Midday report: Hot Papi, fading Jays

April, 29, 2013
4/29/13
12:47
PM ET
BOSTON -- Greetings from the Edes cave, where we start the day with a few notes, quotes and gloats on the state of the Sox, the team with the best record in baseball (18-7) as they prepare to embark on a six-game trip to Toronto and Texas:

[+] EnlargeDavid Ortiz
Winslow Townson/USA TODAY SportsSince returning to the Sox lineup on April 20, David Ortiz has a .516 batting average -- second only to the Orioles' Nate McLouth (.517).
* David Ortiz missed all of spring training and played just six games on a rehab assignment for Pawtucket, batting .222 (4 for 18), which makes his performance since returning to the Sox beyond rational explanation. Here is how Ortiz compared with his big-league peers over the same span since returning to the Sox lineup on April 20.

-- Only Nate McLouth of the Orioles had a higher batting average, .517 to .516.

-- He had 16 hits, a number matched only by Manny Machado of the Orioles.

-- His .871 slugging percentage was the highest in the American League.

-- Only Nelson Cruz of the Rangers, with 13 RBIs, had more than Ortiz, who tied with Ryan Howard of the Phillies with 11.

-- Only Josh Donaldson of the Athletics (7) and Sox teammate Mike Napoli (6) had more doubles than Ortiz (5).

-- Only McLouth (.611) and Donaldson (.576) had a higher on-base average in the AL than Ortiz (.529).

* Hope has not yet expired in Toronto, but it is definitely on the critical list. The Blue Jays, after an extreme roster makeover this winter, were a popular choice to win the American League East, but instead are eight games under .500, have a 9-17 record that is better only than Houston in the AL, and are already 9 games behind the Sox in the division.

The Jays were just swept four straight by the Yankees in New York, and at the moment the month ranks as the second worst April in franchise history. They are returning home after a 1-6 trip against the Orioles and Yankees in which they scored just 23 runs, barely more than three runs a game. They’ve scored three runs or fewer in 15 of their 26 games.

The team took a huge hit when Jose Reyes, who was counted upon to be a transformative force at the top of their lineup, severely sprained his left ankle and is expected to miss at least three months. The two pitchers who came with Reyes from Miami, Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson, both have ERAs over 6, and the oft-injured Johnson already has missed a start and underwent an MRI because of tightness in his right triceps. The team’s other big acquisition, R.A. Dickey, the 2012 NL Cy Young Award winner, has 2 wins and a 4.50 ERA in his first six starts, and he is expected to undergo an MRI this week to determine the cause of tightness in his upper neck and back.

It’s not just the newcomers who are struggling. Slugger Jose Bautista has 7 home runs but is batting .192 overall with 11 RBIs. And closer Sergio Santos is on the DL with a strained triceps.

On the Sox first visit to Toronto, crowds of 40,000-plus booed Boston manager John Farrell mercilessly, their ill humor made worse when the Sox took two out of three. That was on a weekend. This will be a midweek series, which will mean smaller crowds, and it will be interesting to see if Farrell will be on the receiving end of even more bile, or whether Jays fans will revert to their default mode, apathy.

“It’s going to get better and I still expect us to be a contending team,” Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos told reporters Sunday.

His optimism isn’t shared by many at this stage.

* When the Sox returned home from Cleveland April 18, they held a 2 game lead over the Yankees in the division. Even after winning 7 out 10 on this homestand, the lead remains the same. Other than the Jays, who went 2-8 over that span, Boston’s other division rivals -- the Yankees, Orioles and Rays -- also went 7-3.

The Yankees, of course, have defied all the prophets who forecast doom because of their rash of injuries and advancing age. They’ve won with pickups like Travis Hafner, who has a 1.118 OPS, Vernon Wells (.911 OPS) and Lyle Overbay, a late-spring discard by the Sox, and with the likes of Ben Francisco serving as DH. Eight of the last nine Yankee wins have been by either one or two runs, and now they get their crack at the woeful Astros, who left Boston for three games in the Bronx.

* Jacoby Ellsbury has already set career highs for April in hits (30), steals (11) , and total bases (45), and his 18 runs are within two of his career high with one game left in the month. He has just one home run (1), which lends support to those who argue that his 32 home runs in 2011 were an anomaly, but let’s withhold judgment on that. He had four home runs in April 2011, so it’s possible the power stroke can still come.

* Dustin Pedroia is ending the month on a definite upswing, posting a .361/.477.472/.949 line on the homestand, with four doubles in the last five games. And after a decidedly un-Pedroialike 15 K’s in a span of 11 games, Pedroia whiffed just once during the 10-game homestand.

* The Sox have lost back-to-back games twice all season. In their last 32 games of 2012, they won back-to-back games only twice.

* The Sox are 4-2 in one-run games this season, and 6-2 in blowouts (games decided by five runs or more).

* Mike Napoli returns this weekend to Texas, where he played two seasons and was an integral part of the Rangers team that went to the World Series in 2011. He expects a far different reception than the one Rangers fans accorded former star Josh Hamilton, who was booed without letup when he returned with the Angels. “I don’t think they’ll boo me," he said with a grin.

Napoli leads the majors with 13 doubles and 18 extra-base hits.

* Ortiz told two news outlets Sunday that he and his wife, Tiffany, are filing for divorce. The couple has three children.

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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