Man, it was nice to get that win over with, huh? A sweep by the Minnesota Twins is no way to go into facing the Boston Red Sox, so thank goodness the Cleveland Indians pulled it out. Looking back, it’s like some kind of weird dream we all experienced at the same time. How are they suddenly nine games under .500? Where did the season go? Did anything even happen at the trade deadline? Pretty much the worst time to go into a tailspin, they couldn’t get better or build for the future because it was so in between. But now a new streak can start, one of winning. Thankfully the team having the most issues in the league is coming to town: the Red Sox.
Coming into the season nobody knew what to make of the Sox. Talented, sure, a potentially loaded lineup from top to bottom and a couple of ace caliber pitchers leading the rotation. But the spectre of last year still lurked, and Bobby Valentine as manager is still strange. Then the injuries started—25 men have hit the disabled list thus far this season—and Josh Beckett and John Lester, those co-aces we mentioned, just didn’t pitch like it. Valentine angered a lot of old timers and Kevin Youkilis was forced out, now replaced by 23-year old Will Middlebrooks. The kid’s hit 14 homers with an .832 OPS, so maybe the Sox have struck gold here. Just imagine if they’d not traded Josh Reddick to the A’s for Andrew Bailey (60-day DL), they’d have a host of homegrown talent that others would drool over.
That vaunted offense has sputtered seemingly all season. It’s come on well enough lately, 40 runs scored over their last eight games, but first baseman Adrien Gonzalez’s 118 OPS+ is not the MVP-type work the Red Sox expected or need, and former MVP Dustin Pedroia has battled injury and has been subpar at the plate, a 94 OPS+ with only nine homers and 22 doubles. Jacoby Ellsbury hit 30 homers and very well could have won the MVP in his own right last year, but is only now working back from injury, and Carl Crawford is still robbing the Bank of Boston while playing in 21 games so far this year. He’s hit well while in the lineup, but that just sounds a bit too J.D. Drew-y for me. (Red Sox fans understand that even if Indians fans don’t.)
One thing going right for the Sox is that David Ortiz is just raking right now. His 1.024 OPS leads the American League and he’s already hit 23 homers this year. The guy is destroying the ball like Papi of old, and this without Manny in the lineup. The worst part about facing these Red Sox is, they can just beat the tar out of you seemingly out of nowhere. It’s a little terrifying.
As for the Tribe, it’s tough to look at this team now and feel positive. Travis Hafner may well find himself on the disabled list again, and the whole team just didn’t hit the whole losing streak. Shin-Soo Choo found himself in the No. 3 hole on Wednesday and went 4-for-4 which was stunning. He can hit anywhere and do anything really. Think of the prospect haul he’d have claimed if the Tribe had pulled the trigger on a trade last month. Ezequiel Carrera is back on the team, and he’s always exciting for a few games before everyone remembers he can’t hit a slider. Michael Brantley keeps on hitting and is turning in a pretty good season (.295/.347/.423, hitting .351 his last 10 games) which would be nice to see continue down the road. As ever, there’s a lot to be hopeful for.
But Jason Kipnis hasn’t homered since June 17, and that has to be some cause for concern. Maybe the league adjusted and he’ll just have to adjust back, maybe he needs a series in Chicago to get the bat hot again. Casey Kotchman still isn’t hitting, Johnny Damon isn’t hitting, and Asdrubal Cabrera has a .652 OPS over his last 11 games. It was a really, really bad 11 games for everyone, but this guy is a cornerstone. We’re at a point where playoffs are sort of out of the picture, so let’s see what these guys can build on for next year/trade bait in the offseason. Or a brilliant run late in the year that will stun everyone.