Friday, July 31, 2009

Welcome to V-Mart... located in the confines of friendly Fenway Park. The addition of the 30-year-old catcher and first baseman provides some insurance that will let Lowell take more spells away from the field and provide a bat with a bit more pop than the light hitting Kottaras. It's a solid deal, but I'll be honest: I'm more excited because the Sox were able to get an upgrade over LaRoche (now heading to Atlanta for Casey Kotchman) without trading anyone more valuable than Justin Masterson. Buchholz, Bard, Bowden; they're all still around, with Buchholz now free to get his second shot at establishing himself as an integral part of the rotation.

Next question: what are the Sox going to do with Kotchman? If there's another swap in the offing, why trade for Kotchman first - aren't he and LaRoche basically interchangeable parts? I guess we'll find out shortly.

Thoughts on Ortiz, The Day After

I think it's pretty clear the Globe has ruled against David Ortiz, but that shouldn't surprise anyone. The Herald is a little more moderate; the Providence Journal remained neutral, choosing to publish the results of a informal poll they took of fans on the concourse after the news came out. None of the columnists commented on Ortiz's statement, or seemed inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt: to them, Big Papi is at best the latest heart breaker in the steroids crisis; at worse, a hypocrite worse than Rafael Palmeiro.

I can't claim any greater purity of motives than the commentators listed above, but I am willing to listen when Ortiz says he'll try and find out what happened and own up to any results. Maybe I'm motivated by the loyalty to his accomplishments, or won over by his general good guy demeanor, or maybe I'm just impressed that he was smart enough to go to the press the day it happened and promise to give us some real answers once he'd done some digging of his own, but I'd rather know something more of the truth before offering up my judgment - especially because it gives me some sort of hope for a bit longer.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Manny Ortez and the Revelations of the List

I'm not particularly in the mood to think about the consequences of this article, but one thing my suddenly flailing mind latched on to was about the mention of ongoing battle over the rights to the list:
The union has argued that the government illegally seized the 2003 test results, and judges at various levels of the federal court system have weighed whether the government can keep them. The government hopes to question every player on the list to determine where the drugs came from. An appeals court is deliberating the matter, and the losing side is likely to appeal to the United States Supreme Court.
Assume for a moment that the Supreme Court accepts the case. Now that Sotomayor's ascension to the country's highest court seems certain, she'll likely be on the bench when the case comes into the docket, giving her the opportunity to play a deciding role in baseball's two biggest legal battles in the last thirty years. I have no idea what sort of decision she'll make on the case - I just think the coincidence is pretty neat.

And yes, I'm looking for any distractions I can find. I'd like to keep from becoming completely cynical about baseball if at all possible.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Looking at the Heart of the Dice-K Training Controversy

Reading over some of the articles on the storm raging over Matsuzaka's comments to the Japanese media about his training regimen, I'm struck by two things:
  1. John Farrell really knows how to take off the gloves once the dirty fighting starts: "It’s one thing to say that, ‘OK, we’ll let you go 125 pitches,’ ’’ Farrell said. “But you know what? You’ve got to go out and be effective. We’re not just going to let someone sit on the mound and throw 125 pitches and be down, 10-0. There has to be some accountability and responsibility on the part of the player." No sugar-coating there, clearly.

  2. This disagreement seems to have its roots in how clubs - and their training staffs - use performance statistics, as verbalized by another Farrell quote: "That’s based on a number of pitchers that when they get into that area you’re predisposed to injury. So we’d like to think that we’re trying to do our best to put him in the best situation and yet this is where the two worlds, the two baseball worlds, somewhat collide."
My reading of Farrell's statement is that the Sox hold the belief that pitch counts reflect what one school of medical statistics says a pitcher's arm can handle every five days. When training, a pitcher should maintain the strength necessary to meet that pitch count without overtaxing the arm and shoulder, which could lead to injury. Matsuzaka and his trainers, on the other hand, seem to follow another school of thought, believing that the pitcher will avoid injury by doing the pitching equivalent of using a 50 pound weight to train for a situation where you'll be lifting 30 pounds - what my friend Fred calls the Nolan Ryan school of pitching. There's some question as to which style is more effective, with some anecdotal evidence that the focus on pitch counts has led to more arm and shoulder injuries, but regardless of the overall truth, the Sox look like they're in the right: Matsuzaka's shoulder isn't strong enough to throw effectively in games.

We'll see how things turn out, but Matsuzaka's rather douchey decision to complain to the press aside, I don't really see this situation resolving itself until the Sox and Dice-K find some common ground on the best way to train.

Way To Make Up Some Ground, Guys

Not sure what's worse: that the Sox lost, or that the Yankees lost on the same night and the Sox missed a chance to gain some ground. I'm feeling a bit pessimistic at the moment, what with Wakefield and Matsuzaka on the DL and the consequent thrusting of the Smoltz experiment into the light, so I'm going to go with the blown chance as the greater of two evils.

On further thought, let me revise: the greatest of all evils was that Boston lost on a night when they had rallied to take a nice lead because the Red Scare had a uniformly terrible night and surrendered runs in dribs and drabs, ultimately coughing up the game in an extra inning loss (that most terrible of defeats) because the offense couldn't score a guy from third, all while the Yankees were losing to Tampa Bay, thereby squandering an opportunity to gain a game back in the standings.

I think that puts things about right.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Trade Deadline: Lugo's Imminent Adios; What Else Will Theo Do?

The Red Sox are seen by a number of seasoned journalists and analysts to not need a whole lot at the trade deadline, but they have too much fat on the roster bone, and are rumored to want to give Julio Lugo away for a cup of chowder and eat his salary.

Apparently, Lugo didn't show up to a mandatory meeting last night, but at this point, I think he knows it doesn't matter. He's owed $9 million for this year and $9 million next year whether he plays or not--or shows up to a meeting. Whatever.

While Nick Green has improved at short stop the more time he has had to play, I'm not as sold on Jed Lowrie as others seem to be. I guess the Red Sox feel somewhat the same way after their aggressive pursuit of defected Cuban short stop Jose Iglesias. While there is little chance the young Cuban stud will play this year (perhaps September call ups?), I think Lowrie's going to be a work in progress.

Glad to hear he's healthy, but the challenge is getting him up to major league pitching speed. But I understand that you have to throw him out there. I'm not overly confident that he will make an impact for some time. The wrist injury doesn't help.

Odds & Ends: Roy Halladay, Victor Martinez, AL East
My gut tells me that Roy Halladay will not be a part of the Red Sox team this year, and that they will try and get young pitching prospects or additional relief help for Lugo.

Also, if they can get the right deal, trade Brad Penny for a proven corner infield or outfield bat (Does Matt Holliday intrigue Theo? Would Orlando Cabrera make sense to come back?).

It's not clear if the Indians would deal Victor Martinez, and you'd imagine he is a great get for any team, but logically, the Red Sox could put him at first base and have him catch. With Jason Varitek on a one-year contract, Martinez's youth and offense pop is very attractive catching replacement for next year and beyond. Plus it would give the Red Sox another switch hitter, and additional lineup flexibility.

Victor Martinez is the deal I'd love to see.

With the knowledge that the Red Sox have pitching prospects to deal with some veteran offense, trading with the Indians--who have benefited from Kelly Shoppach from the Red Sox for one--it's good to know that Mark Shapiro and Theo Epstein have made deals with each other in the past.

As much as I love the play, leadership and clutch hitting of Mike Lowell, you have to wonder if the Red Sox would put him as part of a package with teams that need pitching. It's totally insane trying to figure out all the amalgamations of potential trade deals Theo and crew could do, but with Lowell's health as a liability, and the transition of Youkilis to third base, it will not surprise me if Lowell is part of any deal, if any, get made.

Honestly, there are a few deals that will surprise me with this team.

On a side not, here is a good piece from about the AL East at the trade deadline. Tampa Bay is seen as the team that needs to do the most. From that article, this is a nice little chart I borrowed:

Top 5 Run Differentials
Rank Team Scored Allowed Diff
1 Dodgers 443 338 +105
2 Red Sox 465 380 +85
3 Rays 476 400 +76
4 Yankees 495 435 +60
5 Phillies 460 412 +48

The Yankees run scoring ability is high. The big question for them is how well their pitching will do in the second half. I expect CC and Burnett to get better.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Ichiro Should Be a Lawyer

Either this interview with Ichiro underwent some heavy cutting that cut all of the logic out of his argument, or he needs to work on his argument construction skills, because his reasoning for not blaming the WBC for Matsuzaka's arm woes doesn't make any sense:
“If you think that’s the reason he’s struggling right now, if people are blaming the WBC, that’s not very smart,” Suzuki said. “People who are saying that are using it for a reason just to have a reason. They’re not really thinking it through. I believe he thinks it’s not due to the WBC, too. People who say that are just grasping for a reason.”
So the real reason is...?
“I’m not his teammate. There’s no way I can know,” he said. “It’s especially hard because it’s not an injury. If there’s an injury, you accept it because there’s nothing you can do about it. The reason it’s such a struggle is because we don’t know what the reason is. It’s a struggle because the reason lies somewhere you can’t see. That’s why it’s so hard.”
Yeah, you sold me on that one, buddy. After reading a non-reason like that one, I'm totally going to stop blaming the WBC for Dice-K's injury this year, or Timlin and Varitek's injuries in 2006.

All-Star Thoughts

As usual, I missed the entirety of the All-Star Game, undoubtedly because I have not found a way to relate its meaningless spectacle to the numerous meaningful events that happen during a season. I did, however, check in on a few of the highlights. It's good to see that Papelbon continues to do his best to make his work look easy on paper - one inning, no runs, no hits, no walks, one strikeout, all in 10 pitches - while inducing heart attacks in real time. It's also good to see that Carl Crawford can still make great catches look easy, and that despite his years of calling basebal, Tim McCarver still isn't sure when someone gets robbed of a home run by a great catch. I know it's tough, Tim, but trust me: that ball was on its way out of the bounds of the playing field.

Also, while the National League continues to lose these games, whether they "count" or not, is it really fair to say there's a lack of parity between the two leagues anymore? To choose an arbitary starting point: since the Fenway-hosted game ten years ago, the AL has only beaten the NL by more than three runs once: the 9 to 4 blowout in Houston, when a post-Yankees Clemens and a pre-Yankees Pavano gave up the lion's share of the earned runs for the NL and bad fielding gave up the rest. The remaining nine games include five one-run victories and the one infamous tie; hardly a situation of dominance.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Will Josh Beckett Win 300 Games?

Beckett at the helm is a nice way to end the first half: three hits, no runs, no walks, seven strike outs, and a league-leading tie of 10 wins with teammate and fellow All-Star Tim Wakefield (himself the subject of a nice profile in today's Globe). Beckett's 2009 ERA+ is 140, 22 points higher than his career average; his WHIP is 1.149, well below his career average of 1.216, and overall he looks far more impressive than the 2 and 2 starter with the 7.50 ERA that started the year.

But yesterday's domination of the lowly Royals was more impressive than the piling up of some sweet statistics that pulled Boston to three games above New York in the AL East standings: after eight years at the major league level, Josh Beckett has amassed his 100th win. Such milestones lead to speculation, for even as we recognize that the win is a flawed statistic for measuring the value of a pitcher, we wonder - especially these days, when conventional wisdom suggests that we'll never see such winners again - whether or not Beckett will win 200 more and achieve the milestone that has helped 20 pitchers find their way into the Hall. So, will he?

First, a few assumptions:
  • I'm using Beckett's winning percentage in Boston (.656) because it seems likely that he'll continue to pitch for teams of Boston's caliber (providing the support necessary for amassing a large body of wins) for the productive portion of the rest of his career.
  • To be consistent, I'm using his 27 starts per year average from his four years in Boston, which is roughly consistent with what an adjusted starts per year average would be over his career.
  • Because Beckett is a power pitcher, I'm assuming "the productive portion of the rest of his career" means 10 years, when he's 39.
Now, the results:
  • 27 stars a year for 10 years is 270 starts.
  • With a .656 winning percentage, Beckett would need to make 305 more starts to win 200 games.
  • 305 is more than 270.
Not looking good, but there's some room for adjustment. For example, if you adjust the number of productive years to 12, you have 324 starts, which would be enough for more than 200 wins. If you upped the average number of starts a year to 31, you'd also have enough starts for 200 wins. If you changed the winning percentage to reflect the upcoming years of Beckett's prime, you might find enough 20 game-winning seasons to make a difference. It's a tough climb to a vaunted milestone, but Beckett might have the luck and the success to go the distance.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Pedroia to Miss All-Star Game, Tend to Wife

Dustin Pedroia's wife Kelli went in to pre-mature labor last week and has been hospitalized, and so, last year's MVP decided that he will tend to her needs during this 4 day break coming up. He is going to miss the All Star game.

It sucks for the AL, but he's got my support. Sometimes you forget these players have lives outside of baseball, and the lengthy season can get in the way of key moments in a person's life, like the birth of a child or an illness. In Pedroia's case, both are at play.

Luckily for the Red Sox, they have 2 days off after the All Star game which will give him extra days to be with his wife.

He put out this release:

"I have a tremendous amount of respect for the game of baseball and for the All-Star Game and am incredibly honored that the fans voted me this year’s starting second baseman for the American League. I am disappointed that I will not be able to enjoy the amazing experience with the other All-Stars, especially with my Red Sox teammates, but it is important that I put my family first at this time."

Joe Maddon picked up his first baseman Carlos Pena in Pedroia's place. Does that mean Aaron Hill and Ben Zobrist will split duties at second base for the entire game? Not sure why another second baseman wasn't chosen--doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but Maddon seems to be rewarding his own guys.

Smoltz Gets Win; Masterson Losing Steam

John Smoltz got his first win with the Red Sox last night against the Kansas City Royals, and did so by only giving up one run over 5 innings. He left in the fifth inning with an 8 run lead.

Though Smoltz was given generous calls on the outside corner at times, he did have his sick slider and split finger fastball working. As Eckersley loves to say, he was throwing cheese-- the kind of gouda that garnered him 7 Ks over 5 innings.

He may have the best slider I have ever seen. Smoltz's slider drops and disappears out of a hitter's zone like a well finessed drop shot in tennis. And he can place it inside or outside if need be. It's an amazing out pitch, but he throws in whenever he feels like it.

But the story today, and one that has brewing since Smoltz's start in Baltimore, is that the bullpen is starting to fade, struggle and give up runs.

Someone in that pen is, in my estimation, looking at a potential demotion to Triple-A if they don't get back to form--and it very well could be Justin Masterson. Perhaps the All Star break will negate all this speculation.

With Clay Bucholz sitting there waiting to face major league pitching again, he seems like a possible candidate to become a long reliever. Again, this is my best guess, but if I were a GM (HA!) he would be someone on my demotion list (though when Lowell comes back, there will obviously be moves taking place like Bates going back to Portland).

Masterson is not fooling hitters lately, and his supposed-to-be sinking pitches are up. He was charged for 5 runs in the Baltimore debacle and 5 runs last night with a 8 run lead (with 4 hits, one which was a HR). To be a tad more fair, Delcarmen and Okajima were brought in to clean up Masterson's mess, and couldn't do it.

Luckily, Daniel Bard was able to stop the bleeding and the offense continued to pounce on weak Kansas City relief pitching to get the win. But it was a totally whacked game.

Masterson's ERA is now at 4.98 with a whip of 1.43. Nahmally, I wouldn't sweat these numbers for a middle reliever, but since he's become more of long reliever and has appeared in 65 innings, those numbers are not good. If you think I'm being too hard on the kid, look at it this way: Masterson has been a factor in two blown games recently (KC Thursday night--2 runs, blows save; Baltimore on June 30--5 runs; and almost gave up the whole enchilada last night).

Consider this: Last year he pitched 88 innings and gave up 68 hits, 31 earned runs (ERA 3.16), 40 walks, with a BAA of only 2.16. Solid numbers.

This year, in 65 innings has already given up 36 earned runs, 23 walks and now has a BAA of .288.

Sorry, Son, but you ain't Masterin' much lately. I know scapegoating one guy isn't a great thing, but I won't lie: I don't trust the kid. Something about Tampa Bay and the playoffs last year might still be at play.

The guy who came in to keep the Royals quiet in the ninth? Saito. And he went one-two-three. Whew.

Disco Denni
One of the best parts of the night had nothing to do with baseball at all. It was a side by side image of Dennis Eckersley next to Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees on the NESN broadcast, with Eck calling himself 'Disco Denni' and talking about how Reggie Jackson got him and Mike Torres in to Studio 54 back in the day.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

A Closer Look at Papelbon

Jonathan Papelbon is a stud closer, and there is no one you'd rather see at the end of game, especially a big game, saving it all and finishing off a win.

Papelbon's success is a significant reason the Red Sox have done so well since the 2004 season. And once again, he was chosen to represent the American League in this year's All Star game next week.

But what about some of the more innocuous statistics behind his role as a closer this season?

One thing that stands out in 2009 are the walks, hits and runs being allowed. In Papelbon's 38 innings pitched, the steely-eyed closer has walked 18 batters and given up 34 hits. He's also given up 4 home runs. His ERA is hovering just under 2 at 1.89.

These are kind of high numbers when you consider that he only walked 8 guys all of last year. In 2007, the year the Red Sox won another World Series title, Papelbon only gave up 15 walks for the year. The most home runs he's given up in a season for his career is 5.

I'm not exactly sure what to make of these stats, other than to say that he is allowing more people on base and getting knocked around at a rate that you would not necessarily expect given his past dominance. Some of this knocking around has been noticeable.

It's not uncommon to see numbers go up a little as teams get more and more comfortable with a pitcher. The AL East has some of the best hitters in the game, and adjusting to his pitches has to have become easier the more they have faced his pitching. But it's still head scratching to see Papelbon approaching career highs in walks this early in the season.

Luckily, he's not blowing saves in any significant way (only 2 so far), but with the way some of these numbers are trending, it will not be surprising to see an increase in blown saves.

The most important statistic for a closer is really only one: Saves. And at the half-way mark for the '09 season, Paps has 22 of those.

[Image by Paul Keleher via Flickr CC 2.0]

Exercise Caution When Dealing for Halladay

How's everyone feeling about the Roy Halladay trade possibility? I must admit I'm a little wary: not because I think Halladay will flop - unlike many of the hyped trades and signings of the past few years, Doc is worth the price, as Dave Cameron of FanGraphs demonstrates - but because the Blue Jays have two big advantages in negotiations:
  1. Halladay's contract expires in 2010. As one of the New England sports papers pointed out recently, Toronto has three opportunities to deal Halladay: now, at the end of the season, or before the trade deadline next year. The size of that window gives the Jays a nice piece of leverage: they don't have to deal Halladay now if they don't get an offer they really like, because they'll have two opportunities to do so again over the next year. As an added bonus, if Toronto doesn't get a great deal before the 2010 trading deadline, they'll either make a bid to resign or get two draft picks in compensation.

  2. The market demand for good pitching is enormous. Philly, Texas, St. Louis, and the Mets all have a desperate need for a pitcher of Halladay's caliber, increasing demand and allowing the Jays to charge a much higher price for his services. Combined with the time window that removes much of the pressure from Toronto to complete a deal, this increased demand for good pitching would doubtless require the Sox to part with two or three highly-touted prospects (Buchholz, Bowden, Bard) to make a deal.
I'm pretty sure I've said in the past (probably in reference to Beckett) that trading future value to obtain present value is always a good idea (although some Yankee fans might disagree), but I have to make a corollary in Halladay's case: right now, the market isn't in Boston's favor, particularly for a luxury the team would like to have, but doesn't really need. I'd hate to see the Jays become the dominant team in the AL East because the Sox gave them one too many good pieces in pursuit of a deal.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Congratulations, Tim Wakefield

I've been thinking for most of the day about what to write about Tim Wakefield's All-Star selection, trying to avoid a sappy listing of plaudits while still expressing my admiration for the man and his pitching. Eventually, I realized his selection came down to two very simple ideas.

First, the selection has an aura of added respectability, like the selection is one of those lifetime achievement awards that the Academy hands out at Oscar time, adding yet more luster to the career of the athlete who's carried the Pro torch on a marathon pace in Boston. Red Sox fans love Wakefield because he represents all that we think modern athletes don't have: the virtues of loyalty, team spirit, and lack of ego. He's a folk hero in Boston sports and we love to see our folk heroes recognized by the institutions that helped create them.

Second and more importantly, there is a very "well, duh" feeling behind the choice. To be sure, Wakefield is not having the kind of career year he's been fortunate enough to have twice in his life - the kind that, were he able to reproduce with year-over-year consistency, would surely grant him a spot in the Hall - but as he's aged, he's become the anchor of the Boston pitching staff, the guy who fans can rely on to eat up innings, make thirty starts or so a year, and not land on the DL. His flashes of brilliance are the more precious for their unpredictability, making the guy look like a magician when the volatile mixture of elements that can make a knuckleball dance act in harmony. If Pedro in his prime was great to watch because he looked like a god come to Earth, Wakefield in his element is great to watch because he looks like an everyday working guy who happened to have caught a bolt of lightning for the day. Red Sox fans have known this idea for years. We're just glad the rest of the country will finally get a chance to see him in the same light.

Why Did Francona Leave Saito In After 3 Walks?

Sometimes, I don't understand managers, at all. If a game is on the line--especially late innings of a home game-- and you have a good bullpen, why would you not use them?

Such was the case on Saturday's 4th of July early afternoon game at Fenway Park against the Mariners.

Brad Penny pitched strongly, only giving up 2 runs over 6 innings.
Masterson and Okajimi pitched the seventh and eighth quite well, but Takashi Saito in the ninth was fairly lost out there. He walked Ken Griffey Jr., then gets an out, and proceeds to walk the next two guys for bases loaded.

Why is Saito still out there? Apparently, he is being treated like Papelbon's backup. Here's how puts it:

Manager Terry Francona gave Saito the ball because Jonathan Papelbon, having pitched in four straight games and six of the past eight days, required a day off. Saito, just two seasons ago, was an All-Star-caliber closer, accustomed to taking the ball almost every day. With the Red Sox, he understandably has
been used in a more sporadic manner.

That may be the case, but the game was tied. The Sox were not leading, so using Papelbon may or may not have been a factor at all. Yes, sometimes he is used when the game is tied at home in the ninth, but not always.

Saito hasn't been good lately, in fact, "in his previous three outings he had allowed three runs in 2 1/3 innings," said the same article.

I realize that Delcarmen, Papelbon and Ramirez had pitched the night before, and this was a day game, but there was at least a well-rested Bard sitting there, and Delcarmen only pitched one inning Friday night.

I don't recall if anyone was warm in that pen or not, but my gut tells me that was not the case. In my view, walking three guys to load the bases means a guy cannot find the strike zone. Time for him to get a smile from Big Papi on the bench, not work out of a jam that he can't seem to figure out.

Seems like after walk number two, this was the obvious situation. It can be good to let guys work things out on the mound, but not when the game is tied, in the ninth and you're facing a strong bullpen.

This is not a knee-jerk reaction to a meaningless loss. This is no WEEI post-game rant. It means the difference between consistently winning series, and not.

Saito told the Ian Browne of

"I'm not usually the type of pitcher to give up a lot of walks to begin with," Saito said. "I can't really recall another incident like today, really."

So how did it happen?

"In the beginning, I think I was overthinking things a little too much and trying to be a little too fine in spotting strikes, and those ended up being balls," Saito said. "From there on, I couldn't make the proper adjustments on the mound."

That same article makes the case that Saito doesn't have a predictable role in the pen, since he was used to closing for the Dodgers, but I don't buy it. He's the second closer, but he's not been good lately, so better have some back up ready to go.

Saito was off, and it was obvious. He doesn't walk guys. The manager needs to know that pretty quickly, especially in a tight game.

After two rings and lots of playoff appearances, second-guessing this Red Sox manager is admittedly an unpopular thing to do. But in some cases, it's warranted.

Saito's not your closer, Tito. So don't treat him like one.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Jason Bay Back to Fenway May Help Keep Slump at Bay

Jason Bay had a rough road trip in Baltimore, Atlanta and Washington. Stupid road trip with a bunch of young pitchers you've hardly seen in your career.

The low light was the 5 Ks in yesterday's come from behind win at Camden Yards, and went 0 for 15 in that Baltimore series, and 6 for 36 overall. It's pretty yucky, but given his talent, I doubt this slump lingers. He says his timing is off (as told to the Herald):

“I’m completely getting myself out now. Timing-wise, I’m kind of in between - I can’t hit the fastball, can’t hit the breaking ball. It’s just one of those situations where everything that could go wrong is going wrong. But we’re winning games, too, so it at least helps deflect it a little bit."

Seeing Bay in a slump isn't something we're used to watching, but going back to Fenway against Seattle can't hurt a guy who, up until now, has been doing really well in the American League.

The only legitimate gripe I can see is that he strikes out a whole lot--to the tune of 76 Ks for the year. Comparatively, however, Bay's K rate ranks him in the number 12 spot in baseball, with a lot of major power hitters ahead of him. Carlos Pena comes to mind, and he's ranked third in baseball with 101Ks for the year so far.

The strikeouts are not a huge deal.

While his average at Fenway is only .254, Bay takes his walks there, and so his OBP is .372 with an OPS of .904. Bay has 7 home runs and 35 RBIs at home. Against the Mariners, Bay has a career .724 slugging percentage and 1.136 OPS.

Good numbers.

The travel day today and the mood of the clubhouse after yesterday's comeback win--or as Eric calls the 'character win'--has me thinking good things for Bay at Fenway before the All-Star Break.

Now is not the time to get down on a key offensive talent that the Red Sox want to sign for the long haul (and may try over the All Star break), and who wants to become a U.S. citizen.

Remember, this is a guy who is third in RBIs (69) in all of baseball behind Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder. He's also tied for third in the AL in homers (19).

A Character Win

For obvious reasons, 2004 was a good year to start this blog, but it's had one problematic side effect: every year, I look for the game of the year, the game that channels the spirit of The Fight Game and demonstrates that deep down, the Sox have what it takes to gel as a team when they need to most. I know full well it's a fatuous exercise: even in 2004, the trade that put together the final pieces didn't happen for another seven days and team went a mediocre 8 and 6 until their big run starting August 10, but the point is to find the games that look big in retrospect right after they happen. I bring all of this discussion up because, despite the vastly different circumstances, yesterday's win has that feel.

Beckett and Varitek are calling it a character win, which also seems appropriate, in the way that the turnaround win against the Indians in the ALCS in 2007 was a character win: the Sox buckled down, grabbed whatever it was that made them such a good team, and won. The 2009 Orioles might be a far weaker team than the 2007 Indians and the game a fairly meaningless regular season contest, but the desire to revenge the prior day's humiliation and reestablish what seems to be the dominant order in Baltimore proved an effective understudy for the 07's unnerving possibility of losing out of the playoffs. Beckett recovered sufficiently to keep his team in the game and his team did the rest - even if they had to go to the brink a few times to do so. If the character of the 2009 Red Sox is to win when winning really matters, I like our post-season chances better and better.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Orioles Historic Comeback; Red Sox Pen Has Awful Night on the Road

You can't argue with the rallying that the Baltimore Orioles did last night at Camden Yards, but from a Red Sox perspective, the bullpen was crap-tastic last night.

I keep hearing this repeatedly over and over in my head: Ten runs over 2 innings. Ten runs over 2 innings.

Was it the rain delay? The big lead in the 4th inning? Heads not in the game? Beat up on the O's so many times you think they suck? So many psychological factors at play that you have to wonder where these guys heads were. But then you have to remember that for most of this season, this pen has been one of the best the Red Sox have ever had.

Let it go? Yes. Watch it closely? Well, close enough--that's what we do here for fun. The 10 runs over the 7th and 8th innings were tough to swallow, but you could feel it slipping away with every hit the Orioles offense made (13 hits in 2 innings for 10 runs--Ouch!).

Right now, pre-All-Star break, the Sox bullpen has the best ERA in the league at 3.24. Leading the league in the bullpen and playing in the AL East is no joke.

Here's some additional perspective on the pen:
  • Red Sox rank 19th in innings pitched (with 228) [Thank you, starters]
  • Red Sox rank 20th in walks [They throw strikes, gets outs]
  • The Orioles rank first in innings pitched with 267.1 innings pitched
  • The Orioles have a BAA (Batting Average Against) of .272.

It's no wonder the Orioles are in last place and will continue to be there. But given the amount these teams see each other in a season, it's no wonder an offense can click and rally occasionally. Nice comeback for a consistently losing Orioles team.

But poor John Smoltz. He pitched well enough--1 earned run--to get a win in Baltimore, but that was erased after a hour plus rain delay in which he was removed from the game, and pitching was turned over to Justin Masterson--who started out quite nicely, then lost it.

But he wasn't alone.

The offense did more than it's share last night to seal what should have been a fairly easy win. But the pitching from Masterson and Okajima last night in particular was just plain bad. Masterson was getting knocked around, then left a hanging slider over the middle of the plate, and the game's momentum was in full swing mode.

Even Papelbon, who you knew Francona did not want to have to use, got knocked around a little. All it takes in only timely hit to lose a game, and the Orioles seized it. Papelbon put it this way after the game:

“The good thing is the group of guys we have down there in the bullpen all can take this pretty well,’’ Papelbon said. “And understand that, hey, this is going to happen, but it’s not going to happen very often - and move on. We’re all professionals down there. You won’t see anybody hanging their head tomorrow, that’s for sure.’’

Congrats, O's. Now go back to being in last place.