Three months into the season, it seems very little has gone right for the Red Sox. There have been injuries to key players, the lame-duck departure of a beloved veteran and the continuing tension and drama in a clubhouse never fully healed from last September. And yet, after a rough 10 games to begin the month of June – and despite a pair of walk-off heartbreakers to end it – the Red Sox have positioned themselves right in the thick of the postseason chase and are playing some of their best baseball of the season. How have they managed to turn things around, going 12-5 to end the month of June?
The Renaissance of Ortiz
In May, Ortiz emerged as the leader of the team off the field, calling the closed-door meeting in response to L’Affair Beckett and preventing the 12-19 Red Sox from spiraling even further into the abyss.
In June, Ortiz has carried that leadership to the plate, putting together a monster month, with nine homers, 18 RBIs and 22 runs scored. His OPS of 1.039 ranked fourth in the American League among hitters with at least 60 at-bats and was more than good enough to make him the lone All-Star selection on the team.
Return of Cody Ross
Ortiz notwithstanding, you want an MVP for June? You might want to consider the impact Cody Ross has had since his return from the disabled list. First, look at his numbers since his return on June 19: 12 games, four homers, 11 RBI, 10 runs and a team-leading OPS of 1.066.
Now consider the Ross Ripple Effect: Not only did his return bring some stability to an injury-ravaged outfield, it also hastened the end of the Adrian Gonzalez Project in right field, which further accelerated the Kevin Youkilis trade talks, which increased the playing time of Will Middlebrooks at third base. All three of those positional moves led to increased production at the corner infield positions at month’s end, as the Red Sox ended June fourth in runs scored in the AL and went 8-4 in Ross’ 12 games.
Stabilization of the pitching staff
The Red Sox ERA in April: 5.54. The team ERA in May: 3.39.
Now, let’s try June: 3.31. Second-best in the AL.
It’s not rocket science, folks. It’s always about the pitching. And maybe it’s time to start re-considering the value of the Big Three in the rotation. With Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz sidelined and Jon Lester unable to get out of his own way, it has been the likes of Franklin Morales (3 starts, 2.00 ERA, 24 Ks) and Aaron Cook (2 starts, 1.29 ERA) who have led the charge in the late-month resurgence. Hopefully Beckett’s bounce-back in Saturday’s month-ending performance in Seattle points him back in the right direction, with his beer-and-chicken buddies Lester and Buchholz soon following suit.