Red Sox letting bats do the talking

Red Sox letting bats do the talking

BOSTON -- It can now safely be said that run prevention turned into one of the most misunderstood phrases in recent Red Sox memory. Sure, general manager Theo Epstein uttered those two words more than his fair share of times when recapping the moves he made last winter. But while retooling his defense and adding John Lackey to his pitching staff, not once did Epstein say his goal was to prevent his own team from scoring runs.

Yet somehow, when the Red Sox reported to Spring Training, everyone wondered how they were going to get by with what seemed a less imposing offense than in recent years.

Those wonders are gone. The Red Sox are flat-out raking the ball around Fenway Park and the various road venues they go to. While pitching and defense have also played key roles, it's not a stretch to say that the Boston bats have hit the club right smack back into the middle of the pennant race.

By producing a Major League-best 39-19 record since April 20, the 43-28 Red Sox trail the Yankees by just one game in the American League East. This is the same team, remember, that was 8 1/2 games back as recently as May 23.

"Well, I mean, it's been a nice ride," said Red Sox hitting coach Dave Magadan. "That's ultimately what you want out of your offense, is contributions from everybody. When we drew it up in the offseason and going into Spring Training, we felt that our lineup, even though a lot of people were clamoring that we didn't have the 40-homer guy, we kept saying that we felt like our lineup had a lot more balance at that time, thinking [Jacoby] Ellsbury was going to stay healthy and [Marco] Scutaro was going to hit ninth."

And the scariest thing about an offense that ranks first in the Majors in runs, hits, doubles, RBIs, total bases, slugging percentage and OPS? It has lacked dynamic leadoff man Ellsbury for all but nine games. Center fielder Mike Cameron has no homers and two RBIs as he is just now getting himself healthy from lower abdominal woes. In other words, this offense could be even better in the second half.

"Every day is a work in progress," said Cameron. "Just as well as we always look at how well things are going, you try to extend that because we know the shortcomings can be very, very, very hard to understand here. Enjoy it and ride it. When you're playing well, you just try to ride it for as long as you can."

The first three weeks of the season, the Red Sox seemed a bit of a mess. Not only were they losing, but they were hurting and the two teams they were chasing -- the Rays and Yankees -- were both on fire. But as the pitching staff searched for an identity -- one that they've since found -- the offense kept chipping away.

No Ellsbury? In came the previously anonymous Darnell McDonald, who hit a pinch-hit, game-tying homer and walk-off hit in his April 20 debut. The outfield has taken such a hit that even the fourth man -- Jeremy Hermida -- was recently force to the disabled list with the same ailment as Ellsbury (fractured ribs). But no sooner had Hermida gone away than Daniel Nava -- Daniel who? -- came up and belted a grand slam on the first Major League pitch he saw.

Nava is suddenly playing an important role in the Majors. And don't forget Bill Hall, who has also delivered some big hits off the bench after falling off the map in Milwaukee and Seattle last year.

"We're getting contributions from all over the map," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "I think that's why you're starting to see more personality, more enthusiasm, more energy during the games. It's been good. It's actually, I think, been good for our team. As guys get healthy, I think we're going to be a better team just because Billy Hall has at-bats under his belt. That makes him a better player.

"McDonald has done terrific. Nava comes up, he's helped us. We're getting contributions and I think it ends up being really good. Our dugout's been real energetic and a lot of enthusiasm. Even when things aren't necessarily going right, I guess when I'm sitting there and I see us going in one direction, it's a good feeling."

Then there is Adrian Beltre, one of the faces of the run-prevention winter. Yes, Beltre has been a defensive stopper at third base after a shaky first few weeks. But he's also been a star with his bat. Beltre's home runs with one knee planted in the dirt -- the unofficial count is now three -- have become one of the images of summer for the Red Sox.

After hitting .265 with eight homers and 44 RBIs in 449 at-bats for the Mariners last year, he is currently at .336 with 10 homers and 48 RBIs in 265 at-bats this season.

"It's been huge, because when you kind of project the numbers that Beltre is going to have for us, you just kind of project things that he's done in the past and what he's done over the last few years, excluding last year, when he had a lot of injuries, but we're welcoming the add-on on top of the projection," said Magadan. "He's done everything and more than we could have expected. He's hitting for average. He's getting big hits. After the first month, he's started to drive the ball out of the park."

And whatever happened to the predicted demise of Big Papi? After his anemic April, there was some media speculation that David Ortiz would be released at some point this season. Instead, the slugger seems to have a new lease on life. The American League's Player of the Month in May, Ortiz is ninth in the Majors with 15 home runs and 12th in slugging percentage (.555).

"He struggled the first 50, 60 at-bats, but since then, he's been a force to be reckoned with," Magadan said of Ortiz. "I couldn't be happier. He's dangerous. He's getting pitched around. As good as [Kevin Youkilis] is behind him, they're being very careful with David, and when he's getting his pitch, he's doing something with it. Hopefully he keeps it up. There's no reason he shouldn't."

Throw in the usual steady mashing of Youkilis (.312, 14 homers, 47 RBIs, 1.026 OPS) and the table-setting of Dustin Pedroia (.284, nine homers, .358 on-base percentage) and the Red Sox have weapons all over the lineup. That is especially true now that Victor Martinez has caught fire after a slow start. And J.D. Drew might not wow anyone, but he works pitchers, gets on base and comes up with important hits. Scutaro has also been important because he has been able to fill in for Ellsbury in the leadoff spot.

"You know what, I didn't really understand the questions that we wouldn't have a good offense," Martinez said. "We lost a good guy in Jason Bay -- he was a great hitter. But because you lost one guy, it doesn't mean that your offense is completely lost. You have to count on that guy right there [Ortiz], what he has done for this team, this organization. You have Youkilis, you have Beltre, you have Pedroia. What else do you want? Do you want an All-Star team?"

Aside from stolen bases and triples -- areas Ellsbury accounts for a lot -- the Red Sox rank prominently in every relevant category. They are second in the Majors in home runs (93), third in walks (277) and third in on-base percentage (.353).

"When you look for a consistent offense, you need contributions from [Nos.] 1-9 and the guys coming off the bench," Magadan said. "When you're getting that, you have some consistency scoring runs."

Not to mention overall team consistency.

"We enjoy the fruits of the labor part of it, but we all know it's not the ultimate goal," said Cameron. "We want to get to the postseason and everyone looks to winning the World Series. It kind of keeps being one game out on June [21] in perspective. It's good, but we've still got a long way to go. It is gratifying, man. It's a gratifying situation because we have come a long way."

Now the talk is of runs produced just as much as run prevention.

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.