Dave D'Onofrio's Sox Beat: Red Sox look dangerous all of a sudden
The Red Sox spent five months atop the American League East, building their initial lead with a fast April start and then sustaining it with a combination of clutch hitting, quality starting pitching, a generally good bullpen and an offense that thrived on its relentlessness.
They hit a lot of doubles - most in the league, in fact - though through 140 games they'd hit just 140 home runs. Unlike the recently typical Red Sox teams, they didn't look capable of frequently turning a single swing into a big inning.
Until Wednesday, that is. And with the unveiling of that weapon, a boiling-hot team already with the most wins in baseball suddenly looks as dangerous as ever.
It began with the eight blasts that buried the Tigers on Wednesday night, and it continued Saturday, when Boston went to the Bronx and outbombed the bombers, hitting four balls beyond the fences of Yankee Stadium and taking a 13-9 triumph. Since grinding and gutting out a win over Cy Young favorite Max Scherzer on Tuesday, the Sox have now hit 17 home runs, extending their winning streak to five overall, including the first three of a series with the Yankees that concludes today.
Most memorable will be the first big-league tater for top prospect Xander Bogaerts, who crushed a no-doubter over the bullpen in left after doubling earlier - but the most encouraging might've been the two from Mike Napoli. Piggybacking on the grand slam he hit to tie Friday's game in the seventh inning, it gave the first baseman three circuit clouts in about 19 hours, and six in his past 12 games - during which he's hitting .409.
Napoli was the Sox' best offensive player during that April surge, and with September his best month historically, his 20th and 21st homers of the year further the notion that he could again be in the midst of a stretch where he could carry the Sox.
The club, obviously, is hoping that carries into October - the objective that became another step toward closer on Saturday, with their 11th win in 13 games.
Also featuring a homer from Jonny Gomes, the game in general wasn't without its concerns. John Lackey struggled, allowing seven runs, while relievers Matt Thornton and Drake Britton both had trouble, too. Despite the three wins, Boston's pitching has not been good in this series.
But home runs can cover up a lot of blemishes. So if this remains part of their arsenal, the team that's been near the top since the start might wind up the team to beat at the end.
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Just a couple of weeks earlier, the Red Sox awoke in Los Angeles to find themselves a few percentage points behind the Rays in the American League East, and with less than a 50-50 shot of winning the division they'd led for a vast majority of the season.
It was the lowest their probability of being East champs had been in August, according to the odds calculators at coolstandings.com, and a daunting road was immediately ahead. At that point they had two games still to play with the Dodgers, then the hottest team in baseball, and after that they'd face the Orioles, Tigers, and Yankees in three of their next four series. Baltimore had been a thorn in their side for two years, while Detroit had the AL's best record at that point, and New York was the league's hottest team by the time the Sox headed for the Bronx.
But then Boston claimed the final two in LA, won two of three from the O's, somewhat-expectedly swept the White Sox, was victorious in a three-game series with the Tigers and took the first two from the Yankees. And so by the time the Sox took the field Saturday, their chances of winning the East were considered to be 98.6 percent.
With a 99.9 percent probability that a 9 1/2-game cushion was enough, and that they'll at least make the playoffs.
Keep in mind that on Sept. 3, 2011, they had a 99.6 percent chance of getting to the postseason, and ultimately collapsed. That proved anything is possible, and thus it could possibly happen again this year, of course.
But don't count on it.
Thanks to 11 wins in 13 games, and thanks equally to the Rays' league-worst 4-10 record over that same span, Boston gained 7 1/2 games on Tampa Bay in two weeks - and the 86-57 record they had was actually one game better than the record they had with 19 games to play in 2011.
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Coming into this season, Shane Victorino had homered just once from the right side against a right-handed pitcher in the course of his big-league career, but with Friday's blast he's now done it five times this season - and it seems to have set off a power surge from the outfielder.
He hit a total of seven homers in his first 93 games this season. Then, to begin Saturday tied with Will Middlebrooks for the third most homers on the team, he hit seven homers in his next 17 contests. Only two hitters in all the majors had as many taters as Victorino in that same span, those being Sox-turned-Athletics Coco Crisp (eight) and Brandon Moss (seven).
Dave D'Onofrio covers the Red Sox for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.