by Mike DePilla
After the walk of shame off Target Field, Sunday afternoon was just about as bad a day as a baseball team can have. The Sox needed to make like Dennis Rodman and rebound, and fast. Looks like the Mariners were just what the doctor ordered. That, and some unbelievable defense.
As bleak as things looked Sunday, when the Sox dropped their third game in a row to the Twins in heartbreaking fashion, they look positively rosy again today. Two straight wins over the lowly M's combined with several losses by the suddenly-super-vulnerable Twins and Tigers (7 in a row for Detroit) have stretched the Sox lead out to a season-high 3.5 games in the division.
Also--and I'm not saying this is a likely possibility--the Sox are now only four games behind the Tampa Bay Rays in the Wildcard race. I don't think the team's chances of overtaking Boston and Tampa Bay are very good, but stranger things have happened. (The Sox are currently percentage points ahead of Boston.)
Credit this win first and foremost to John Danks, who allowed two measly singles in 7.2 scoreless innings. And despite all this talk about the need to add another bat, the Sox offense is consistently coming through with enough runs to win games.
But the story of the night was the amazing glove work of the left side of the infield. Omar Vizquel and Alexei Ramirez put on a defensive clinic last night, culminating with back-to-back spectacular plays of one-up-manship to assist Bobby Jenks in the 9th inning.
Alexei has really impressed me on defense. As Jim points out at SoxMachine, you can basically throw out April every year and start judging Ramirez on what he does from May on. Last year, with his flashiness combined with mental lapses and routine mistakes, I frankly thought Ramirez was overrated defensively at shortstop. Maybe being around a legend like Vizquel has improved his focus, or maybe he is just feeling naturally more comfortable with a year under his belt, but Ramirez's range has improved immensely, his throws are super accurate and his focus is terrific. It has gotten to the point where I think he seriously needs to be considered for the Gold Glove this year. (That is, if the award was actually awarded for real defense, not for offense, popularity or reputation).
As for Vizquel, what else can you say about the 43-year-old Wunderkid? Even if he wasn't hitting, he would still needs to be in the line up everyday for his defense. If his bat does slow down, (and it probably will- it's not reasonable to expect him to continue hitting over .300 as he has since playing everyday) he can return to the ninth spot in the order. Gordon Beckham, though still inconsistent, might be just about ready to move back to the number two hole.
Then there's Mark Teahen. Sorry buddy, but there's just no job for you.
A little more on the batting order. The Sox are winning, so you really can't criticize much. It ain't broke, but should Ozzie fix it?
The Sox go into battle tonight with the same line up they've used just about every game since the break:
Essentially, the team's two hottest hitters are batting last and the team's two worst hitters are batting 5th and 6th.
Mark Kotsay has been given so much time to get his proverbial sh*t together you might as well call him Christopher Moltisanti. Even as he continues to cost the Sox runs with a horrid .140 batting average with runners in scoring position, he is treated to the 5th spot in the order every night. (Sixth if Quentin plays.)
Might it be time to see Dayan Viciedo get some at bats at DH? If the kid is just up here as trade bait, then let his languish away on the bench. But if he is actually up here for real, then he should get some at bats. His third base renaissance is over, but he can't be much worse against righties than Kotsay.
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