31-19: Sox sweep Royals, go 7-0 on homestand

Boston swept Kansas City in this 4-game series, making it a perfect homestand. The Red Sox are quickly compiling the best home record out of anyone in baseball; they are now 21-5 at Fenway for the year. Kicking off a series with a no-hitter must do some serious psychological damage to the team that got no-hit, because the Royals struggled offensively until game 4 in this one.

Game 2: Boston 2, Kansas City 1

Justin Masterson (1-0) knew he couldn’t follow up a no-hit performance by Jon Lester. But he didn’t do too bad. He shut out the Kansas City Royals for six full innings before Manny Delcarmen finally gave up a run (an inherited runner) in relief, in the 7th. He ended with a line of 6 1/3 IP, 1 run on 3 his, 3 walks and 5 strikeouts. Is this really a 23-year old guy making only his second start above Double-A? Masterson continued to show the poise of a veteran, and just did what he does, pound the corners with sinker after sinker from that low 3/4 arm slot. He didn’t quite have the velocity from his last start, sitting around 90-91 mph most of the night, but I think pacing himself is a good thing; he was still around 90 mph in the 6th. He induced 10 ground ball outs, and is looking like he could seriously slot into this rotation by 2009. I know that it’s only two starts, but his 65.5% ground ball rate would rank 1st in MLB today if he qualified. He’s been almost exclusively fastball/slider so far, but he’ll need a third pitch when the league “learns” him. He’s only thrown a couple of changeups so far. He will be promoted to Triple-A Pawtucket today.

Gil Meche (3-6) stumbled a bit out of the gate, but settled down to take the Sox seven full innings, giving up just the two runs from a messy 2nd inning. Coco Crisp knocked a fastball for a ground rule double to right, and was able to throw out Alex Gordon to end the top of the 3rd on a baserunning gaffe. Crisp still wants to play full-time somewhere, if not here, but a trade doesn’t seem possible at least until Brandon Moss is fully healthy again. Even then, Moss is more attractive trade bait than Coco, I’d say.

The Sox bullpen didn’t let Masterson down this time, though Hideki Okajima gave up a ground rule double and issued two walks to load the bases in the 8th with two outs. His splitter still wasn’t moving well, and he was inconsistent with the fastball and curve, although there were a couple of close strike three calls against him in that inning. All I know is, the Sox should be so thankful for Jonathan Papelbon, who came in and fanned Billy Butler on 5 pitches; he finished him off with a nasty splitter low and away. Paps went on to pitch a 1-2-3 9th inning for his 13th save.

Game 3: Boston 6, Kansas City 3

Bartolo Colon (1-0) looked pretty good for someone so out of shape. In his first start for the Red Sox, Colon showed some pretty good stuff and went 5 innings, using 74 pitches, which were mostly fastballs. He was able to keep the ball down and work the corners with his 92-93 mph heaters, and mix in a few sliders. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but that’s veteran know-how right there. Both runs off of him came off softly-hit balls to score Joey Gathright in the 3rd and the 5th.

It’s beginning to look like the Sox signing Colon could be a significant coup (he’s here in large part due to his friendship with Manny Ramirez); it will give Buchholz some needed innings off, and he could bring something to the team at the trade deadline. And in case he REALLY regains his stuff, I think the Sox would accommodate him in this rotation.

With J.D. Drew sidelined after fouling a ball off his knee, Jacoby Ellsbury got the start in right and led off the game with a home run into the Kansas City bullpen on an offspeed pitch from Brett Tomko (2-5), and it appeared the Sox were in for another big offensive night. But Tomko would silence the Boston bats until the bottom of the 5th. Hey, having two centerfielders wanting to play kind of works out when you have J.D. in (and out of) the mix.

After a Kevin Youkilis popup, Jason Varitek kicked off the big inning with a blast to right field, what looked like another changeup out over the plate by Tomko. Coco Crisp followed with a double that he took aggressively, advanced to third on a wild pitch, then scored on a single by Julio Lugo. Two more singles, a Kansas City reliever, a sacrifice fly and another wild pitch later, the Sox were ahead 5-2. The lineup produced 12 hits and 4 walks, continuing to lead the AL in hitting. Ellsbury took his 19th base on the season, and is on pace for around 60+ stolen bases, an incredible number for a Red Sox. If he comes close to that and hits around .280-.290 atop this lineup, he could very well be this year’s Rookie of the Year.

It was encouraging to see Craig Hansen come out and work a quick and efficient 6th, and they got him out of there like they should have. Javier Lopez labored a bit, but shut the door in the 7th, and Manny Delcarmen handled the 8th. Mike Timlin closed out the game, giving up one run when he walked the speedy Gathright and David DeJesus singled him home. Nothing too hard hit, so I’m not THAT worried about Timlin’s 8.25 ERA yet.

Game 4: Boston 11, Kansas City 8

Daisuke Matsuzaka (8-0) now leads the American League in wins with eight against no losses; this despite struggling again with command today. Working with Kevin Cash instead of Jason Varitek, who was given the day off, he worked 5 2/3 innings, giving up 3 runs on 6 hits and 6 walks. He was anything but efficient, using 118 pitches. Given a big lead early on a grand slam by J.D. Drew in the 2nd, I think he should have been more aggressive with the strike zone to mow down hitters and just gotten through the game. But Dice-K is a perfectionist, and that has worked against him a lot this season.

Drew homered over the Monster in the 2nd after consecutive singles by Manny Ramirez, Mike Lowell and Kevin Youkilis. That easy swing of his allows him to have some good power to the opposite field, and I’d like to see him utilize the wall out there more, instead of flying out to deep right, which he has done a few times this series.

In the bottom of the 6th, the Sox loaded the bases again when Jimmy Gobble intentionally walked Ramirez to face Lowell. Big mistake. Lowell took him over the Monster to make it 11-3, and put the game all but out of reach. Lowell’s had quite a bit of power since returning to the lineup, even away from Fenway; personally, I think the time off he had is good for guys approaching their mid-30s.

Jacoby Ellsbury reached base three times, and Youkilis continues to swing a hot bat; all is right with this offense, save maybe Manny and Julio Lugo.

The Sox bullpen was exposed again, with Craig Hansen having another near-disastrous outing. He allowed a home run, a walk and a long double before he settled down to retire the side. Then in the top of the 8th, the Royals mustered a couple of infield hits up the middle against David Aardsma and then got a 3-run Monster blast from Miguel Olivo, normally a lefty masher. Aardsma throws hard and can get the strikeouts, but his command is really suspect; I didn’t realize how high his walk rate has been, because of his scoreless streak before this.

The 8th inning saw a lot of shifting on defense; Alex Cora took over for the erratic Lugo at short, Coco Crisp went into center, and Ellsbury replaced Manny in left. I wonder if other teams use defensive subs as much as we do. With a three-run lead, I think it’s the right thing to do.

Jonathan Papelbon came in to shut the door once again, though Kansas City did threaten. They put two runners on via soft singles, and moved them over with the Red Sox’ defensive indifference. He got Alex Gordon to fly out to left to end it. Save number 14.


2 Responses to 31-19: Sox sweep Royals, go 7-0 on homestand

  1. Pat says:

    July 7th, last year when we played Detroit, Leyland kept intentionally walking Ortiz to get to a slumping Manny, and it kept paying off. It seemed pretty obvious at the time that Manny was slumping, and worth challenging. I gave big kudos to Leyland at the time for understanding that.

    Today when Manny was being intentionally walked, I was shaking my head in disbelief. I felt like he should have been pitched to. That was before a graphic came up that said Manny was 1 for 7 against Gobbles, which seemed to make it a no-brainer. Luckily Manny’s reputation is intimidating, and Lowell got the big hit.

    Is there much hope for our bullpen?

  2. redsoxtalk says:

    Yeah, didn’t really understand that intentional walk, as Gobble (a lefty) would have had to face either Manny or Mike Lowell. In that situation, you gotta either get a righty in there to pitch, or just pitch around Ramirez, hoping to get an out.

    As for the bullpen, I’m beginning to think that we need one more good arm back there. Take a look at this breakdown:

    Rock solid- Papelbon
    Generally reliable – Okajima, Delcarmen (barely)
    Mediocre – Timlin, Aardsma
    Feeling lucky? – Lopez, Hansen

    Masterson has been talked about as a potential bullpen addition, and I think he could slide into the “generally reliable” category, but that means stunting his development as a possible starter. The Sox will keep going with this bullpen (with interchangeable parts of Tavarez, Corey, etc) as long as we keep winning with it. That’s up to the rotation, so what happens with Colon and Buchholz is important.

    I think if Colon becomes solid, he is worth a good reliever at the trade deadline.

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