Thursday, May 28, 2009

Beckett, Varitek in Strong Form Against Twinkies

Jason Varitek took one for the team today in a 3 - 1 win against the Twins.

Varitek was the dominant offensive player today with two solo home runs--the second one which was powered to the top right-center deck of the Metrodome--a long freaking way.

While those blasts were obviously a good thing in low scoring game, Tek's best move was in arguing a borderline strike on behalf of a furious Josh Beckett who had been getting that outside corner fastball to righties all day, then suddenly disappeared in the bottom of the 7th inning.

Beckett stared in while slowly walking in to the home plate umpire, turned his head to his side and cursed quite loudly. Tek, immediately recognizing the fury of his pitcher, stood up, turned to the home plate umpire Todd Tichenor and argued the inconsistency of his calls.

The pitch was outside (according the Amica pitch zone), but that's not the point... This is: Varitek was protecting the pitching staff and Beckett.

Tek knows when to stand up for his pitcher and take the heat. It was important to Beckett's future outings and the Sox pitching staff that a starter go as deep as he can and give Beckett the best possible chance for a win, especially in a week of no time off.

Tek was quickly thrown out of the game--so quick that Tito had little time to intervene. Francona had to save face and get thrown out after that so at least Tek would have some company in the visitor's clubhouse.

Beckett, for his part, was dominant today with the fastball. Here's the breakdown of Beckett who faced 27 total batters:

  • 111 pitches, 69 for strikes
  • 8 Ks, 4 BBs and 1 HR
  • 3 Hits Allowed
  • 9 groundouts, 4 fly balls
  • Lowered his ERA to 4.60

While the walks were higher than he'd want, none of those free passes led to any runs. Overall, Beckett looked like he had sufficient movement on fastballs that were mostly clocked in the 94 to 95 MPH range and had a lot of swing and misses. He used his curveball effectively as needed, and had that Beckett swagger on the mound that made the likes of Joe Mauer look like a minor leaguer in the first inning.

He went right after hitters.

With Varitek's umpire-arguing sacrifice, Beckett finished the 7th with his head up and in good shape to turn the game over to Okajima then Papelbon. Both relievers gave up a hit each and struck out one batter respectively. Another save for Paps .

Sox split in Minnesota. Bring on the Blue Jays.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

All Not Lost For Lester

Man, the Providence Journal sure is down on Lester this morning.  A 6+ ERA to end May isn't pretty, but suggesting that Lester's facing a "lost season" at end of the May seems a little over the top.  Not that I don't think there are problems: like Papelbon, Lester is not only giving up more walks, hits, and home runs per nine innings than he did last year, but his strikeout per nine and strikeout per walk ratios are the highest they've ever been in his short career.  He may claim - as he did in the article that I linked to above - that concentration is not the issue, but it sounds like the opposite is true: like Papelbon, like Papi at the plate, I think Lester is concentrating far too much on making each pitch count.  We should probably take comfort in the fact that he's talented enough to translate his extreme focus into more effective strikeout pitches, but if he's viewing every game as hanging on one bad pitch, he'll keep pitching like that's the case, to the detriment of his performance.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Is Brad Penny Trade Bait?

Bob Ryan and Chad Finn may be on to something.

They contend, Ryan actually predicts, that Brad Penny will no longer be a member of the Red Sox come the trade deadline in late July.

Brad Penny has been a decent starter as of late, and we all know what teams need for the second half of the season: Innings-eating quality pitching. With Bowden, Buchholz and 'ole man Smoltzy in the waiting, the depth we've all heard about in Red Sox pitching should start seeing life with the big league team in June.

[By the way, Buchholz came extremely close to a perfect game in Pawtucket]

Look at some Penny fun facts:
  • 3 Wins in his last 5 starts against strong offensive teams: Tampa, Toronto and Twins
  • In those 5 starts, he's walked a total of 6 batters, none against the Twins on the road
  • Only 1 home run given up over that stretch
  • Penny hasn't given up more than 4 runs in any of those 5 starts
  • His ERA has dropped from 7.61 to 5.96
  • He had 8 K's against Tampa, 7 against Twinkies
And the not so fun Penny facts:
  • Opponents hitting .302 against him for the season
  • An 11.2 Hits Per 9 inning in 2009 (a career worst)
  • A career era of 4.12 while pitching almost entirely in the NL
  • Has a recent-shoulder history that would have many GMs nervous
  • Has a belly that says "Beer is a food group"
  • He's 31
The thing that Ryan and Finn don't really discuss what they might get for Penny, but the point of trade bait is a valid one and something you could see the Sox doing, especially as the move to get younger (aside from the freak Smoltz) takes hold. The Sox would probably need to package him up with some young player they are willing to part with (no one really comes to mind immediately, but we know the Sox have a coveted farm system).

Lord knows many of us would love to see Lugo go in a trade, so perhaps Penny might be part of that kind of package with a youngster. I pray.

I could easily see Penny being baited back to the NL West where the streaking Padres (not naked priests, you sickos, the 10 Ws in a row) could look to make a move against the Dodgers, or even the New York Mets who need more reliable starting pitching with all their recent offensive DL moves (Delgado, Cora, and today, Reyes and Church). The Mets are going to need pitching help soon.

The Padres make sense to me because they seem to love to trade former guys who played for the Dodgers like Maddux who was wearing those retarded camo uniforms one day, then in those crisp, white Dodger unis the next. Time to stick it back to the Dodgers, whale vagina town?

We're not used to seeing guys be traded at the deadline in the same division here in the AL East. That's nuts, especially in the same season.

The big questions remain on how Bucholz will react to coming back to the big league team, not to mention how Bowden will perform (and how much he will be used as a starter) and if Smoltz can be Smoltzesque in the AL against offensive powerhouses like the Rays and Yankees.

While Penny might seem excellent trade discussion fodder, it's not a bad thing to have 4 starting options if anyone should need to go on the DL between now and July 31 (or after). We've seen Beckett blisters boil up before, and I'm not convinced yet that Dice-K is at full strength after his recent medicore outing.

One thing is for sure: Penny will not be packaged with top tier talent for anyone.

Three Words

Julio Lugo Sucks

What's Up With Paps?

Glad we won yesterday.  Even gladder that Jeff Bailey hit that home run in the eighth to make the ultimate difference in the score, because someone in the AL East has got to keep those steam-rolling Yankees from taking first place.  The Papelbon thing?  Not so good.  

The papers of record have no speculation on what's going on with our god-like closer (although the Globe is happy to let the fans offer their thoughts), or why the guy whose WHIP hasn't gone above 1.00 since he took over the role is now flirting with a 1.40 over 21 innings and giving up home runs like he's preparing for Lent.  When we were watching the game on Saturday, Don suggested that Papelbon is pulling a Beckett and relying too much on his fastball to blow opponents away.  The numbers Papelbon has put up so far support the idea: a larger number of hits per nine, home runs per nine, and walks per nine; a low strikeout to walk ratio whose depths he hasn't plumbed since his starting days in 2005; a strikeout per nine ratio that's a touch higher than his overall total last year; these all look like the calling cards of a pitcher who's living and dying by throwing smoke, no matter how inaccurate.  

Assuming I'm correct, we're far luckier than we would be should the alternative - an injured Papelbon, slowly pitching his way on to the DL and rendering himself inactive when we need him most - be true: the guy's got three (or four) pitches; he just needs to use the offspeed stuff more to make the heat look hotter and maybe stop trying to place his pitches so much.  Of course, that kind of switch goes against the canon of dominant closers, who supposedly need no more than two pitches to wreck the competition, but I think we can all agree that having a pitcher who can the shut door without inducing heart attacks is worth breaking some traditions.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Papi's First 2009 Home Run, and Other Red Sox Items

Take that Bobby Abreu, Carlos Guillen and Russell Martin.

David Ortiz finally crushed a fastball for a home run, and to the deepest part of Fenway--straight away center.

Despite the sigh of relief from worried fans (and the missed-opportunity runs that nahmally would have been scored by all those frustrating ground outs and pop-ups), Big Papi just needed it to happen. He told the locker-room media, including Irish-afro style Shaunessy after the game:

"I got that big old monkey off my back . . . It's been hard for me. I wasn't really worried about the home runs as much as getting my swing back. I was missing pitches that I normally hit. It's crazy how things happen. I had some good swings and nothing happened. I hit this one good."

Nobody knows why or how someone gets out of that bad funk, but it was either one of two things: His Papi or my fantasy team.

"My father flew in yesterday," said Ortiz [to Irish afro-style] . "It was loose at home today and we were playing with my son. My father told me, 'It's not going to get worse than this. Get out there and have fun. Do what you know how to do.' "

I benched Ortiz after sticking by him in my utility spot in the semi-insane, AL-only auction fantasy league I have him in. Murphy's Law seems to always work when you start over analyzing numbers and letting a legend stupidly duke it out with Jason Giambi for fantasy playing time.

It was good to be wrong on this one (you're back to the utility spot).

We all knew it would happen, but as I said in the first week, he looked really slow with the bat speed and didn't look like he could it much. As the weeks progressed, Ortiz stared to hit to the opposite field when they were home, which was the sign that in the past that a blast was imminent.

But it didn't happen. And then the Sox went on the road.

Side Note: Ortiz keeps his sense of humor. Read this from Manchester, NH's Union Leader:

"Look at that!” David Ortiz said out of nowhere, interrupting his own answer
about the swing that ended his season-long home-run drought to gesture toward
the other side of the locker room. “That’s crazy!”
A dozen heads turned at
once toward the direction he was pointing. What was it? Something on one of the
TV screens? A highlight of the home run he’d hit into the center-field
bleachers, perhaps?
“It’s (pitcher Josh) Beckett naked over there in the
corner,” Ortiz said, a playful smile spreading across his face.

The Road Trip
Speaking of the road, there were some serious tough losses in Anaheim and Seattle. The one that really drove me nuts was last Sunday with bases loaded and no outs and Jason Bay in the box.

I love this mild-mannered Canadian, and I'm willing to give him huge passes because in many clutch situations, he has come through. But someone, anyone, for Remy's sake (get well, Mr. President), please hit a sacrifice fly or opposite field single.

Perhaps the lesson is that, like Papi's troubles with the long ball, patience will be rewarded. The long view is that Toronto, after Halladay, is weak, and though they have some serious offensive pop (league-leading 225 RBIs, and 3rd in HRS), but I expect them and their rookie pitching to fade.

That Other Team, Kazmir, Sox Pitching
That other team in the Boogie Down, however, is starting to show their true colors with the long ball, big run-scorinng innings and starting pitching. As the Spring transitions more directly in to Summer, the Yankees are going to be a very tough team. Despite some setbacks with A-Roid, Burnett, Sabbathia and a slow bat from Teixiera, they are starting to earn all that cash they make.

Yanks are leading the league in HRs (64). Compared that to the Sox at 47 (Sox rank 7th in the league, just below the Rays). They are just ahead of the Sox in RBIs, (212 to 209) and in Runs (225 to 218).

Happy to see the Rays are not getting it done so the Sox can focus on one thing: Getting enough wins and standings separation to get either the division or the Wild Card. The Central and West are doing a very good job right now of beating up on each other.

Scott Kazmir looks like he should be playing for the Mets. His ERA is now 7.68.

I know the Sox starters outside of Wakefield have been rough too, but you can see Beckett and Penny starting to get it figured out over their last two starts.

Looking forward to tonight's start from Lester. It's bounce back time at home with a chance to sweep.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Kevin Youkilis, Meet the DL. Try Not to Stay Too Long

On one hand, Kevin Youkilis on the DL is one of those "oh crap," moments, because of how he's been hitting/carrying the offense for so much of the early season.

On the other hand, that same offense seems to have recovered enough to win games and make wild comebacks, the team is 5 and 2 since Youkilis hurt himself, and it's only May. If he's going to get hurt anyway (and don't you love the self-convincing logic that goes along with a statement like that), it might as well be right now. In any case, rest up, buddy. We want to see your fierce pitcher-eating beard back in the field as soon as possible.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Manny and the PEDs

Besides the "holy crap!" nature of the story - I mean, Manny Ramirez getting suspended for half a season just makes you wonder that much more about everything that happened while he was in Boston - one thing I note with sardonic amusement: Jose Canseco was right again.
In an appearance at USC last month, Jose Canseco said Ramirez's name "is most likely, 90%" on a list of 104 players that failed a drug test in 2003. The players were promised anonymity for taking tests in 2003; Rodriguez is the only player that has been identified among that group.
What's Canseco's record on these things at this point? At least 90 percent, with a few unconfirmed? And yet no one (yours truly included) really wants to listen to him every time he makes a claim about someone who juiced. Does that make him the slightly scummy Jeremiah of 'Roid Years?

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

General Farrell Marches to War

I was going to write something up about how we shouldn't count the Yankees out (in the season series; I have no doubt their stacked lineup will find plenty of other teams with crappy pitching to beat up on over the course of the year) because of how well Joba recovered from his first inning screw ups last night. Their two star starter signings might have ERAs well over the stellar 3.00 you'd expect, but Pettitte and Chamberlain (and maybe Hughes, he still seems like a wild card) seem to be turning in solid performances. Sure, they need a bullpen to keep things under control on the back end, but that's why the baseball gods invented the trading deadline and the waiver wire.

However, I then spotted this headline over at "Farrell: Those things aren't forgotten." As we all know, Chamberlain "somehow" managed to hit Jason Bay, the guy who wrecked his strong performance with one swing of the bat, square in the back on the first pitch of his fifth inning at-bat. Such an occurance is, of course, complete coincidence, especially for a guy who had the command to strike out twelve batters over 5 and 2/3rds, but to predict that there'll be some retaliation the next time the two teams face up doesn't seem like too wild of a forecast, particularly after this quote:
[I]f there was a purpose or intent to throw up and in, or if the intent was even further than that, to send a clear-cut message, you can disguise it a little bit more than with a first-pitch pitch in the middle of the back to Jason Bay. So, those things aren't forgotten. We know that there's a history there between the pitcher in New York and our guys here, so, not to say that he was specifically out to do that, but I think history speaks for itself. And we've got a number of games left with these guys.
I'm assuming you can't out and out declare war on another team, but yeah: that seems pretty close.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Surprise! Julio Lugo Isn't Really Ready To Play

Because inquiring minds want to know, Terry Francona has to answer questions about Julio Lugo, and being a good manager, he protected his player as much as possible without dodging any bullets. Unfortunately, his answers seem to have generated more questions:
"Talked to Lugie today, he came back quick," Francona said. "I don't think he's moving yet like he's gonna. I told him to take the next day or so and get with [strength and conditioning coach Dave Page] because I think putting him out there sometimes is a little unfair. I thought [Sunday] he got put in some situations where plays were hard for him to make.
So he wasn't really ready, was he. He came back because the Sox couldn't call Gil Velazquez back up again, but really he should have been working out his kinks in Pawtucket. Did I get that right? "Looking out for both guys (Green and Lugo)," as Francona put it in the same article, is all well and good, but maybe Lugo shouldn't start until he really is back to 100 percent? Meanwhile, calls for Lugo's head continue to grow.

Riding That Gravy Train Through The Bronx

Glad to see that Yankee Stadium has become a stopover point to recover from a Rays-given pounding. Not that four runs is something to sneeze at, but it doesn't look so bad in comparison with six runs...or the buckets of relief the Yankees used in giving them up. I don't feel like I'm being too cocky either, because Joba's starting tonight and I'm guessing that he's going to be a bit distracted.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

David Ortiz Will Wreck Things When He's Good and Ready

I'll admit it: I've been concerned about Ortiz. Really, who hasn't? His average is down, he's yet to hit a home run, teams are intentionally walking Pedroia to get to's not a good scene. There seems to be hope, though: Ortiz not only took the time to talk the talk today, but he's walking the walk. Literally. To wit:
"I'm not going to lying [sic] to you. I was trying to get five hits in one at-bat. So right now, I'm just taking it slowly. If they want to walk me, they don't want to give me [expletive] to hit, I won't swing. If you give me something, I'm going to try to hit. If I don't hit a home run today, I'm going to hit a home run tomorrow."
As of his first at-bat today, Big Papi has five walks in the last four games. He hasn't gotten any hits in that time period, but the walks seem like pretty tangible proof that Ortiz is on his way back to getting his head on straight and becoming a feared member of the lineup once again.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Help Me Tim Wakefield, You're My Only Hope

Tim Wakefield.

In twenty-three career games at Tropicana Field, he's put up such sterling numbers as a .750 winning percentage, an ERA of 2.86, a WHIP of 1.16, a K/9 of 6.6...and on and on. You can read all about it here if you'd like, but combined with his average 2.44 ERA and 7 and 2/3rds over his three last starts, the Sox have no better hope than Tim Wakefield when they take the field tonight. Down they may be, but not out, and just like two years ago, Wakefield is the only stopper we need.

Go Wakefield. Go Sox.

Friday, May 01, 2009

The Sad Times of Javier Lopez

Think you've had a crappy week at work? Compare your tough times with Javier Lopez:
  • On Tuesday, he became the (unwarranted, to my mind) focus of attention for the muffed catch that scored a run, ended a game, and snapped an eleven-game win streak.

  • On Wednesday, after enduring a full day of ire from fans (to be honest, I doubt he has time to read blogs, but it works too well for this scenario I'm constructing to ignore) he had to come back into pitch for an inning because - with the exception of an old man and a kid playing more roles than Tommy Flanagan - our vaunted starting rotation is about as effective as trying to start a fire in a downpour.

  • Last night, he pitched for a third day in a row. The last time he did so, and for this long (two innings total), was July 4 through 6, 2008, where he ended the streak with two hits, a run, and a blown save over 2/3rds of a inning. This time was even worse: four hits, a walk, and five runs over 2/3rds of an inning to his credit before his manager pulls him...but he's not destined for showers. Instead, he switches places with wonderkind Jonathan Van Every in right field, becoming the first Red Sox pitcher to play the field since nineteen-frickin-eighty, when yours truly was naught but a glimmer in his parents' eyes, the Gerbil finished his tenure in Boston, and the Sox went 83 and 77 for a fifth place finish.
Francona went out of his way to tell the press that a.) he was trying to keep Lopez from getting hurt on the mound and b.) not looking to embarass him by replacing him with a guy who hadn't pitched since high school while c.) preserving the rest (read: more important) pieces of the bullpen for action today, but I would not want to be in Lopez's shoes today.