Back on Track?

Break out the bottles of champagne! Well, it might be a tad early for that just yet, but the celebration seems appropriate given the Red Sox struggles so far this season. With a dramatic, come-from-behind victory Monday night the Sox have climbed their way back from the early season hole they dug themselves into and have finally claimed a record above the .500 mark for the first time this year.

After a huge three-game sweep of the Yankees in New York, which helped the Sox reach that elusive .500 milestone, Boston looked as though they might throw away all the momentum created from that series in the Bronx against the Baltimore Orioles Monday night. Finding themselves down 6-0 after five innings of play, due to a disastrous starting pitching performance by Daisuke Matsuzaka, in which he walked seven batters in 4 1/3 innings, The Sox offense slowly clawed their way back as the game progressed.

Down by one run heading into the bottom of the ninth inning, the stage was set for a hero to come through in the clutch and hopefully turn the fortunes for this team to a more positive direction for the remainder of this so far frustrating and puzzling season. Enter Adrian Gonzalez.

A one-out walk and stolen base by Jacoby Ellsbury, followed by another walk after a great at-bat by Pedroia set the table for Boston’s newest slugger. And he certainly did not disappoint. Despite the wind blowing in violently, he turned on a back-door breaking ball and planted the pitch half way up the wall of the Green Monster allowing both runners to score and sending the Fenway faithful into a frenzy.

The Red Sox are now 19-10 in their last 29 games and tied for second in a tight AL East division. The turnaround can be largely contributed to the same player who delivered late Monday night. Just like the entire Sox team, Adrian got off to a little bit of a slow start in April. While the average was solid, the power numbers had yet to show themselves. The month of May, however, has been a completely different story.

Coming into the month Gonzalez was sporting a .314 average with one home run and 14 RBIs. In just 15 games so far this month, he is absolutely tearing the proverbial cover off the ball to the tune of a .349 average with eight home runs and a ridiculous 23 RBIs. His 37 RBIs are first in the AL. Looking a little deeper into his production, during Gonzalez’s tear he has raised his on base percentage to .384 and his slugging percentage is now at .583 (4th in MLB), giving him an OPS of .967 (5th in MLB). Putting up these kinds of numbers, it’s easy to see why he had been the object of Red Sox management’s affection for so long.

While a record of one game above .500 is good considering the horrendous start, it still has to be considered as a disappointment for this team so far. Gonzalez’s efforts will hopefully inspire some his other teammates who still haven’t found their way out of the gates yet. The good news is that players like Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia seem to be showing signs of turning it around recently. Their production will be vital to the team’s success and both will be relied upon heavily as the season continues.

It’s not all gravy for Sox fans though. The expensive new left-fielder Carl Crawford continues to struggle mightily and has not found his comfort level at the plate nor in the Red Sox lineup. Though he isn’t as bad as he was in April, his average still sits slightly above the Mendoza line at .208, 41 games into the season. He’s far too good of a player for that to continue too much longer, so that doesn’t worry me all that much.

The more alarming aspect, however, is the state of the back end of the rotation. Matsuzaka has been his normal, consistently inconsistent self so far this season; tossing one-hit gems followed up by four-inning performances packed with complete frustration. Also it was announced last night that the overwhelming under-achiever of the year, John Lackey, will be taking his dazzling 8.01 ERA with him to the disabled list.

Despite the positive feel of the team’s recent success, there are some inherent flaws that this team will eventually need to address if they go uncorrected. Major contributions will now be expected from unexpected sources like Tim Wakefield given the latest injury concerns. Let’s hope old reliable can reach into his bag of knuckle-ball tricks and help the Sox stay on the path to success. Otherwise, I’m afraid the inconsistency that has plagued them all year will linger for a while longer, and if that happens, systematic changes are sure to follow.