Thursday, April 23, 2009

Sox Primed For Yankee Invasionthis Weekend

With the Yankees coming to town for the first time, the stars happen to be aligned just right for the Red Sox. No, not the stars that hover above, but rather the ones that fill out Boston manager Terry Francona's lineup.

The renewal of the rivalry -- which takes place Friday night at Fenway --- couldn't come at a better time for the Red Sox, who look more like the Red Socks these days.

In case you haven't noticed, the Red Sox bring a seven-game winning streak into this series, and the catalyst has been an offense that has gone from an early-season funk to a steady display of mashing.

There will be no better test for Boston's surging sticks than the Yankees' starting pitchers, which will consist of Joba Chamberlain, A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte in this series.

What has gotten into an offense that combined to hit .213 over the first seven games, only to bring its overall average up to .275 just eight games later?

A big part of it is venue. When the Red Sox were at their worst at the plate, they were on a six-game West Coast swing. The revival has come at Fenway, where even when the weather is cold, the ever-inviting Green Monster hovers just 310 feet from home plate.

"We play good at home," said Red Sox slugger David Ortiz. "Everybody is in a good mood. Everybody is locked in right now."

That includes Ortiz. Though he has yet to go deep, the big man has been wearing out the Monster of late. Typically when Ortiz starts going to the opposite field, it is a sign that he is primed for a breakout.

"I'm swinging hard -- just in case I hit it," quipped Ortiz.

There is a significant list of teammates who are also shredding the ball.

The one guy who has been mashing since, seemingly, the national anthem on Opening Day, is Kevin Youkilis. The first baseman is hitting .429 with 14 runs scored, six doubles, four homers, 12 RBIs, a .522 on base percentage and a .750 slugging percentage.

"He always puts together consistent at-bats," said Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell. "This is a streak that's ridiculous. He knows the count, knows what he's looking for, and when he gets his pitch, he doesn't miss it."


"If you're scoring a lot of runs, it means you're winning. Hopefully we can keep the momentum going and maintain this hot streak we're on right now. There's a lot of guys in this lineup that are really hot right now."
-- Tim Wakefield


Then there is Lowell. Offseason hip surgery was going to hinder his production? It doesn't appear so. The gritty third baseman is back in that 2007 mode where he can smell RBIs. Lowell has driven in 16 runs to lead the team, this to go along with three homers and a .315 average.

Not bad for a No. 7 hitter. That placement alone is indicative of the depth of Boston's lineup.

"I know, man. No [kidding]. They should move him to third," quipped Ortiz, who occupies the three-hole for the Sox. "We got him back there just to fool people."

But very few Red Sox hitters are getting fooled these days. And as much as both rivals talk about the importance of pitching, Lowell notes that it could be the most locked-in offense that prevails in this initial series.

"I think the key is going to be which offense is going to be able to take advantage of mistakes," Lowell said.

While Lowell, Youkilis and Ortiz have been getting a lot of accolades the last few days, the reigning American League's Most Valuable Player is also catching fire. Dustin Pedroia, who was hitting .179 on April 15, is up to .286.

"It's just a matter of getting more at-bats," Pedroia said. "There was a small sample of at-bats early and guys want to do so well. Once you get to the grind of the season, you start having better at-bats and the numbers to show for it."

While media and fans will dissect the fluctuations of the offense all year long, there is a simple fact that hits home to Ortiz to demonstrate the recent hot streak.

"We've got good hitters. Good hitters are always going to hit, no matter what," Ortiz said. "I don't care what anybody has to say. Good hitters are always going to hit. You could have a whole bad month and then you have a good month -- not even a good month, you have two good weeks, and that bad month is in the past because everybody knows that you're hitting. That's how the game goes -- period."

And when the Red Sox are hitting, an attitude develops in the clubhouse.

"If you're scoring a lot of runs, it means you're winning," said Red Sox right-hander Tim Wakefield. "Hopefully we can keep the momentum going and maintain this hot streak we're on right now. There's a lot of guys in this lineup that are really hot right now."

Now the Red Sox just hope the Yankees get to experience just how hot.

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