One sensed that the Boston Red Sox would emerge from their awful slump in April, but it was hard to foresee their hitting would get so good so fast.

In recent days, a majority of the Red Sox lineup has belted the ball, and that has included Carl Crawford.  It has been impressive for several reasons, but, I’ve been most struck by the following hitting-related developments:

Adrian Gonzalez has been even better than I imagined.  He’s batting .338 with 44 RBI and 72 hits as of May 28th. He hits for power and contact.  He has a great eye and draws walks.  He’s a very smart hitter and always seems to be attempting to guess what the pitcher will throw him next.  He makes adjustments.  He watches the ball until the last possible instant, allowing him to hit the ball hard to the opposite field as well as any hitter in baseball.  Plus, he’s displayed outstanding fielding skills at first base. 

What else can I say about Gonzo?  He’s as large a presence in the Sox lineup as anyone I can remember.  I put him on a very short list that includes Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, Jim Rice in the late 1970s and Yaz in 1967; I always stop what I’m doing to watch Gonzo’s at-bats.  Don’t you?

Speaking of Ortiz, how in the world has Big Papi gotten substantially better at the plate since last year?  Ortiz is watching the ball longer before he swings. (following Gonzo’s lead, perhaps?) He’s much more selective at the plate, taking bad pitches and swinging at strikes more. 

Ortiz is hitting the ball the other way much better than he has in the past couple of years.  He has stopped trying to pull so many pitches and is grounding out less than before.  He’s hitting lefties much better—which is a sign of his watching pitches better.  What an unexpected bonus to see Big Papi hitting this well in the No. 5 hole!

Jacoby Ellsbury has proven me wrong so far, I’m glad to say.  I had noted his shortcomings before the 2011 season and even proposed trading him, partly due to his limited hitting skills.  Well, I have to admit Ellsbury is doing a few key things I doubted he could.  He’s batting .299 with 27 RBI from the leadoff position. 

He’s watching the ball longer, it seems, and just making better contact this season.  He’s hitting a lot of low line drives to left and center field—a sign that he’s going with the pitch and “seeing the ball” well.  Plus, Ellsbury has hit a surprising six home runs already in 2011.  (His 18 stolen bases haven’t hurt, either)

Then, there is the unusual case of Crawford, who started in nightmarish fashion, but recently, seems to finally be more relaxed at the plate.  Crawford was pressing so badly that he couldn’t seem to wait on pitches.  He swung awkwardly and late at any well-placed fastballs and breaking pitches.  Then, he seemed to regain a little confidence with his “walk-off” hits, and in the past few days, for the first time, he really resembles the dangerous Carl Crawford on the Tampa Bay Rays

He’s much looser at the plate, watching the ball longer.  His home run in his second at-bat vs. the Detroit Tigers on May 27th typified his improvements.  First, Crawford worked the count—something he was not doing earlier in the season.  Then, on the pitch he hit out, he adjusted at the last instant, suddenly pulling the ball on a line into the right-field seats.  Again, until recently, Crawford wasn’t waiting on pitches long enough to do that.

Kevin Youkilis started to hit much better in May.  No surprise there as he’s been so steadily good in the past few years.

Jed Lowrie has proved he’s a good hitter, especially hitting right-handed.  He carried the team a few games when he was on fire. 

Jarrod Saltalamacchia has begun to hit well, belting several home runs in a string of recent games.  He, like Crawford, just looks more relaxed at the plate and more likely to make contact.

It’s interesting, but it seems that within a few weeks, a handful of hitters on the Red Sox all began to keep their eye on the ball longer.  It was as if Gonzalez had set an example for the others.  During the May 28th, “The Baseball Show,” on Comcast SportsNet, Lou Merloni said he thought Gonzalez had helped Ortiz at the plate.   He commented that Ortiz has never been able to discuss hitting and compare notes with another left-handed slugger like he has with Gonzo. If this is true, let’s hope it continues.

Baseball observers wisely point out that teams are never as bad as they appear when they’re struggling  or as good as they seem when they’re on a roll. The 2011 Red Sox have already played very poorly for a stretch and very well in their recent streak.  Who knows how they’ll hold up over time?  But, at least, now, we know what this 2011 team is capable of, and it’s much, much easier to project them being in contention and making the playoffs.

And, Dustin Pedroia and J.D. Drew have not even begun to hit much yet. 

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