Angels Sweep Just What the Doctor Ordered
After losing 4 out of 7 games against the Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners, the Sox needed a boost against the Los Angeles Angels and they got it. With the return of Victor Martinez as motivation, the Sox powered their way past the now 52-52, 3rd place Angels. The team hit 6 home runs in the 3-game set, including 2 from Big Papi Ortiz on Monday night and a gigantic grand slam from 5’10”, 185 lb Marco Scutaro on Wednesday to break a 3-3 tie in the 8th inning. From the top to the bottom, the Sox lineup produced in a big way to sweep away their 10-game west coast swing.
Now the Sox can take Thursday off and rest-up for a 7-game home stand, followed by another grueling 10-game road trip that takes them to New York, then Toronto and wraps up in Texas, three teams that have above .500 records and a combined mark of 176-127. This next stretch is crucial for many reasons, given that it is nearly August and the Sox sit 7 games back in the AL East and 5 back in the AL Wild Card hunt. The good news for the Sox, is that they are beginning to play with a nearly full compliment of players and you can see their confidence building with each passing game.
Offensively, the Sox dropped 17 runs on the Angels in 3 games on 32 hits and started to get some big hits when they needed them in clutch situations. As mentioned above, the biggest hit of them all came from one of the smallest guys on the field, Marco Scutaro. In the series, Scutaro went 7-14 (.500) with 4 rbi and 4 runs scored from the lead-off spot in the lineup. Scutaro also walked twice and has been making a huge impact as a table-setter for the rest of the lineup. If Scutaro continues to get hot, the Sox will be able to put pressure on teams early and allow their pitching staff to feel less pressure.
In terms of the Sox pitching lately, the starting rotation has shown great signs of improvement with Clay Buchholz and Josh Beckett since returning from the DL. In all 3 games of the series, the Sox starter (Clay Buchholz, John Lackey and Josh Beckett) went 7+ innings and they allowed a combined 6 runs, while striking out 16. The numbers are even more impressive when you factor in that each pitcher had a max lead of 2 runs and that was only for John Lack on Tuesday for less than 0.5 innings. Down the stretch, being able to perform at the highest level when the pressure is high is crucial to winning close ball games and getting back into contention.
Overall, the team is playing well as a group and will need to continue to grow and meld over the next few weeks. We are now sitting with 60 games remaining in the 2010 regular season, so this stretch of strong play needs to continue, right through the 4-game road set with the Yankees in 2 weeks. The Sox will have an opportunity to gain ground in the head-to-head match-ups, but maybe even more importantly, they will need to try and gain ground by beating the Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians beginning on Friday, while the Yankees and Rays go head-to-head for a critical 3-game set in Florida.