Monday, June 13, 2011
Sox in league of their own
By Gordon Edes ESPNBoston.com
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- At this rate, is it only a matter of time -- say, mid-August? -- before we see this:
DREW SUTTON OF RED SOX NAMED AL PLAYER OF WEEK
Utility infielder Drew Sutton became the 16th Red Sox player in the past 17 weeks to win the AL's Player of the Week award. Sutton, playing a different position every day as manager Terry Francona rested his regulars with a 10-game lead in the AL East, batted .500 (12 for 24), scored 10 runs, drove in nine and pitched a scoreless ninth inning as the Red Sox won their sixth game this season by 12 runs or more.
The award, admittedly, comes with little traction. No agent has ever won an arbitration case by reciting how many times his client was named Player of the Week. And poll any clubhouse outside that of the winner's, and "I don't know" would easily be the most popular response to anyone asking who won in a given week.
If Jacoby Ellsbury hadn't been named Player of the Week, one of his teammates surely would have won the award.
But as yet another measure of how well the Red Sox are playing these days, it is striking that the team has made the award the equivalent of naming an in-house employee of the week. On Monday, Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury won the honor, becoming the third straight Sox player to be so named.
Last week it was David Ortiz. The week before that, Carl Crawford. Go back a couple more weeks, and it was Adrian Gonzalez, giving the Sox four winners in the past five weeks.
And as good a week as Ellsbury had -- .467 average (14-for-30), 10 runs scored, a leadoff home run against the Yankees -- he could have easily been passed over -- for a Red Sox teammate. Ortiz last week hit four home runs, a number matched only by Paul Konerko of the White Sox, and drove in 13 runs while posting an OPS of 1.294, more than 100 percentage points higher than Ellsbury (1.167). How did Ortiz not win? This one he truly can blame on the media, since they're the ones who do the voting.
The only other AL player with as many as 10 RBIs last week? Try Gonzalez, who had 10 and has driven in at least one run in each of his past nine games.
Gonzalez became only the fourth Red Sox player in the past 50 years to have such an RBI streak. On Tuesday against the Rays, he will have a chance to make it 10 in a row, which would match a feat accomplished by Manny Ramirez (2002), Dwight Evans (1989) and Butch Hobson (1978).
And his week might have been shorter by comparison, but Dustin Pedroia (9-for-19, .474) actually outhit Ellsbury once he was relieved from worry about his right knee, which may one day need to go into the shop for repair but not anytime soon.
The Sox, winners of nine in a row, come into the Trop with a chance to obliterate a third straight rival in the American League East, having already clobbered both the Yankees and Blue Jays into submission. Wednesday will mark the two-month anniversary of the team's 2-10 start, when it became vogue to mock "Best Team Ever" headlines and Josh Beckett's spring-training musings about playing for a potential 100-game winner.
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Since then, the Sox are 37-16. At that pace, they will finish with 107 wins, which would make them: The ... Best ... Sox ... Team ... Ever. Regular-season division.
We're not talking small sample size here, either. That record covers 53 games, almost a third of the season. The Sox were 19-10 in May. They're 9-1 in June, a month in which they've outscored their opponents by a 2-to-1 margin (87 runs for, 43 against). The problems that looked so daunting in April seem vastly overstated now.
Case in point: the team's catching, which had qualified for federal disaster relief in the season's first six weeks. But in the past month, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jason Varitek have combined to bat .324 (33-for-102) with eight home runs, 22 RBIs and 24 runs scored. And defensively, the improvement has been just as pronounced. Opponents stole three or more bases nine times in the team's first 41 games. Since then, over the past 24 games, opponents have not once had a game of three or more thefts, and have been thrown out six times in 19 attempts, a 31.6 percent success rate for Varitek and Saltalamacchia.
So, is there anyone not thriving these days? Well, while his teammates were piling on the Blue Jays for 14 runs Sunday, right fielder J.D. Drew went 0-for-5 with four strikeouts. The last position player to go hitless and striking out four times while his team scored 14 or more runs?
Why, J.D. Drew, of course, according to research by ESPN statman Jason E. McCallum. It was in 2005, when Drew was playing for the Dodgers against the Marlins.
Which probably means that J.D. is the early favorite to be named this week's Player of the Week.
Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.