I've really come to enjoy watching Boof Bonser pitch. He was rough around the edges when he first came up in May, but last night's start in Boston provides a great example of how far he's come. Bonser attacked hitters, throwing strikes and getting ahead in the count. He mixed up his pitches and changed speeds masterfully. Bonser showed a level of poise and confidence that is highly uncommon for a 24-year-old rookie making his first start in legendary Fenway Park.
The result was Bonser's sixth victory of the season. He delivered seven innings of two-run ball, allowing seven hits while striking out five and walking none. He was efficient, working quickly and needing only 81 pitches to complete the seven innings of work. Boof did allow a solo home run to David Ortiz, but it was the first he's given up in three starts. In fact, while giving up home runs was at one point a major problem for Bonser (he allowed seven in his first four starts), he's cut down considerably as of late. In his past five starts, he has allowed only two.
Bonser seems to be taking after Mr. Santana, putting together a big second half and pushing the team to victory in seemingly each of his starts. The Twins have now won six of the last seven games Bonser has started, and he seems to be improving each time out. While his ERA, which now stands at 4.36, might not be anything spectacular, it's solid and also pretty impressive when you consider that it was at 5.67 on August 3.
Of course, Bonser wouldn't have been able to pick up the W if not for another late explosion from the offense. The Twins hitters made Red Sox starter Curt Schilling work hard, forcing him to throw 104 pitches over five innings; however, they were unable to capitalize and scored only one run against him. Getting Schilling out of the game early was crucial though, as it allowed the Twins to get plenty of at-bats against Boston's weak bullpen. They jumped on Craig Hansen in the eighth, knocking him around for four runs on three hits and a walk. That put the Twins on top 5-2, and they added three more runs against Bryan Corey in the ninth to seal the deal.
Torii Hunter initiated the scoring spree with a three-run shot over the Green Monster in the eighth. Hunter has been absolutely insane over the last month, with 13 home runs and 30 RBI in his last 31 games, and he has watched his line for the season shoot up to a very respectable .275/.336/.483 with 28 HR and 90 RBI. Hunter has always been an extremely streaky player, but he's on perhaps the biggest hot streak of his career right now, and it's coming at a crucial time for the Twins as they look to lock up a playoff spot and overtake the Tigers in the AL Central. Of course, he's still as impatient as ever at the plate (two walks in 77 plate appearances this month), but right now I'm more than willing to look past that and embrace the incredible power surge he's having. If Torii can carry this hot streak into the playoffs, the Twins become a much more dangerous team with legitimate power threats 4-6 in the order.
With the Tigers defeating the White Sox, the Twins remain a half-game back in the division, but their lead in the wild-card standings increases to 5.5 games. That's a huge lead with only 11 games remaining (10 for Chicago), and with the way these teams are playing it is starting to look increasingly likely that the White Sox will have been eliminated from playoff contention by the time they roll into the Metrodome for the final series of the season. That would be a shame for me, since I have tickets to that series and was looking forward to some playoff-type baseball, but it would be great for the Twins as it would potentially allow them to rest up their starters in preparation for the ALDS (assuming that they're not still neck and neck with Detroit in the division race).
As it stands, the Twins are now 5-0 against the Red Sox this year and tonight they send out Johan Santana as they look to complete a season sweep. Taking the hill for Boston will be Josh Beckett. The Red Sox can't be feeling too good about giving up stud prospects Anibal Sanchez and Hanley Ramirez to acquire Beckett in the off-season. He has posted a 5.02 ERA for Boston while Ramirez and Sanchez have both pieced together phenomenal rookie seasons for the Marlins. Surprisingly, the oft-injured Beckett has remained healthy all season and he's set career highs in games started and innings pitched, but he simply hasn't been as effective as in the past. His strikeout rate is down and his walk rate is up. Let's see if the Twins can take advantage of this lop-sided pitching matchup and give the Red Sox the dagger to the heart.