Red Sox Report: Napoli Struggling, Middlebrooks Hopes to Stay
Despite losing three of four to the Royals this past weekend the Red Sox now have a three game lead in the American League East over the Rays. The Rays have lost 5 in a row and just were swept by the Dodgers this past weekend. The Orioles are making a surge only 4.5 games back and have a series at Arizona this week. Tampa Bay will be playing home against Seattle as the Red Sox head up to Toronto for a three game set.
The Red Sox weekend in Kansas City was not terribly bad from a pitching sense. On Sunday, John Lackey pitched a good game and got no run support yet again. Lackey gets the worst run support of any Red Sox starter and he has to be frustrated. This year has been a good year for Lackey as wins and losses do not really tell the story. He has the best ERA on the staff besides Clay Buchholz who has pitched since June. He has three less strikeouts then Jon Lester in three less starts and goes out for seven innings almost every start. Lackey’s next start will come against the Yankees this weekend which promises to be exciting, with A-Rod making a return to Fenway and will certainly receive a great amount of boos.
Mike Napoli’s struggles continued into this weekend as he was dropped to sixth in the lineup and struck out three times on Sunday bringing his season total to 155 and will most certainly break the record set by Mark Bellhorn in 2004 with 177. Much was made of Napoli’s contract with the Sox this offseason as it took forever to get done. He got $5 million guaranteed instead of the $13 million that was originally reported, but he will reach the $13 million because of the games he has played in. Sure he has remained healthy but his recent struggles with the high fastball have been well documented and now pitchers know he can’t catch up to it or lay off it. The Red Sox will need for Napoli to get hot again down the stretch and provide protection for Ortiz in the lineup. Who’s to say he can’t find his stroke like he was mashing the ball in April?
Will Middlebrooks was brought back up to the big league club Saturday and it looks like third base is his job to lose for the remainder of the season. Brandon Snyder hit the disabled list and Brock Holt will provide backup infielder duty for the time being. Middlebrooks has been on base four times in the two games since the call up and was batting out of the nine spot, leaving the pressure off him. If Middlebrooks can be anything like last season down the stretch he will be certainly moved up in the lineup. The second year adjustment has been tough for him and he admitted he put too much pressure on himself. If he does help this Sox offense it will be against left handed pitching as they just cannot hit lefties well this year except C.C. Sabathia.
The three game series against the last place Blue Jays can certainly help the Red Sox and the off day yesterday will give the bullpen arms a chance to rest as Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa were used across the beginning of the trip in Houston and Kansas City. The young arms like Brandon Workman and Drake Britton have showed they can pitch in the major leagues but as they get put in more high leverage situations it’ll be interesting how effective they will be. Franklin Morales returning will certainly help as he has not pitched much this year so his arm should be fresh but he needs to stay healthy.
Ryan Dempster, Jon Lester and Jake Peavy in that order will start in Toronto. Dempster has gotten great run support from the offense and has performed what it expected from a number five starter. Jon Lester is not having a great season but seems to continue to battle every start and maybe a start against the Blue Jays will help. Jake Peavy has struggled on the road both with the White Sox and Red Sox and maybe a trip to the north of the border will help get him on track before they take a trip out west to San Francisco and Los Angles next week as he will face familiar opponents from his days in San Diego.
A three game lead in the division as we creep towards the halfway point in August is something this team has to be happy about but with divisional games across the month of September it is time for the Red Sox to string together a winning streak and get that lead to something more comfortable. Also on a day off Monday Jonny Gomes, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Dustin Pedroia were seen at the Blue Jays game seated behind home plate. Baseball players on their off day watching baseball, what a world.