Where was this in the first half from Lester, Gonzo?


Where was this in the first half from Lester, Gonzo?

NEW YORK -- This is how the Red Sox hoped it would go back in April, when hopes were high and six months of baseball were still laid out in front of them:

Jon Lester would pitch well and win big games and Adrian Gonzalez would provide extra-base hits and produce the way he did in the first half of 2011.

And so it was on Saturday, when Lester limited the powerful Yankee lineup to a single run over seven innings and Gonzalez smacked a two-run homer in the top of the first.

When someone asked Bobby Valentine if this is what he thought he had from two key performers earlier in the year, Valentine said: "We still have it. We just haven't used it as often. We saved it up.''

If the Red Sox hadn't score again -- they did, with a Nick Punto double in the fifth and, with the aid of a wild pitch, again in the eighth -- it would have been enough for Lester, who improved to 7-10.

It was Lester's second consecutive strong start, coming on the heels of a six-inning, one-run performance last Sunday in Cleveland. In point of fact, it was his fifth straight decent start, part of a second-half turnaround that began last month when the Sox last visited the Bronx.

Over the last five starts, Lester's ERA is 3.48, more in keeping with what the lefthander's career ERA was (3.53) at the start of this season.

Gonzalez, too, has had a second-half renaissance. He leads all American Leaguers in RBI in August with 22 and has been named AL Player of the Week twice since the All-Star break. Since June 23, he has the best batting average in the American League, with a .380 batting average.

Most telling, perhaps, is his slugging percentage, which was an anemic .416 before the All-Star break, but is a smoldering .618 since the start of the second half of the season.

In the team's first 89 games, Gonzalez had just six homers; in the last 32, he has eight. And thanks to his recent surge, he now ranks fifth in the A.L. in RBI with 84.

Here's the problem, however: while both Lester and Gonzalez have turned their individual seasons around in recent weeks, it's too late to help the Red Sox turn theirs.

They were needed in the first half, when injuries hit and the club sputtered.

But it wasn't until mid-June that Lester won his fourth game of the year and it wasn't until the last month that Gonzalez began doing damage at the plate.

Neither Lester nor Gonzalez can provide much in the way of explanation for their recent spurts. Manager Bobby Valentine believes that Lester is throwing his curveball harder and is benefiting from better luck, continually citing Lester's abnormally high BABIP (batting average with balls in play) as evidence of the breaks that have gone against him.

Lester, never one for self-analysis, shrugs off the improvements to "better execution'' of pitches and other generalities.

"Results are all that matter,'' he said.

For much of the year, Gonzalez has seemed almost indifferent to his numbers, emphasizing that, by the end of the year, he'll have an on-base percentage of .400 or so, a slugging percentage in the neighborhood of .500and an OPS of .900.

And sure enough, he's getting there. His OBP is at .352 and his slugging is up to .477. By the end of the year, he may well reach his goal.

But the Red Sox won't. And the first-half drop-offs by Lester and Gonzalez are, let's face it, partly to blame.

Three things we learned from the Red Sox’ 11-9 loss to the Twins


Three things we learned from the Red Sox’ 11-9 loss to the Twins

Three things we learned from the Boston Red Sox’ 11-9 loss to the Minnesota Twins . . .

1) David Price isn’t having fun

Boston’s $217 million-dollar arm had another rough outing -- this time against a team that already has 60 losses.

Those are the team’s he’s supposed to dominate.

“It’s been terrible,” Price said on how his season has gone following the loss. “Just awful.”

Price’s mistakes have often been credited to mechanical mishaps this year. Farrell mentioned that following his start in New York, Price spent time working on getting more of a downhill trajectory on his pitches.

But Price doesn’t think his issue is physical.

So it must be mental -- but he doesn’t feel that’s the case either.

“Honestly I don’t think it’s either one of those,” Price said when asked which he thought was a factor. “It’s me going out there and making pitches. “

But when it comes down to the barebones, pitching -- much like anything else -- is a physical and mental act.

So when he says it’s neither, that’s almost impossible. It could be both, but it has to be one.

His mind could be racing out on the mound from a manifestation of the issues he’s had throughout the season.

Or it could just be that his fastball isn’t changing planes consistently, like Farrell mentioned.

Both could be possible too, but it takes a certain type of physical approach and mental approach to pitch -- and Price needs to figure out which one is the issue, or how to address both. 

2) Sandy Leon might be coming back to Earth

Over his last five games, Boston’s new leading catcher is hitting .176 (3-for-17), dropping his average to .395.

A couple things have to be understood. His average is still impressive. In the five games prior to this dry spell, Leon went 7-for-19 (.368) But -- much like Jackie Bradley Jr. -- Leon hasn’t been known for his offensive output throughout his career. So dry spells are always tests of how he can respond to adversity and make necessary adjustments quickly.

Furthermore, if he’s not so much falling into a funk as opposed to becoming the real Sandy Leon -- what is Boston getting?

Is his run going to be remembered as an exciting run that lasted much longer than anyone expected? Or if he going to show he’s a legitimate hitter that can hit at least -.260 to .280 with a little pop from the bottom of the line-up?

What’s more, if he turns back into the Sandy Leon he’s been throughout his career, the Red Sox will have an interesting dilemma on how to handle the catching situation once again.

3) Heath Hembree has lost the momentum he gained after being called up.

Following Saturday’s contest, the right-hander was demoted to Triple-A Pawtucket after an outing where he went 1/3 of an inning, giving up a run on three hits -- and allowing some inherited runners to score.

Hembree at one point was the savior of the bullpen, stretching his arm out over three innings at a time to bail out the scuffling Red Sox starting rotation that abused it’s bullpen.

His ERA is still only 2.41 -- and this has been the most he’s ever pitched that big league level -- but the Red Sox have seen a change in him since the All-Star break.

Which makes sense, given that hitters have seven hits and two walks against him in his 1.1 innings of work -- spanning four games since the break.

“He’s not confident pitcher right now,” John Farrell said about Hembree before announcing his demotion. “As good as Heath has been for the vast majority of this year -- and really in the whole first half -- the four times out since the break have been the other side of that.”

Joe Kelly will be the pitcher to replace Hembree and Farrell hopes to be able to stretch him out over multiple innings at a time, as well.

Quotes, notes and stars: Price says season has been "terrible"

Quotes, notes and stars: Price says season has been "terrible"

Quotes, notes and stars from the Boston Red Sox’ 11-9 loss to the Minnesota Twins:


* “It’s been terrible . . . Just awful.” Price on how his season has gone.

* “Tough night from the mound -- obviously.” John Farrell on Red Sox pitching in the loss.

* “Honestly I don’t think it’s either one of those. It’s me going out there and making pitches. It’s what I’ve done for a long time now -- and I haven’t done this year. That’s why this year’s been the way it has been.” Price said when he was asked if he felt his problems boiled down to physical or mental issues.

* “Given that [we] had to stay away from [Matt] Barnes and [Junichi] Tazawa today, [Clay Buchholz] was a guy that was going to be needed to hopefully multiple inning to bridge us to where were able to match up a little bit more in the eighth inning to get to Ziegler. Unfortunately it didn’t happen.” Farrell said on why he turned to Buchholz -- not Barnes – despite having the lead.

* “It was crazy. When the fly ball [went] into the sky it turned into like a twister of some sort and you didn’t know where the ball was going to fall. I’ve never seen anything like that before.” Michael Martinez on dealing with the howling wind in right field.

* “It wasn’t much wind. I went and looked at it, definitely should have made the play. Just running at it full speed -- it was one of those things I didn’t know how close I was getting to the wall so I went into a slide. And it was an early slide, so it kind of threw me off a little bit . . . Just thought I was closer to the wall than I really was.” Brock Holt on the fly ball he misplayed.


* Jackie Bradley Jr. knocked in two runs, becoming the fourth Red Sox hitter to reach the 60 RBI mark this season -- the most in the MLB. Bradley also had a double, marking is 46th extra-base hit of the season -- with 99 hits overall.

* Dustin Pedroia reached base for the 26th consecutive game with his double in the second inning. He has a .402 OBP during this stretch and a .311 average.

* The Red Sox have lost consecutive games for the first time in nearly a month (6/26-27). Both losses were comeback victories for Minnesota. Boston’s record drops to 3-3 against the 37-60 Twins this season.


1) Eddie Rosario

Rosario finished 4-for-4 with an RBI and three runs scored, bumping his average from .244 to .262.

2) David Ortiz

Ortiz finished 3-for-3 with a walk, double, two RBI and two runs scored -- giving Boston just about as much offense as anyone can hope for.

3) Miguel Sano

The burly Twins third baseman finished 3-for-5 with a long ball, two runs scored, a walk and an RBI in Minnesota’s win.

Nick Friar can be followed on Twitter: @ngfriar