More photos like this, please. (Photo by Brian Kersey/Getty Images)
It's amazing what five days in the non-Detroit parts of the AL Central will do for a team. The Red Sox stumbled into the week saddled with a 4-10 record, and the fresh memory of a 15-run explosion by their archrivals on Saturday. Five straight wins against the Twins and White Sox later, they sport a far more respectable 9-10 record, and look a lot more like the powerful contender many of us were expecting to see this year. It's only against Minnesota and Chicago, but the wins still count. Winning streaks! Remember those? They're totally fun.
Of particular note: with the exception of Wednesday's near-disaster, the bullpen has looked kind of adequate. Not good. They're nowhere near good yet. But they haven't been terrifyingly awful, and that alone is serious improvement. Throw in the return to action of Rich Hill and the long-hoped-for departure of Justin Thomas, and if you squint real hard, you can almost see a team that won't give us heart attacks as soon as the starter's out.
It wasn't all wine and roses this week, or even beer and Skittles (an idiomatic combo I have never once understood). Injuries cropped up where the Sox could least afford them, and even though Boston is undefeated this week, there have been a few red flags in the rotation. It's been a mixed bag, but after the first two weeks, I think we'll all take mixed bag.
Recap commences after the jump.
The biggest story of the week roster-wise was the continuing saga of Carl Crawford vs. Carl Crawford's Body. We'd known for quite a while that Crawford was likely to miss some time this season. He underwent offseason wrist surgery, and in his apparent eagerness to get back on the field, rushed his rehab, reaggravating the injury. Most estimates had him returning around the beginning of May; between a relatively deep outfield and Crawford's less-than-optimal performance last year, it didn't appear his absence would be a crippling blow to the team. Then Reid Brignac landed on Jacoby Ellsbury's shoulder, and suddenly the outfield looked mighty thin. Crawford's return in May became much more important.
It was therefore a bit nervous-making when it was revealed that Crawford would be paying a visit to Dr. James Andrews, the renowned orthopedist and elbow specialist. "Visiting Dr. Andrews" is traditionally to elbows what "going to live with a nice farm family" is to elderly Labrador retrievers. And sure enough, it appears Crawford strained his UCL, and could be out for as long as three months. The Sox are hoping to avoid another surgery with Crawford, and he'll be undergoing treatment with platelet-rich plasma, a procedure which Marc explained on Friday.
With Crawford out, and Ellsbury's timetable still unclear, the Sox will have to lean even more heavily on Cody Ross, Ryan Sweeney, and Marlon Byrd. Both Ross and Sweeney seem to be taking to Boston exceedingly well (Sweeney in particular is hitting out of his mind, batting .383 with a league-leading 10 doubles). Byrd, acquired via trade on Saturday, had been barely hitting his shoe size with Chicago, but seems to enjoy the new opportunity with Boston. He's already got more hits with Boston in a week than he had with the Cubs, and he's been flashing all kinds of leather in center. Even if the bat cools off, the glove should provide enough value to keep us calm until Jacoby gets healthy.
Another post-trade success story in the early going: Mike Aviles. The guy who made Marco Scutaro expendable, the guy who inspired a dozen garment-rending columns by Nick Cafardo bemoaning the death of shortstop defense and the cruel exile of Jose Iglesias, the guy with these Atlas-like calves. Aviles is hitting .311/.346/.554 right now, and that's probably not sustainable, and he's certainly not the long-term solution at short. But he's doing damn well right now, and that may well have been the plan, as Matt Kory discussed on Tuesday.
The bullpen, of course, still needs some tweaking. A few minor retouches. Some spackle. Or perhaps more accurately a full-fledged Christopher Nolan reboot. The Red Sox took a few steps in that direction this week. They called up Junichi Tazawa, who impressed with three scoreless innings on Thursday night. They converted Pawtucket starter Alex Wilson to a reliever. Mark Melancon, of whose MLB stats this year we shall not speak, has gotten some work down in Rhode Island, and has looked not terrible. He's probably not ready to return yet, but it's possible he's not entirely doomed to life as a batting tee.
Also down in Pawtucket has been Aaron Cook. And he's been terrific. The old heavy sinker looks to have returned, he's keeping runs off the board. There's only one problem: he can opt for free agency on Tuesday if the Sox don't call him up, and right now there's no spot for him. Neither Jon Lester nor Josh Beckett is losing their spot in the rotation, Clay Buchholz may be regaining confidence in his stuff, and Daniel Bard and Felix Doubront have been arguably the best two pitchers on the staff. Looking at this situation, Marc decided that if Cook wants to walk, maybe Boston should let him.
This is not to say the rotation's been flawless. In particular, the Sox have had one persistent problem. They have gotten opposing hitters into 0-2 counts, and then inexplicably decided that Strike Three is for suckers. This has been somewhat frustrating. In related issues, ostensible ace Jon Lester has been striking out fewer hitters and walking more over the last several months of work. This is not ideal for an ace. Marc traced the trend back to his DL stint last year, and wondered if a mechanical fix is in order. On the other hand, the news could be far worse, as it was for the Yankees, who learned that recently-acquired fireballer Michael Pineda has a torn labrum and will miss the entire 2012 season. Fear not, New York, you've still got Freddy Garcia and Phil Hughes.
Five-game winning streak! Holy hell! Boston goes for six in a row tonight against the White Sox, with Jon Lester facing Jake Peavy. Happy weekending, all.