Boston Red Sox Weekly Reader: April 28, 2012- Carl Crawford, Will Middlebrooks, Mark Melancon

It has been a great week for the Boston Red Sox, who have now won five straight since the rain out that mercifully cut short their series against the New York Yankees on Sunday. Josh Beckett is pitching like an ace again. Felix Doubront has continued to look sharp and Daniel Bard pitched a seven inning gem last night. The team got their first sweep against the Minnesota Twins and tonight they can reach .500 with a third straight win against the Chicago White Sox.

Aside from Red Sox starters hitting their stride, one of the big reasons for the winning streak has been new lead off man Mike Aviles. Sam Feeley took a look at Aviles’ time in the leadoff spot and –spoiler alert- he has been awesome. Jarrod Saltalamcchia has also caught fire after a 1-25 start and Peter Abraham believes that the early slump was partly a result of having so much work to do with the myriad of pitchers he was learning to catch in Spring Training. This good news for Boston since, as Mr. Feeley has pointed out; getting a strong contribution from Salty could be a big key for the Red Sox this season. Also finding his stroke is the newly acquired Marlon Byrd. Marc Normandin at Over the Monster points out how the change of scenery has helped Byrd shake off his dreadful start to the 2012 season.

The timing for this surge could not be better, as the Red Sox have just learned that the issue with Carl Crawford’s elbow may keep him out for up to three months. In Crawford’s absence, long time prospect Lars Anderson may finally get a chance to become a major league regular.

Crawford’s issues are not the only cloud dampening the Red Sox week in the sun. Though his bat has started to heat up with a grand slam against the White Sox, Kevin Youkilis has been a liability on defense thus far as has back up third basemen Nick Punto, adding to the pitching staffs woes. With elite glove man Will Middlebrooks red hot at AAA Pawtucket it is tempting to call him up, but Alex Speier has a breakdown of why that isn’t happen just yet and I thoroughly agree with his assessment. Still, with nine home runs and a .358/.409/.753 batting line in 81 plate appearances, he is impossible to ignore right now, just ask Baseball America, who listed him at the top of their hot prospects list this week.

I have been pretty critical of Bobby Valentine so far this year. While I may not like his handling of the bullpen or his tendency to say stupid things, I have to give credit where credit is due. The man may not know the handedness of the  opposing pitcher, but he has fixed one major weakness in the Red Sox game. This week Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal points out the dramatic impact Bobby ball has had on the Red Sox ability to control the running game. Under Terry Francona, the Red Sox had a virtual track meet going on behind their pitchers, but things really do look different with Valentine in charge.

The Red Sox may also be getting some help for their number one weakness. Rich Hill has been called up to replace Justin Thomas in the Red Sox bullpen. I am not sure which is going to help more, the addition of Hill or the fact that Thomas is no longer an option for Bobby Valentine, who seems to be operating under the delusion that Thomas is an effective LOOGY. Either way, it’s good news for the game’s worst bullpen. The Red Sox could get another boost if Mark Melancon has figured out what was causing him to look like Robinson Cano’s dad at the 2011 Home Run Derby. Tim Britton spoke with the recently demoted reliever and he is optimistic that he can redeem himself with theBoston fans. His work atAAA suggests the same; he has  thrown four scoreless innings giving up four hits while striking out eight and walking none and keeping the ball on the ground prodigiously once again.

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