Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Reports of the Red Sox’ demise were greatly exaggerated

Paul McCartney is alive and well, and so are the Sox. Photo from this site.

We know it’s no good for us and that equal parts regret and guilt will wash over us as indigestion sets in. We know this, yet the urge for instant gratification overwhelms common sense and we dive headlong into that bag of potato chips or that pint of ice cream…or, if you’re a sportswriter/blogger, that column/post about how the team you cover/watch from afar is either unbeatable or completely sunk following a seismic handful of games.

Sometimes, we give ourselves a little bit of wiggle room, but let’s face it, tempering those scenarios of imminent euphoria or destruction with “well, anything can still happen” is a lot like washing down that bag of chips with Diet Coke. You’re not fooling anyone and the damage is still done.

And so it is that here, on the first morning of September, those utterances of three weeks ago that the Red Sox were finished—pardon me, potentially finished, and I’ve got to give myself a little bit of credit, I washed that blog down with a bottle of water—following the Boston Massacre III look a wee bit foolish.

The sky has yet to fall upon the Sox, who begin play today a healthy four games up on the Rangers and five games up on the Rays—the latter of whom the Sox can finish off, err, put into a deeper hole during a three-game series beginning tonight in Florida—in the wild card race. The Sox have built that distance on the strength of the offense that was, somewhat understandably, declared extinct after a 31-inning scoreless stretch against the Yankees.

Remarkably, even with that epic drought, the Sox had one of the best offensive months of any AL team. The Sox led the circuit with 50 homers while hitting .275 with 165 runs scored, 152 RBI, a .356 on-base percentage and a .494 slugging percentage.  They ranked second in slugging, behind the Yankees, and third in runs, RBI and on-base percentage, behind the Yankees and Angels.

In their final 20 games of the month, the Sox went 14-6 while scoring 129 runs, an average of 6.45 runs per game. They scored more than four runs 14 times. In the previous 20-game stretch—which ended with the sweep at the hands of the Yankees—the Sox went 7-13 with 91 runs scored, an average of 4.55 runs per game, and scored fewer than four runs 12 times.

Kevin Youkilis (.337-4-16), Dustin Pedroia (.305-5-13), Mike Lowell (.319-5-15), Jacoby Ellsbury (.295-0-11) and David Ortiz (seven homers for the third straight month) maintained or slightly improved their seasonal norms, but the real fuel for the August surge was provided by a pair of slumping core players and two newcomers who proved to be dramatic upgrades on their predecessors.

Jason Bay hit .289 with nine homers and 18 RBI in August after hitting .213 with five homers and 25 RBI in June and July. J.D. Drew hit .329 with six homers and 13 RBI in 73 at-bats after hitting .217 with two homers and five RBI in 83 at-bats in July.

Victor Martinez hit .306 with five homers and 19 RBI in 108 at-bats. Jason Varitek hit .135 with one homer and four RBI in August and is hitting .204 with four homers and 26 RBI in 181 at-bats since June 1. Alex Gonzalez, imported for his glove more than his bat, hit .296 with three homers and seven RBI in 54 at-bats. Nick Green has as many scoreless innings on the mound (two) as he does homers since July 1, and is hitting just .161 since then with eight RBI in 93 at-bats.

This is not quite 2004 all over again, when the Sox took a couple weeks to find a groove following the Nomar Garciaparra trade and went 20-2 and scored more than four runs 18 times from Aug. 16 through Sept. 8. And the uncertain state of the Sox’ starting staff—this is what’s known as chasing a binge of optimism with a diet soda—beyond Jon Lester means it’s a little early to project 2004-type success in October and, perhaps, November. Still, it seems pretty clear the sky is not falling, and that my waistline continues to expand.

Email Jerry at jbeach73@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jerrybeach.

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