Friday, April 30, 2010

Report Card for the Red Sox : D+ to C- With Upside

It hasn't exactly been a full month of Red Sox baseball, nor is my grade of the team exactly scientific, but screw it. If there is anything that drives a baseball fan to blog it's the love of examining the micro, tossing it with everyday observations and then making macro assertions.

The guys who get paid to do this are making lists about the Sox woes, so let's throw our tiny opinions in the till and see where we end up...

It's not a great revelation to say the Red Sox are a well-below average team right now with traces of stinking failure. The concerns are real.

ESPN's Gordon Edes has it right when he lists the Sox woes including: how the team is struggling mightily at DH, how the run differential numbers are quite scary, how throwing-out base runners is horrid, how enigmatic the pitching of Josh Beckett is and the struggles of a taxed bullpen. And those insanely high-performing Rays are smacking the ball around like they are playing slow-pitch softball. They are a ridiculous team. You want to see differentials? The Rays, as Edes pointed out, are outscoring the opposition 120-42.

Despite all these issues, the Red Sox are saved by one thing and one thing alone: The potential talent of proven players. The emphasis is on proven. It's very easy to wallow in the disappointment of expectations in April, but there is so much more that will happen [insert marathon vs. sprint cliche here].

That water coming out of your eyes is not only from the pollen, but from the panic. Get a tissue. Blow your negative nose and take a deep drag off your inhaler. Despite every issue we can pinpoint over a month for this team, patience may still show reward. So breathe.

Let's get a little perspective: An rib-injured Ellsbury hurts a whole lot. But next month, a Ben Zobrist could dive for a ball at The Trop and end up on the DL. A Matt Garza could get hit by a line drive up the middle. CC Fatsackia could rip something other than a bag of pork rinds.While I don't wish injury on anyone, they happen and they happen to every team.

Victor Martinez will heat up. Josh Beckett will turn it around. The bullpen will get more rest. The left side of the infield will improve its defense. Navajo Jewish Lawyer (Ellsbury) will return, and he will eventually swipe bases (though it could be slow going since it's a rib injury).

We will likely be surprised with offense from Beltre, Drew and Ortiz.

Clay Buchholz has been solid. Lester, by evidence of his last outing, could be making a run. There have been some key contributions from Hermida, McDonald and Scutaro. Youk and Lil Shit are money in the bank. Papelbon has saved games. Lackey is a fighter and should get that ERA down and go deeper in games.

We've already seen that this team can beat up on lesser-talented teams. The challenge will be to beat the really good ones. After getting smacked around by the Yanks and Rays, it will serve this team well to wear that smackdown on their shoulders and grind out games.

I truly believe this team will be competitive. Now how about a sweep in Baltimore this weekend?

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Lester Back to Dominate Form in Shutout, Sox Sweep Jays

Jon Lester had his best outing of the year giving up only 2 hits and striking out 11 Blue Jay batters. He threw 119 pitches over 7 full innings.

The kid was awesome. All of his pitches were moving, biting and hitting spots in the zone.

Moved his cutter in and out, and used the change-up and curve for a ton of swing and miss strikes. Nothing rattled the lefty. When the Jays had runners on and were threatening, Lester was able to muscle his 95 mph fastball past swinging Jays batters.

Lester, who has had problems with walks this season, limited the base-on- balls to only 2 in this outing. A very good sign.

It went Lester for seven, Bard for one, then to Paps for the save (who has 7 saves in 7 opportunities). This is the kind of shutdown pitching we have come to expect from Lester and the power arms in the pen.

Lester dropped his ERA to 4.71.

The Jays lefty starter Brett Cecil stifled the Sox for 6 innings, but gave up a double to Darnell McDonald, who was later knocked in by Lil Shit on a sac fly for the first run of the game. McDonald has been consistently getting on base and contributing.

One thing to note about last night's game was the benching of Ortiz against another lefty starter. V-Mart was the DH and Varitek caught Lester. Is this the trend we should expect to see? Righty bats against lefty starters? Lowell made a number of DH appearances against lefty's and as a pinch hitter.

Ortiz and his lack of production is finding its way to the bench more often than not, as is Varitek behind the dish. It's been hard to ignore Tek's contribution to the offense, but I'm not confident it will sustain the season. I hope he proves me wrong.

With the sweep of Toronto, the Sox move ahead in the standings to third place behind that team from the Bronx and the Rays. Sox are back to .500 at 11-11 behind first place by 5.5 games. In the last 10 games, the Red Sox are 7-3 with a solid road record.

On to Camden in B-More where it will be so very nice to keep the winning-vibe flowing.

The key outing to watch this weekend against the O's will be the return of Dice-K on Saturday. A healthy and effective Matsuzaka could be a welcome distraction from the struggles of Josh Beckett and parts of the bullpen.

[Image by clareperretta via Flickr CC 3.0]

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

For Those of You Who Were Fans of Bay's Glove now get some sort of vindication, thanks to an announcement by the creator of Ultimate Zone Rating that he's revised the UZR formula to better account for ballparks like Fenway that have unusual outfield layouts. Bay and Ellsbury - another member of the negative UZR club - had their 2009 totals increased, with Ellsbury rising from 18.3 runs allowed to a slightly less ugly 10.3 runs allowed, and Bay making the leap from 13.8 runs allowed to a much nicer 1.2 runs prevented.

However, before anyone see this change in formulas as a sign that the Sox screwed up by letting Bay go, don't get too excited: it turns out Theo & Co. have their own formula for measuring defensive capabilities, and they saw both Bay and Ellsbury as being about average in the field. This revelation led John Tomase to conclude that Bay's time in Boston was done earlier than we initially thought:
The new UZR wouldn’t have impacted the Sox’ decision to let Bay walk. Even with the adjustments, Bay is still at minus-55.9 runs lifetime, though part of that can be explained by his 2007 knee surgery.

More importantly, we now know he was as good as gone once contract talks collapsed at the All-Star break over his medicals.
It's an interesting conclusion, though I have to wonder if the deal still had a chance until the two parties realized they were nowhere near meeting on price.

Someone Actually Shorter Than Pedroia on Sox Roster

Before last night's 2-1 win in Toronto, Dustin Pedroia (aka 'Lil' Shit' in my vernacular) evidently stood back-to-back to lefty Pawtucket call-up Fabio Castro and discovered to his scrappy delight that Castro was a slightly shorter man, according to

Castro is listed as 5' 7"; Pedroia is officially listed as 5' 9" but as the Globe reporters noted,  Pedroia the Destroia was only a little taller than Castro. Castro prompted number 15 to call him his "favorite pitcher of all time."

In related news, Castro was sent back to the Rhode Island team today to make room for--wait for it--Alan Embree. Yeh, he was money in the bank in the 2004 playoffs and World Series if I recall, but he was also roughed up quite a bit in the regular seasons he pitched with the Sox. Given the recent woes of Okageemah and the pen in general, another lefty could be helpful.

Embree, 40, pitched for Colorado last year and had an ERA of 5.84 in 24.2 innings.

Nervous yet? I am.

Buchholz Very Effective in Toronto
As far as the 2-1 Buchholz win last night, the young Texan gave the bullpen a much needed rest after Monday's Beckett implosion hitfest. Buch went 8 innings and gave up one run in the first inning. He pitched to contact outs and saw some good defense behind him from Scutaro who was likely feeling comfortable in the "Sky Mall" where he played last year.

Buch pitched out of jams well getting a ton of fly ball and ground outs and lowering his ERA to 2.19 for the best in the rotation. Given that Shaun Marcum was stifling Sox hitters, Buchholz kept the team in the game.

Mike Lowell, who pinch hit for Ortiz late in the game, took a bases-loaded walk that brought Lil' Shit (who went 2 for 5) home for the eventual win. Ramirez closed the game.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Love for Manny Fading in LA?

Funny post over at Vin Scully Is My Homeboy--a solid Dodgers fan blog--about how Manny went back to L.A. to treat his strained calf while his team was playing the Nationals in Washington.

Evidently, Manny was so bored being at home--while his team played an extra innings game in D.C.-- he needed to do some shopping at a BestBuy in Pasadena (which one commenter claimed was to buy The Sopranos dvds).

The woman who snapped this pic now finds Manny despicable. KellyKelll wrote on her TwitPic:

Official manny hatter!!! Uhhhh dodgers are in extra innings and he is "hurt" shopping at my store. Uhhh

In defense of most of the other Dodger fans commenting on the site, they generally don't see the big deal as long as he gets his treatments. Most Red Sox fans would have been sending him death threats and calling for his trade (until the playoffs when we loved him).

I still miss his swing and Yankee killing.

At least he wasn't spotted at one of the many medical marijuana spots in Cali. He must send someone out to fetch for those treatments.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Red Sox Pitching Is A Big Fat Mess Right Now

A 4-1 lead was squandered Sunday by the Red Sox bullpen for a 7-6 loss in 10 innings. The Oki-Doke gave up a bomb to Miguel Tejada and the pen went south from there. Sunday suckage.

The offense--which has looked anemic at times (especially during the Rays series)-- was a bit more clutch during the Orioles and Rangers series, but it can't play comeback kings every day. At least some of the key-injury replacements in Hermida and McDonald have been producing for Navajo Jewish Lawyer (Ellsbury) and swing-and-miss Mike (Cameron). But as Mazz rightly pointed out, run differentials in the last week were abysmal. He wrote:

In six games against the Orioles and Texas Rangers, the Sox scored 32 runs … and allowed 32. (For the sabermetricians: that’s a run differential of zero.) All four Boston victories were by a single run and both Boston defeats came in games in which they were leading or tied entering the seventh inning.

The bigger and more alarming issue is the pitching. When I say pitching, I mean all of it: Starters and relievers. The numbers don't lie: Walks are way up for everyone. Earned run averages are bloated. They all seem to be struggling to keep opponents off the bases and out of scoring position.

Don't think the starters are that bad so far? Four out of the 5 in the rotation have ERAs over 5. OVER 5! Only Buchholz is showing solid starter numbers so far at 2.70--and not one reliever has an ERA under 2. Surprisingly, Manny Delcarmen has the best ERA of all relievers at 2.16.

Here's an ERA breakdown of starters and key relievers:

Lester: 6.23
Beckett: 5.26
Lackey: 5.09
Wakefield: 5.40
Okajima: 4.70
Ramirez: 7.56
Papelbon: 2.70

Feel free to argue that it's really early and these guys have spring kinks to work out. I would agree except for another major statistical problem: Walks. Add to that the inability to throw runners out and you have intense pressure on pitchers to either get strikeouts or pitch to contact. Contact has not been leading to enough outs.

Look at these walk numbers (BB per 9 innings):

Beckett: 3.51
Lackey: 3.52
Lester: 5.40
Buchholz: 3.78
Wakefield: 2.88
Papelbon: 7.20
Delcarmen: 6.48
Okajima: 4.70

So while the Red Sox took two of three in the last two series, the numbers are tough to swallow. Don't be surprised to see some bullpen moves from Theo soon. For starters, Wakefield moves to the pen as Dice K is due to pitch this coming weekend at Camden Yahds in B-More.

Time to beat up on the bottom rung of the AL East.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

I Rest My Case

Sure, Wakefield didn't pitch particularly well and after the first inning it seemed like they weren't going to score again until the next game (maybe), but then the bullpen came together, the offense broken their 0-for-32 with RISP streak, and the defense didn't commit any errors.

Well, unless you count those nine stolen bases.

But the stolen bases were in the first half of the game, right? The bad half of the game, where it seemed like Boston was going to lose its sixth straight game and look pretty terrible in the process. The good half of the game was pretty awesome, because the ratio of runs given up to runs scored suddenly flipped, the score tied up, and a 31-year-old AAAA player named Darnell McDonald who had just came up from Pawtucket to replace the injured Ellsbury got to be a hero twice. In fact, he got to be a hero by bashing opposite field balls over and off the Monster, so not only is the guy giving the Sox their first piece of good news in a long time an underdog hero, but he did it in the old-school Red Sox style.

So: take away the day games and suddenly the Sox get a win. So my theory clearly has merit. Especially after I conveniently ignore that the two pitchers who served up the heapin' helping of come-from-behind victory were Darren Oliver (of long-standing Red Sox infamy) and Frank Francisco, who as a closer has more hits than strikeouts and innings put together. Hopefully the Sox will ignore those two as well and use the confidence boost from last night's win to get back on the victory bandwagon.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Stop the (Day Game) Insanity!

I have a theory about Boston's current streak of sucktastitude, their 4 and 9 start, their 5 game losing streak, their 1 and 6 home record, their 3 for their last 10, and it has nothing to do with voodoo like team slumps or lack of gelling or anything crazy like that. No, the real problem is a preponderance of day games.

Bear with me, I have a half serious theory on this one.

Six out of the first thirteen games took place during the day (including some weekend games), which was fun for me because it meant I got to listen to baseball at work, but seems to have been absolutely awful for the Sox, because they lost most of them. They even lost the Patriots' Day game - where the Sox have the advantage because that game is so bloody early - and lost it so badly that Paul Revere is probably still spinning in his grave from shock. And besides coincidence, here's why day games matter: strong defense requires stealth, and stealth cannot be accomplished without the dark of night. Unlike our Baltimorean neighbors in the standings, the Red Sox are not a .300 team; it'll just take a few less day games to start that climb back to respectability.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

If The Blue Jays Win the A.L. East, I Will Eat a Cockroach

You will be wasting your time if you save a roach for me to eat, people.

The Jays--while a fine Canadian organization with good fans--are about as likely to win the AL East as the Mets are to win the NL East. It's called pitching, and the Jays and Mets don't have enough of it to go around.

After 8 games, however, the Roy Halladay-less Blue Jays have been tearing the cover off the ball with odd contributions from a power-hitting Alex Gonzalez (with 4 dingers in a week) and a hot Vernon Wells. They are 6-2. Enjoy the fall from the top, kids-in-the-skymall or whatever the hell that place is called.

Our beloved Red Sox are playing .500 ball and currently sitting above the Baltimore Orioles in 4th place. It means about as much as having a wrinkled grandpa Steven Tyler belch out "God Bless America" at Fenway on opening night. I don't want to disparage Aerosmith's contribution to 1970's hard rock, but at this point, he can't sing worth a damn. Go back to Lynn and endorse Kelly's Roast Beef or something. That dude looks more and more like an old lady with every passing season.

It's early to make any definitive arguments about the Red Sox, but some of the concerns I had are increasingly becoming evident. Mike Cameron has a long hill to climb before he gets my support. I want contact hitters, not chase and miss guys. His defense is nice, but Ellsbury should not have lost his job after the plays he made and his contribution at the top of the lineup.

Call it "defense" when you want to save some coin with the Cameron signing. I can live with the savings as long as V-Mart is locked up and everything in their power is done to get Adrian Gonzalez at the trade deadline.

Sox could have signed Jermaine Dye, kept Ellsbury in center and had another big bat in the lineup. Probably could have had Dye on a nice one year deal. Offense matters in close games too, but as long as that money is put to good use elsewhere I can scream at the tv and Mike Cameron for a year I guess.

Beltre and Hermida are looking like good fits (and I expect Hermida to get more playing time). Beltre could take a few more pitches too for walks, but hard to complain when he has been hitting. He's hitting .375 with 6 RBIs and no walks in 24 at bats.

Scutaro has been decent too at the plate, but his glove and arm are not impressing me yet. I hope that changes.

Ortiz looks lost again early, especially against fastballs, but he has had a few opposite field hits (both against Twins), so patience is key. I said it last year after guys like Bill Simmons said his career was over: He can still hit. He will hit. Get off his large Dominican back.

He's not the same guy since Manny took the chronic train to Chavez Ravine. He's not the same guy since the wrist injury. And about the roids (aka "vitamins and supplements"): he did them at one point, but he showed real resilience last year. He finished as one of the hottest hitters in the league by the end. Without him, Sox do not make the playoffs last year. Basta. Enough. The man will hit.

The most surprising thing to see so far is the Sox pitching. It's all over the place. Lackey has looked good, but Beckett and Lester have not been particularly solid. And the bullpen? Not sure what is happening there. Bard and Papelbon need to get their other pitches working because guys are sitting fastball all day long. It has hurt them a little already.

So now what? More Twins at Target Field tomorrow and then 4 against the Rays at Fenway which should be tough. Rays are a very talented team.

Also, the Yankees are still the best team in baseball. I don't like admitting that, but they have a lot of balance. I don't envy a pitcher who has to face that lineup from top to bottom.

Go Sox.

The Real Source of Victory on Opening Day

Dustin Pedroia might have been the instrument that delivered the blow to tie the game on the way to Boston's first win, but based on Chan Ho Park's comments in the interview below (thanks to Don for the link), we might also want to thank a virus or a bacterium or two.

I give credit to Park for keeping a straight face. Dude must be killer at poker.

Monday, April 05, 2010

The Last Night of Spring Training

Anyone else feel that last night's slugging match was the last real Spring Training game and we won't start counting towards the standings until the Sox and Yanks play again tomorrow night? The pitching was generally wretched, the umpiring at first base so bad that I thought we were watching the 2009 playoffs all over again, and that ugly double whatever it was that allowed a New York run to score while the ball was in a player's glove in the infield gave the lie to the vacuum-like defense supposedly under Boston's command. With that supposedly deficient Red Sox offense, I might be forgiven for thinking the night was sunk after the Yankees pulled ahead in the fourth.

Of course, led by Mr. First-Hometown-Triple-Since-1999, the offense beat expectations and fought back twice, giving Youkilis the hero status and a prophet-like status thanks to his Spring Training utterance:
“Hey guys,’’ he shouted out to his teammates that February morning. “Can we score a bunch of runs on Opening Night so we don’t have to hear about this anymore?’’
Clearly the man knows things. We should all listen to him, no matter how crazy he sounds: