Friday, May 28, 2010

This Would Be Why They Play the Games

If I were a superstitious man, I would say that the probability of success in Dice-K's most recent starts is inversely proportional to whether or not I start him in my fantasy baseball line up. I put him in against the Yankees, and he gave up seven earned runs on nine hits in four and 2/3rds innings. I benched him against Philly - logically, I thought, given the team - and he came close to throwing a no hitter. I put him in against Kansas City, a team so wretched that Joe Posnanski has taken to titling his Royals updates "Diary of a Losing Team"...and he gives up three runs on a career-high-tying eight walks.

I might therefore be forgiven for thinking that last night's rather humiliating loss was somehow my fault, but fortunately Matsuzaka gave the quote to set me straight:
“'My lower body wasn’t cooperating today, so I had to rely too much on my upper body...Between these two starts I had noticed a little bit of soreness there, but I didn’t have any problems with my side session. It wasn’t at the forefront of my mind going into my start tonight.

Also, I knew that during my pregame warmup in the bullpen tonight, my pitches weren’t great but I couldn’t make the necessary adjustments.'

"The right-hander added that 'it’s been a long time since my body didn’t cooperate like this, and like I said at the beginning I had to rely a lot on my upper body. I think the velocity was there, but there was no movement and there was no bite to my pitches, not to mention any command.'”
Well, that might explain it, then. From my understanding of body mechanics, acquired mainly through playing baseball badly as a child and bowling with mixed success as an adult, the lower body has far more impact on the eventual placement of the ball than it logically should. If Dice-K's lower body wasn't "cooperating," it's not particularly surprising he was handing out walks like candy at Bob's Discount Furniture. I just wish he'd thought to have said something before making the start.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Things Begin to Look Up

Don't look now, but the Sox have finally started to click since I wrote that half-facetious post last Wednesday, beating the Twins twice at Fenway before going back on the road to take two of three from Philly and the first of three from scary-good Tampa Bay. Over those six games the offense has remained efficient if not overwhelmingly scary, converting about 42% of the baserunners into runs while hitting .261/.315/.438 and generally beating their opponents by four or five runs. The pitching has (re)turned into something special, with a marvelous 2.04 ERA and 0.94 WHIP against three teams that lead their respective divisions. For the past week, at least, it's been less about struggling to remain a middling team and proving that the 2010 Sox really can run with the big dogs.

There are individual achievements to celebrate, too. Ellsbury is back in the line up after an absence of about a month and a half, though his OPS of .133 over his first 15 plate appearances indicates he's got some work to do before his stroke reappears. Big Papi has reached base safely in his past nine games and is hitting .408 with 5 home runs and an OPS of 1.363; over the same time period, Kevin Youkilis has five home runs of his own and an OPS of 1.485. I got all kinds of excited seeing them hit back to back last night, just imagining the possibilities. The team is nowhere near close to being able to call things safe - not with the Rays so far ahead, and not with Toronto on a surge of their own - but for the first time since early April these Red Sox feel like a real team.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

We Went 2 and 3!

I still can't quite believe we made it through that road trip with a 2 and 3 record. I mean that in a positive way, too: the Sox faced a pretty good Tigers team and an excellent group of Yankees and still managed to win two games out of five. In fact, that record doesn't tell the whole story: subtract a hit from Manny Delcarmen's line on Saturday and two from Papelbon's total on Tuesday and that record turns into a far more impressive 4 and 1 road trip.

Of course, those three hits - and the 28 runs given up by Red Sox pitching over that five game stretch - are indications of the problem Don's brought up over the past few days: the starters aren't pitching up to standard. The relievers aren't pitching up to standard. The offense is red hot in a way that really wasn't supposed to happen this year - the team slugged .486 with 11 home runs on this field trip - but if the team were a Viking longship, it wouldn't be clear if the offense was the only ones pulling the oars because the pitching needs a moment to catch its breath or because someone shot an arrow through its collective chest and it's dead. I don't want to give up hope just yet, because there are still flashes of life, but it would be awesome if both elements of the team would start clicking simultaneously. In the meantime: we went 2 and 3 on a road trip, and I'm pleasantly surprised.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Why Papelbon May Not Get a Big Contract From the Sox

It's not like the Red Sox are going to sign the current closer to a big contract next year simply based on his performance against one team, right? Well, I would not count on it.

John Henry, Larry Lucchino and company are not big fans of that team from the Bronx (remember...they dubbed the Steinbrenner's obsession with winning as the "evil empire"). But when it comes to Jonathan Papelbon, the Yankees have hit amazingly well against the man for a few years.

Don't believe it? Have a looksy at the numbers, as found by the Elias Sports Bureau via Gordon Edes,

In his past 18 appearances against the Yankees, dating to June 3, 2007, Papelbon is 0-5 with a 7.85 ERA. He has seven saves against the Bombers, but they have hit five home runs in 18 1/3 innings off him, are batting .293 overall and slugging .547.

Papelbon had probably the second worst night of his career last night after a terrible blown save performance in Game 3 of the ALDS last year against the Angels.

I love what this guy has brought to the team when it has mattered the most, but it is hard to ignore some of these facts. Given that the playoffs are not really in the picture this year it's premature to say what the Sox would do, but it is certainly a reminder of the challenges of putting a championship caliber team.

Is he trade bait? Do you let him ride in to the off-season free agency sunset? Is Bard the guy come 2011?

Here's a little perspective. Over the last 3 years, Papelbon's numbers have been as follows:

37 Saves, 58.1 Innings Pitched,  1.85 ERA, 84 Ks

41 Saves, 69.1 Innings Pitched, 2.34 ERA, 77 Ks

38 Saves, 68 Innings Pitched, 1.85 ERA, 76 Ks

So far this year, he's had 9 Saves, 19 Innings Pitched, 3.32 ERA, 14 Ks.

I don't think Papelbon is done by any stretch, and his numbers are fantastic, but I think he has lost some of the life on his fastball. Up until last night he had been mixing in his slider and splitter much more often this season. I didn't recognize any of those pitches last night. His fastball was up and it was flat. Hence the 4 runs. I understand the tendency to go with your strength, but sometimes it simply isn't there.

Will he still get close to the high 30s or even over 40 mark in saves this year? Probably. But the contract he wants (and deserves) may rest on his ability to quiet the two best teams in the AL East.

Yet another work in progress in 2010.

[Image by apdonovan via Flickr cc 3.0]

Red Sox in the Bronx: 2003 All Over Again

This team is bipolar.

When the starting pitching is going bad, the offense has the ability to fight back and scrap together runs and compete (case in point: last night's game). When the starting pitching is going well, the bullpen can implode rapidly. Last night was an insane back and forth of polarized emotional states. It was all of this wrapped up in the highs of mania and lows of crushing defeat.

It was 2003 all over again.

At 7 pm last night I discovered that the YES Network was--for once--not the only broadcast showing the game last night.  Oh cool, I thought. No annoying ass-licking Michael Kay and the douchebaggery of the rest of the YES Network. Woo hoo! Instead I could watch ESPN with color commentary from Nomar, some dude, and Aaron Boone.

Yeh, that Aaron Boone--that mutha-freakin' lucky, hanging knuckle-ball hitting, 2003 Game 7, ALCS-killing, SOB. Whatever. Boone has been erased by rings in years after. Boone Schmoone.

Talk about irony.

He and Nomar were entertaining, actually. We learned they have known each other a long time. They both grew up playing ball in Southern California, that they were on the same team in amateur Summer leagues on Cape Cod between their sophomore and junior years in college. Both Nomie and Boonie were self-deprecating, made fun of their ages, and took swipes at their own rail-thin body types.

After Jonathan Papelbon entered last night's game in the bottom of the ninth with a two-run lead in the Bronx, but before he threw a pitch, it was Boone talking up the effectiveness of Boston's closer. It was one of those filler moments where they come back from commercial with the pitcher still warming up, throwing his last pitches and getting his rhythm as they flash stats and talk about the man on the hill.

Boone and Nomar were talking about how Papelbon was 9 for 9 in save opportunities in 2010, and that it was Papelbon's use of his splitter and secondary pitches that was helping keep batters off kilter. They even brought up how Papelbon had watched his blown save against the Angels in the playoffs last year over and over and over as a reminder to mix it up a bit more.

Secondary pitches? Not last night.
Now, I'm not writing this to take insanely reactionary swipes at the closer,  nor would I suggest that management needs to make changes in the pen to the closer (the pen should be shaken up, a good lot). It's not as if Daniel Bard makes me feel any more comfortable. He was a bit shaky in the 8th himself.

But I will say this on Paps: You now have another video to watch over and over from 2010, and you need to mix up your pitches. You may be able to blow a heater by a guy a few times here and there, but not mixing it up is only going to screw you when you have to face strong hitting teams.

Every closer is going to blow saves. Even the great Rivera can walk in a run and give up grand slams (as happened Sunday in the Bronx). A blown save is accepted.

But last night was another huge emotional blow. Your offense gets you back in the game after Andrew Dice-K sucks it up in the first giving up 5 runs, and another in the second. It was 6-1 in the 3rd with the Yankees best pitcher on the hill--Phil Hughes.

Hats off to the Sox offense. Timely walks and hits and the big bomb were in play last night. Sox hit 5 homers with Victor Martinez hit two solos, Ortiz, Youkilis and  J.D. Drew hit a huge 3-run homer off of Hughes to tie the game. It was all for not.

Will that be the cliche of this season? The irony this season could be clawing your way back in to a playoff run only to give it up on your supposed strength in pitching.

Oh, and you want more irony? It was Wakefield's 2 innings in relief of Dice-K who was in line to get the win. Screw you, Aaron Boone. Screw you.

[Image by Mike A. (RAB) via Flickr cc 3.0]

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Another Expected Win Squandered by the Pen

Can you control chaos in baseball pitching? My gut tells me you can, but what the hell do I know from my teak-veneer, living-room table for an office desk.

The baseball cliche "you are only as good as the team you put out there" is in direct conflict with the idea that you can manage bad pitching when it's happening in front of your face. Francona puts faith in his players and doesn't like to overreact. But with this bullpen, I think past performance does not always translate in to present success.

Last night was one of those games when a guy who had been running well in the pen for the last 6 appearances suddenly stunk up the joint. This time: Hideki Okajima and it was pretty obvious that he didn't have much there.

It was 6-4 in the 8th and Oki couldn't get outs giving up hits, a walk and 2 runs to the first 4 batters he faced to tie the game up at 6-6. A shorter leash might have been in order here, Tito. Instead, it became an extra-innings game. Instead, Ramon Ramirez ends up walking in the winning run for the Tigers in the 12th (he threw 4 straight balls nowhere near the zone). 

These are the kind of games that separate the teams at the top from the teams that flounder in the middle to the bottom of the standings. Emotionally, you feel like every step forward with this team to get over .500 baseball is let down by late-inning inadequacies and situational failures. You know how talented this team is supposed to be, but it simply doesn't matter. The Yankees and Rays are playing hot baseball and win close games regularly.

The Sox are not in the same class as these teams in mid-May 2010 and it comes down to the bullpen.

In a night when the starting pitching and offense are clicking, when a hot Lester, Drew and Ortiz stay hot, when a utility guy like Bill Hall hits another home run, when Papelbon goes 2 innings and a third, the morning after hangover of disappointment and disgust is glacial.

The Red Sox bullpen--despite Papelbon and Bard--is a steaming heap of crap.

Lester pitched quite well despite the 4 runs he gave up. He was dominate for most of the outing striking out 10 and throwing a cut fastball to righties that dropped out of the zone. He looked great again.

It may not be completely fair to pin the game on one person last night... You could make the argument that Lester let the Tigers back in, that he was left in too long, and that the offense wasn't able to muster any extra inning magic. You could also say the Tigers pen is that much better than the Red Sox. Ok, sure. Go ahead and make your reasoned thinking.

But a 6-5 lead in the 8th inning and one of the best closers in the game waiting to get the save, you end up keying on that one guy who could not get it done. If Oki isn't throwing well by allowing base hits and a walk, bring in Delcarmen or someone else (Bard was not available last night). Don't rely on your faith in a guy when he simply isn't getting the job done. Slow the game down. Make V-Mart walk out and talk to Oki. Send Farrell out there. Get guys ready. Okajima would be the first one to tell you he did not have it and he's not going to be hurt if you have to take him out.

A little more tough love for the pen to protect a lead and win a game is in order here as is proactive bullpen management. Take them out if you have to, please!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Blaming the Umpire

It would have to be Wakefield, wouldn't it? On the day when Timmy Knuckles became one of four active pitchers to achieve 2,000 strikeouts and made an excellent return to the starting role with a quality start (3 runs in 7 innings), the offense was non-supportive: Ortiz got a hit. The Sox came close to scoring at least once, but blew opportunities.

I've been mentally assigning these losses to bad luck for a few years now, as I've been scarred by that stretch from 2007 to 2008 season, when Wakefield had fifteen starts where the Sox scored 0 to 2 runs, and 21 starts where they scored 3 to 5 runs. But that feeling isn't particularly fair: throughout his career, the offense scored three or more runs in two-thirds of Wake's starts. He's been far more likely to score a victory when they score six runs or more, which has happened in about forty percent of his starts. The real problem was Marcum, who's had a lot of success against the Sox (2.91 ERA in 55.2 innings) and even more in Fenway (2.08 ERA in 26 innings) and had no problems bringing more of the same yesterday. We'll call it a mix of bad luck and opponent skill.

But there was more, of course: Boston finally broke through for two runs against closer Kevin Gregg in the ninth and seemed likely to at least garner a tie thanks in great part to David Ortiz, who already two hits on the day and seems to be emerging from his winter slumber. With one out and J. D. Drew on second, Ortiz struck out looking on a pitch so far out of the zone it made home plate umpire Dale Scott's already elongated strike zone look, was enough for Jerry Remy to call it ridiculous, and it was enough to get Terry Francona out of the dugout. The out wasn't the end of the game - Beltre singled in another run in the next at-bat - but it feels like enough of an unnecessary gut shot for me to call it the difference between a win and a loss. Just Wakefield's bad luck, right?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Daisuke Deals Darts in 6-1 Win Over Toronto

Most people in New England were probably watching the Celtics make Lebron James look like some below-average corporate league player in Cleveland last night and decided to skip watching Matsuzaka's start at Fenway. Or they were watching Lost.

It's too bad because the man-who-wiggles-his-bum-on-the-mound had a very live fastball last night with late movement and swing and miss action.

Matsuzaka struck out 9 Blue Jay batters and gave up 1 run on 3 hits over 7 innings with ZERO walks. You heard it correct. Not a one. He threw 106 total pitches, 71 for strikes. Additionally, he had 5 1-2-3 innings out of the 7, so an excellent and efficient outing against a team that has been hitting.

He did not nibble. He attacked the strike zone much like he did in the first few years in Boston. It is a very good sign.

Will it last? Who the hell knows with this guy, but seeing that many fastballs being thrown and watching batters miss tells me he found something in his delivery to key on. If he can keep batters off base, then he doesn't need to pitch out of the stretch--something I believe gets him out of his rhythm at least in the last few seasons.

On the offensive front, Jason Varitek caught Dice and hit a monster shot in to the upper deck of the parking lot across Lansdowne Street for a 2 run homer. Sox were able to muster 6 runs against Dana Eveland for an excellently pitched game. Ramirez and Okajima were given the ball in the last two innings, so Bard and Papelbon were able to keep their arms fresh.

Today is a day game at Fenway with Wakefield on the mound. Light rain is expected, so hopefully they get it off.

Note: Josh Beckett was checked out yesterday and the brass says he's got nothing more than back spasms. My prediction on the DL is obviously premature, but I will still not be surprised if everyone else is pitching well that they may let him rest the back and actually go on the DL for a week. When will he start next? They aren't saying right now.

[Image by Dave Delay via Flickr cc 3.0]

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Beckett Now Has Back Spasms from Taking BP?

Stirring up unnecessary controversy is not my thing, but I do find the timing of announcing the recent rotation moves with Beckett to be a little fishy. Good fishy, but suspicious nonetheless.

Let's be clear: I'm all for the moves. Put the man on the DL if you want to take him out of the pressure and focus on mechanics. The DL is not being openly discussed yet with the media, but I expect it is happening between Theo, Farrell and Tito already. I think it's coming. I do not think Theo and crew are willing to keep putting a guy they signed for four more years (at $18 mil per) back out there right now.

I will be honest, the back spasms thing feels like a convenient story and I totally understand why they come up with these white lies. It's to keep the media off his back and out of his head. His self-frustration is at an all time high. There is no doubt in my mind he threw at Jeter to force in a run. A guy who does that needs some of the pressure of being called "the ace" released, and it's the kind that can only come from working side sessions and possibly facing Triple A or Double A batters.

Work on the mechanics, build the confidence back up. Shut him down for a week or two. Yes. Do it.

All weekend and through yesterday, Tito and crew have been saying there is nothing physically wrong with Beckett, but that there were some mechanical things to work on in a side session, particularly with his curveball and his sidestep. Ok, so Beckett will skip the Toronto game on Wednesday (who has seen Josh frequently), Wakefield goes back in to the rotation and Beckett would pitch Friday in Comerica against the Tigers. Sure. Sounds reasonable.

"The additional side for Josh is to reinforce, particularly out of the stretch, him getting back to the proper balance point and not getting too spread out to where he loses his balance on his fastball,'' Farrell told ESPN's Gordon Edes. "When he gets in proper position, his curveball is less readable to an opposing hitter. Part of this at times is his constant use of the slide step. That can cause some of the havoc we're trying to correct.''

Then, evidently, Beckett was taking batting practice last night in the indoor cages (for inter-league games a couple of weeks from now--yes, that works) and tweaked his back, and, oh hey by the way, he had been feeling some pain in his back over the weekend, but no one knows when exactly. During the game? After? No one really knows.

Fine. Whatever. I think we know why this is going on. He's in a extremely negative place. After the Yankees debacle Friday, Beckett was asked by reporters how we would describe his season up to this point. His answer? One word: S-H-I-T.

Bottom line: They want to get Beckett right, and I applaud them for taking whatever action they need to make this work. If the media buy this back spasm thing, then fantastic. Let the man sort it out.

I could totally be wrong and the story is true. I do not hope there are back spasms because that would mean the next 4 years are going to include frequent trips to the DL.

Here's an interesting thing to note from last night's game from Amalie Benjamin of

Former director of performance enhancement Don Kalkstein was in the clubhouse before the game. Kalkstein used to be the Sox’ sports psychologist, and still consults with the club.

Perhaps this consultant was in the indoor batting cages advising Beckett on his swing?

[Image by dgaproductions via Flickr cc 3.0]

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Beckett May Need A Baseball Shrink

The first three innings for Josh Beckett at Fenway last night were the best three innings I have seen him pitch this season. His fastball was crisp, his cutter had late life and his curveball had crazy 12 to 6 tilt. The aggressive Texan had 6 strikeouts through 3 innings against some very good hitters in the Yankees.

One of the biggest issues he has had this season is with his secondary pitches, particularly his curveball. When it does not have the big vertical hook, it flattens out in the middle of the plate and becomes a 77 MPH batting-practice spinner. I actually thought that pitch was mostly working last night (as evidenced by nice ratio of swing and miss strikes), but a few times (as in the Swisher 3-run homer), it simply disappeared. Despite how poorly this game ended up for him, seeing that curveball dive to the dirt against lefties is encouraging. Remember, he did have 8 strikeouts last night (matching his season high).

The question is, can Beckett put aside all the negativity and bad feelings he has about himself and simply pitch to his ability? In seven starts, he has one win. He should have 3. Two of his three starts were lost by the bullpen. The other four starts, well, they have been horrid.

Like Buchholz with runners on base, Beckett seems to lose some of his trust and confidence and tries to overcompensate by throwing his fastball harder. Beckett has always been an emotional pitcher, and when he is on, he is able to harness it effectively without panic.

Right now, Beckett is in panic mode.

His frustration with not making a few pitches got kind of ugly last night when he pegged Derek Jeter in the back with the bases loaded. That one was obvious. Many people will argue that he tried to hit Cano, but I don't buy it. He had been throwing inside on almost everyone last night, and the cutter to Cano missed and hit him on the knee. Who goes after a guy at the knee? It was a fluke.

He seemed upset by crossing up Varitek with a fastball that hit Tek in that upper shoulder region where there is little protection (when Tek actually called for a curve ball). He was upset at giving up hits, walking a few guys. The whole thing got out of hand quickly with him. I will not be surprised when one of the Yankees pitchers hits Pedroia or Youkilis or Drew in this series. Expect it. It will happen.

As much as I like Francona, my biggest gripe for years has been how long a leash he gives his starters when they are obviously struggling and need to be taken out. Beckett needed to be bailed out after hitting Jeter. He should have been reprimanded privately for intentionally taking his frustration out by giving up runs. If a base open, that is one thing. But with the bases loaded? Unacceptable. Throwing in the towel is unacceptable.

Luckily, this hasn't bitten Francona when it really matters all that much (no Grady Little moment in the playoffs or World Series--maybe Masterson in the playoffs against the Rays in 2008).  But when it comes to Josh Beckett, he may need to revisit his policy on trying to give his "ace" confidence.

Beckett is not an ace right now, and he may need a little time off to figure his mental stuff out. His pitching stuff is not far from being there. He needs to trust that he has it and can get out of jams. Right now, it's pretty obvious he is unable to handle much pressure. It's time to address it head on.

What's the over/under on Beckett winding up on the DL?

[Image by Jeff Valois via Flickr CC 3.0]

Friday, May 07, 2010

Now is the Time

The Sox did it. They buckled down, put the disgraceful Baltimore series behind them, and came back home to sweep the Angels, proving they can still beat up on middling teams when given the chance. The team's battling splits in the last seven days are miles above their 2010 totals: compare .335/.419/.619 (Batting Average/On Base Percentage/Slugging Percentage) to .275/.351/.467, or the tOPS+ of 152 to the season's total tOPS+ of a perfectly average 100. Almost a third of the 40 home runs the team has hit this season have been hit since last Thursday. They're only striking out 18 percent of the time instead of 19 percent, and on and on.

Point is, the Sox are wicked hot with the bats right now and they have the chance to make the Yankees look bad in this coming series, starting with Phil Hughes and his obscenely low ERA. A series win this weekend would be the next step in rebuilding after the craptastic start to this season and demonstrate that Boston actually has the capability to outplay the big teams and make this Summer one of interesting possibilities in what could be a three-way competition for the AL East crown. A series win would be marvelous...

...but that would ignore the iffy pitching situation. Two of the games against Los Angeles were shutdowns where the Sox held the Angels to one run, but two of them were slugging matches where a win came from taking advantage of an LA pitching staff that's even weaker than the one in Boston. The Sox aren't going to get those kind of breaks this weekend without some extraordinary luck, so the pitching needs to step up the way the bats have and keep the Yankees off the bases. Now's the time to make an impact.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Pedroia Defends Papi; Reminds Media of His MVP 'Laser Show'

I love the look on the face of Lil' Shit when he asks the reporter about what happened when he was hitting under .200 a few years ago... Brings new meaning to the idea of a laser show. I love the defense of his teammate and the rejection of the constant struggles of Ortiz.This happened last year, and the guy will hit. And if he doesn't, management will take care of it.

Everyone slumps.

Repeat the mantra: Proven players have earned patience. Proven players have earned patience. Proven players have earned patience.

Laser show is gonna be so rad.

Seeds of Sox Strengths Starting to Sprout

Pitching. Defense. Timely hitting. It's starting to sizzle a bit at Fenway in the way Theo and crew drew it up.

It's been doom and gloom in the baseball column of Sportstown, USA, but the last four games have me feeling a whole lot better than last weekend's meltdown at Camden Yards.

Last weekend's series sweep by B-more was a crying shame. Dice K had it working for four innings in his debut, but then, it became batting practice... It was awful to watch an already-dejected Wakefield enter from the bullpen only to let the O's think they were the Rays. Poor Wake. He may end up back in the rotation if Matsuzaka can't figure it out.

There were, however, two bright spots over the weekend. Two homers in one game from Ortiz and an improved Josh Beckett. Yes, they lost the game he pitched on Sunday, but Beckett pitched nicely: 7 innings, 2 earned runs, 0 walks, 6 strikeouts. Considering what it has been coming from the big Texan, I will take that all day long and then some.

Back at Fenway, it's been a very nice week of beating up on the Angels with the bats and letting the top starters do their thing. Last night, John Lackey threw the best I've seen all season. His fastball moved and it sunk. Lackey's line: 7 innings, 2 hits, 1 earned run, 2 walks, 12 ground ball outs.

Lester was dominate again: 8 innings, 5 hits, 1 run, 2 walks, 5 strikeouts. Buchholz pitched decently, though, he still looks very timid out there at times and gets rattled when there are men on base. His biggest issue in my observation is the same one Beckett has had this season: Throwing strike one. He was saved by crazy offense Monday night when the bats muscled up 17 runs (with Mike Lowell going 4 for 4 with 4 RBIs).

Buch's line: 5.2 innings, 4 earned runs, 8 hits, 3 walks, 2 strikeouts.

Other key things to note: Beltre and Scutaro are showing their value on both sides of the game. Beltre has had two home runs over the last few games (his firsts of the season), and has made some excellent plays at third. Beltre hit a bomb last night to straight away center (over the camera well)  in the 8th inning to give the Sox a 3-1 lead and an insurance run.

Scutaro has been getting on base at a high clip (filling in at lead off for an injured Navajo Jewish Lawyer) and also flashing his skills up the middle and in the hole on defense. It's been refreshing to see both of these guys play up to their talents on the left side of the infield after a few weeks of questionable defense.

Beltre is hitting well-above average at .340, and Scutaro is hitting a nice .288.

So, tonight... Well, the Sox face Scott Kazmir who was good when with the Rays, but now he's all over the place. On the mound for the Fenway Faithful is Andrew Dice K and his 11.57 ERA (not fair, only one start, but damn it was ugly).

Will it be another batting practice or will our $150 million pitcher feel comfortable at home?

BTW: Ortiz hit a single and opposite field home run last night. Hope he keeps it up.

[Image by johnkreese.nomaa via Flickr cc 3.0]

Sunday, May 02, 2010

On the Oddity of Home Run Trots

Joe Posnanski had a post - a few weeks ago now, but I only got around to reading it today - about how the home run trot is the only celebratory moment in sports that's an actual part of the game. To wit:
As far as I know, it’s the only individual celebration that is actually a function of the game. What I mean is: Someone scores scores a goal in soccer, he or she can rip off the shirt, do cartwheels show off the sports bra, run around while shaking both fists — which seems like the official “Yay me!” celebration in European and South American soccer. It doesn’t matter. It’s not part of the game. Touchdown dances, of course, come in all varieties. They’re not part of the game either. Someone scores in hockey, and the game’s structure quite liberal about giving the goal scorer a little freedom to hug teammates and some time to celebrate self. The clock does not run in any of these. There is no direct contact with the action.*

*There are other examples. One in-game celebration is the breakaway dunk.

But in baseball, the celebration is part of the action … you hit a ball over the fence and you are still required, by the rule of the game, to run around the bases to complete the play.
The subconscious understanding of this requirement seems like it could be the source of traditional baseball antipathy to drawn-out home run trots, watching the ball when it leaves the bat, and all of the other things that Manny Ramirez used to do - and probably still does, to be honest - whenever he hit a home run. Those who respect the game, it seems, make sure the ball is on its way out and then go into a trot that's fast enough to demonstrate that they remember that jogging out a dinger is as much a function of the structure of the game (to crib on Joe's phrase) as it is a celebration of achievement. In other words, a properly-placed home run trot is as much a part of good baseball etiquette as hustling down to first.

I bring this up because I just watched J. D. Drew's 5th home run of the season. It was more of a line drive than a fly ball and it had a low enough angle to the field that Adam Jones in center had a shot to catch it. In fact, he almost made the catch: the ball sailed just out of reach, over the wall in left center. On the replay, you could see Drew watching the ball as he ran down to first. Drew isn't much for displays of emotion, as we know, and once he knew the ball was gone he tucked his head down and completed his circuit without giving Jones or the wall a second glance. But for a moment, as he watched the ball sail towards the wall, it almost seemed like he'd put aside wondering whether or not he'd have to go a higher gear to stretch out a double and enjoyed the circumstances that allowed him to celebrate his home run by requiring him to watch it.