baseball with this week's 6-4-3.

Six Red Sox Thoughts

1. Adrian is en fuego

Adrian Gonzalez was criticized some for his play in the second half of the 2011 season. After an MVP performance in the first half (.354, 17 home runs, 77 RBIs), Gonzalez hit the wall in the second half, at least for him. He hit "just" .317 with 10 home runs and 40 RBIs in the second half. This year, however, has been quite different. Gonzalez failed to live up to expectations in the first half, hitting just .283 with six home runs and 45 RBIs. Since the break, though, he has been on fire. He's hitting .393 with seven home runs and 35 RBIs. Oh, and by the way, that's in just 28 games compared to the 86 in the first half he used to compile those numbers before the break. The power numbers may not be where everyone hoped that they would be, but you can't argue the rest of his stat line. Save the "he's not clutch talk, too." He's hitting .420 (!) with runners in scoring position this year, and .354 with two outs and runners in scoring position. And for what it's worth, he's hitting .331 from the seventh inning on.

2. Running awry 

That's the good. Now on to the bad. The Red Sox haven't played well enough this season to be able to justify mental errors. If you're 20 games over .500, mental errors are just unfortunate mishaps. When you're at or under .500 in August, these types of things are unacceptable. Take this weekend in Cleveland for instance. The biggest example came on Thursday night when Pedro Ciriaco and Carl Crawford combined to run the Sox out of an inning. Ciriaco was the biggest culprit with just an awful decision to run from second to third on a ground ball hit to his right. That's a baserunning no-no. He wasn't alone, though, as questionable decisions on the basepaths led to costly outs all weekend long. The end result was ultimately a split with a reeling Cleveland team, the latest evidence that the Sox just simply aren't very good right now.

3. Tough break, kid

One of the bright spots for the Red Sox this season has been Will Middlebrooks. So much for that. The rookie's season is all but over after fracturing his wrist while being hit with a pitch in Cleveland. It really is a bummer for a player in Middlebrooks who has really come along nicely this season. Middlebrooks wasn't going to win Rookie of the Year — that belongs to Mike Trout and his incredible season — but it's clear the Sox have a player in Middlebrooks. Furthermore, it's just the latest in a puzzling season of injuries for Boston. With Middlebrooks hitting the disabled list, Boston has now sent an unheard of 25 players — the equivalent of an entire major league roster — to the DL this season. According to Baseball Prospectus, via Jay Jaffe's column, the Sox have missed 1,296 man games because of injury this season, which has added up to 40.6 percent of its payroll "lost." The reasons from that likely vary, but there's no doubting the impact that has on a season.

4. Buchh-ing the trend

Where would the Red Sox be without Clay Buchholz? Actually, they'd probably be in last place, even further out of the playoff race, but you get the point. Buchholz is now 10-4 on the season with a 4.24 ERA. That's not bad, right? It's even better when you consider where he was four months ago. His ERA was a staggering 8.31 heading into a May 16 start against Tampa Bay. Since then, he's 6-2 with a 2.53 ERA. Opponents are hitting just .216 over that stretch, which has helped Buchholz to a .982 WHIP in those 13 starts. He was masterful Friday night against Cleveland. Buchholz is throwing everything with confidence and conviction right now, and in the midst of a season being killed by underperforming starting pitchers, Buchholz has been far and away the staff's ace.

5. Turning it around?

Josh Beckett was brutal again this week, so let's skip that one. You can only try to say the same things a little bit differently so many times. What has been encouraging, though, has been the mini-resurgence of Jon Lester, who turned in his best start of the year Sunday. A lot of it comes back to fastball command, and that's true with Lester, but only to an extent. Obviously if he's not throwing strikes with his fastball, he's going to be in trouble. But what I really liked was the command he had of his cutter, and what that pitched looked like. It was at a good velocity (89-91 mph), and it was sharp. When Lester was going badly, that cutter looked like a flat slider. You can see the improvement pretty clearly. The ball is darting in at right-handed hitters to the point that they're swinging at balls that almost hit them in the back leg. And he's also throwing front-door cutters to lefties that have them bailing out of the way while the ball cuts back over the inner half. It also doesn't hurt that Lester had one of his best curveballs of the season going on Sunday, either.

6. Beer bust

I thought it was kind of funny to see how much attention was paid to the fact that John Lackey was drinking beers in the clubhouse after a game earlier this week. As someone who enjoys a soda pop or two after work, it doesn't bother me to be honest. The Red Sox' struggles in the last couple of seasons aren't Lackey's fault, aside from his 6.41 ERA last season. Let's say, hypothetically, that Lackey was some sort of "negative influence" in that clubhouse. Isn't that more of an indictment on everyone else than Lackey himself? I thought this was a non-story that only served to take away from the fact that this team has underperformed this season and at the end of last where it matters most — on the field.

Four Observations From Around Baseball

1. D-Lowe is Bronx-bound

Derek Lowe is coming back to the AL East, but he's not making a triumphant return to the Fenway Park mound — at least not until September when the Yankees are in town for a three-game series starting Sept. 11. It will be a weird sight to see Lowe in a Yankees uniform, even if it's been the better part of a decade since he pitched the Sox to a Game 4 win in the 2004 World Series. While he started this year strong he had completely lost it before being let go in Cleveland. He won't be making any World Series starts for the Yankees, but he could be a nice piece out of their bullpen.

2. Gangbuster

It's tough to fathom what the San Francisco Giants are doing without an effective Tim Lincecum. The right-handers struggles have been well-documented here and elsewhere, but the Giants still enter this week with a one-game lead in the NL West. The biggest reason for that? Buster Posey, of course. He's making Adrian Gonzalez's second half look laughable by comparison. Since the break, Posey is hitting .449 with nine home runs and 33 RBIs. He's started 26 games in that stretch, and he has at least three hits in six of those games. The fact that this is all coming a season after a horrific ankle injury makes it even more impressive. He makes that team go, both from an offensive standpoint and behind the plate. The National League MVP race is likely down to Posey and Andrew McCutchen at this point.

3. A different kind of filibuster in D.C.

The Washington Nationals are the best team in baseball right now. Let that marinate for a minute. Do you know what the only thing more surprising than that is? The Nats are insisting they're going to shut down their best pitcher, Stephen Strasburg, once he reaches his magical innings limit. The reasons for doing so make sense and all, but at the same time, they make no sense at all. It's admirable that Mike Rizzo is ready to do this, but it's also kind of a bummer. That Nationals team is a fun one to watch, and they appear to be getting better and better. You only get so many chances to win a championship in professional sports, and taking Strasburg out of that rotation obviously hurts Washington's chances of taking home some hardware.

4. Manny Being Manny

The latest era in Baltimore Orioles baseball began last week when the O's recalled super-prospect Manny Machado from Double-A. He hasn't done much in his first taste of the bigs, other than going 6-for-16 in his first major league series with five extra-base hits, three of which were home runs. It's an aggressive move by the Orioles to bring up such a young player in the middle of a playoff race, but it shows that the Orioles are willing to do just about anything to spark their club. The results weren't exactly apparent, though, as Baltimore could muster just a split of a weekend series with the lowly Royals.

Three Things to Watch This Week

1. Final Test

This is it for the Red Sox. If they have one sustained run in them, this would be the week to get it going. Coming off an offensive explosion in Cleveland on Sunday, the Sox take Monday off before opening a three-game set in Baltimore. From there, they go to New York for another three-game series. When this road trip is done, Boston will have 40 games left. The outlook is grim as it is, but if they're still two games under .500, when this week is over, the season will also be all but over.

2. Rays Rising

It's apparently that time of the year when the Tampa Bay Rays make their push to the front of the playoff pack. Tampa has caught fire at the right time, and as it always does with the Rays, it's been on the heels of good starting pitching. Matt Moore is leading the pack for Tampa Bay, having given up just one run in his last three starts, good for a microscopic 0.51 ERA. The Rays enter this week on a six-game winning streak, winners of eight of their last 10.

3. Strasburg-Lincecum showdown

We love a good pitching matchup, and this week there's potential for a doozy on Wednesday afternoon in San Francisco. That's because the Giants are hosting the Nationals this week and Strasburg and Lincecum are scheduled to meet in the matinee. We touched on Lincecum's struggles, but he has been better as of late (2-1, 2.25 ERA in his last three starts), and this will be an interesting matchup of first-place clubs.

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