It's been a good few days for the Red Sox with four straight wins. The streak has been marked by some big performances from unexpected sources, too.
The first man in the spotlight this week is Mike Aviles, who is in the midst of an 8-game hitting streak with 13 hits in 33 at bats. Aviles, of course, was one of the biggest question marks on the team headed into the season, with the Red Sox' decision to move Marco Scutaro for virtually nothing beyond salary relief drawing significant heat from the fan base. Now the move seems to be paying off, with Aviles hitting .324/.361/.588 in his first 68 at bats with the team.
Marco Scutaro, for the record, sits at .227/.292/.273.
For his part, Aviles told the Boston Herald's Scott Lauber that he's taking his success in stride:
"I know the type of player I am," Aviles said. "I'm not saying I'm great. I'm not saying I'm terrible. I'm in the middle. I know what I can and can't do. I'm not going to go up there and try to be Big Papi (David Ortiz) at the plate. I'm not going to be Pedey (Dustin Pedroia) on defense. But I'm going to make the routine plays, and I'm trying to have good at-bats.
Interestingly, that's probably not the most accurate description of Aviles defensively. At least from what we've seen of him, he seems to be the guy who can occasionally struggle on the routine plays, not rushing throws that need to be quick, or rushing ones that don't, and maybe booting a ball here or there. What he has shown us is a surprising amount of range, getting to balls most would not have expected him to based on his reputation.
He's not exactly a prototypical "good at bat" kind of guy either, seeing just 3.51 pitches per plate appearance on average--a figure which puts him well towards the bottom of the MLB. No, what Mike Aviles is about is putting his slightly weird swing on balls all over the zone, not striking out too much, and putting enough charge into what he hits that it can get him on base. If he can come anywhere close to this level of production over the whole season, however, then we're happy to have him just the way he is.
Also on a serious roll these last few games has been Jarrod Saltalamacchia. After a dreadful 1-for-25 start, Salty now has 10 hits in his last 21 at bats, including three homers. Salty's line is not quite as pretty as Mike's given the duration of his slump, but he's looking slightly better than last year on the whole and, lest we forget, it took him a while to get going last year. If the "Summer of Salty" as it were saw fit to begin a month early, all the better.
Trying to explain why it the catcher so long to get going, Peter Abraham points to his spring training work with the pitchers:
"We had so many new guys that I needed to spread myself out and get to know everybody as well as I could,'' he said before Thursday night's game against the White Sox. "That's my job, to take care of the pitchers. If something has to give, it's going to be my offense.''
"It didn't bother me,'' he said. "You have to let that go and get ready to catch. I expected I would start to hit eventually. With our lineup, I have the luxury of knowing other guys can carry the offense. For me, that part of the game is going to come.''
Speaking of working with pitchers, Bobby V. seems to have had an effect when it comes to keeping baserunners from killing the Red Sox. Says the Providence Journal's Brian MacPherson:
Opposing runners stole more bases (156) and attempted more stolen bases (206) against the Red Sox than against any other team in the American League last season. In April alone, opposing runners stole 27 bases on 35 attempts against the Red Sox. No team allowed more stolen bases or saw teams attempt more stolen bases against them.
That's not the case this year. Even though opponents have gotten on base plenty against Red Sox pitchers -- they've allowed 183 hits, third-most in the American League -- they're not running at all. An American League-low eight runners have tried to steal bases against the Red Sox this season.
Stolen bases are, of course, not the most important aspect in the game, but the Sox almost managed to make it crippling at times. Who else remembers Carl Crawford going nuts against us back in--
Actually, let's not talk about Carl Crawford.
Either way, important or not, limiting the stolen base can be nothing but a positive. While the team on the season has had more and bigger problems to fix than that, every little bit helps. So long as it's not distracting pitchers from the actual task at hand...
Finally, while we've already pointed to Baseball America's Hot Sheet, they had the chat for said feature with Jim Shonerd later in the day, complete with a couple of Red Sox highlights:
@Jaypers413 (IL): Would you consider Middlebrooks to be Major League ready at this point?
Jim Shonerd: We're still dealing with a pretty small sample size here (20 games). Now, it wouldn't be a surprise if the Red Sox give him a chance in the not-too-distant if he stays hot, but let's see how he responds when the inevitable cold spell hits. I think that's when we'll know.
The ability to recover from a slump is always an important part of a prospect's development, but in some way you could say that WMB has already been through that. He was terrible, after all, with the Paw Sox last year, and in years past has been through the ups-and-downs of a full season.
Still, hopefully he's not needed in the "not-too-distant".
@dougplourd (CT): Matt Barnes not even in the team photo? Is this a case of a college arm SHOULD be dominating LoA?
Jim Shonerd: Barnes was one of the closest misses. The fact that he's a college guy in low Class A does work against him for Hot Sheet purposes, but he also threw just five innings this week. He did make those five innings count, striking out nine without allowing a run. Now granted, Dylan Bundy made the Team Photo with only four innings, but he has age on his side and, as we all know, has been uniquely brilliant.
Anyone else getting itchy for Barnes to move up a level? While the Sox are looking to get Barnes eased into things and give him a chance to throw his changeup regularly against less-developed hitting, for those of us watching at home it's a small torture not being allowed to see what Barnes can do against age-appropriate competition. Hopefully the promotion is just a few starts away.