Morales And Cook Have Lifted Red Sox Rotation

At the beginning of the year the Red Sox rotation was failing them.  Daniel Bard was a disaster as a starter, Clay Buchholz looked to be struggling coming back from his 2011 back injury and Jon Lester was showing the same inconsistencies that he was last September.   Add in the fact that an aging Josh Beckett was starting to show durability issues and the Red Sox rotation looked to be a major weakness at the beginning of the season.  It’s rare that you have a season like 2004 when all of the Sox starters made every single one of their starts so starting pitching depth is important.  Give credit to Ben Cherington and Bobby Valentine for identifying two guys that could, and have, helped out the Red Sox rotation.

Aaron Cook was as efficient as one could be Friday night in Seattle

First is Aaron Cook who was in the running for a starters job in spring training and pitched well but was not stretched out due to an injury and had to start the year in Pawtucket.  On May 5th the Red Sox called Cook up to replace an injured Josh Beckett and Cook was promptly spiked in the leg while covering home plate in the 2nd inning of that game.  He headed on to the DL for another month and a half.  When Clay Buchholz had to go on the DL with his stomach issues Cook was called on to take his place in the rotation.

Cook has made two starts in Buchholz’ absence and won them both.  He has pitched 14 innings in the 2 games, giving up 3 runs on 8 hits.  Cook’s good sinker has been on since he came off of the DL.  Of the 42 outs that Cook has recorded so far as as a starter over half have come on the ground ball.  Cook has only struck out 2 batters since he’s been back but he doesn’t really utilize the strike out.  Cook’s start Friday night against the Mariners was one of the most efficient starts I have seen in a long time.  He took care of the Mariners on 81 pitches and 2 hits, 1 of them being an infield single by Ichiro.  He pounded the strike zone and let the Mariners hitters make contact and let his infielders do the rest.  He only faced 1 batter over the minimum for the entire game.  Cook is the type of pitcher, with that biting sinker, that will go on long hot streaks.  If Cook can continue to pitch like he did Friday night it’s hard to see how the Red Sox wouldn’t use him somehow.

Morales has racked up the Ks since joining the rotation

Franklin Morales was acquired by the Sox last year from the Colorado Rockies for nothing but cash.  Morales did a fine enough job last season for Boston, finishing with a 3.62 ERA in 36 relief appearances.  Morales was supposed to be one of the late inning guys for the Sox this season but he struggled early like the rest of the bullpen did and was relegated into more of a middle relief role.  He is a guy who relies on control and has devastating strikeout stuff when he is getting the ball over the plate.  Bobby Valentine started to rely on Morales in the longer situations out of the bullpen and he began to stretch him out and eventually when Josh Beckett’s shoulder landed on the DL Morales got the call to take his spot in the rotation.

Morales has made 3 starts since being put into the rotation.  The Red Sox won the first 2 and lost the 3rd by a score of 1-0 against Mariners ace Felix Hernandez.  Morales has pitched 18 innings in his 3 starts.  In those 18 innings he’s given up 4 earned runs on 14 hits.  His most impressive stat is the 24 strikeouts that he has piled up against only 3 walks in those 18 innings.  Morales has been pin point with his control and when he gets ahead of hitters he has shown that he has the arsenal to put them away with his 95+ MPH fastball with a ton of movement to go with a devastating change-up that often catches hitters off guard.  Morales was actually a starter on the 2007 Rockies team that lost to the Red Sox in the World Series but he is currently enjoying his biggest success as a starting pitcher.  He looks to be filling the role that Alfredo Aceves did last year as the most versatile man on the Red Sox pitching staff.

Cook and Morales can help the Red Sox in several different ways from here on out.  Morales will stay in the rotation, at least for the short term but you may see him bumped a la Aceves last season when they need someone else in the bullpen.  Unlike last year however the bullpen has been great and unless they suffer a rash of injuries it doesn’t look like Morales will be all that needed in the pen.  With Felix Doubront coming back down to earth a bit Morales has become the Sox’ best strikeout pitcher in the rotation.  With his versatility he should not come off of the Red Sox roster for the rest of the year unless he is injured.

Ben and Bobby have decisions to make with Cook, Morales, and others

Cook is a different story.  He was the subject of trade rumors while he was in Pawtucket early in the season and may be the subject of them again.  If Cook can show that he is healthy and can contribute to a contending team, particularly in the National league then the Red Sox can move him for something of relatively good value.  It’s not bad to get a good return on a guy that only makes 5 or 6 starts for you so if someone hits you with a good offer you have to listen.  The Sox would still have Morales and Dice-K to go along with their original top 4 starters in the rotation and also have Clayton Mortensen and Aceves as back-up options if need be.

The Sox are best to ride both of these guys out while they’re hot and re-evaluate once we approach the trade deadline.  One thing for certain is that you always need starting pitching depth and Cook and Morales have provided valuable depth for the Sox rotation.

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Keep ‘Em Or Trade ‘Em – Red Sox Pitchers And Catchers Edition

Let’s get right to it…

Beckett will likely not be on his way out of town

SP Josh Beckett – I’ll get this one out of the way early.  Josh Beckett is not going anywhere.  For starters he is on the DL.  Then there is the fact that he is still owed upwards of $40 million over the next 3 seasons.  Thirdly he’s got 10/5 no-trade rights that gives him the right to refuse any trade.  That is probably the most important factor because surprisingly Beckett still likes pitching in Boston.  Maybe it’s the atmosphere, maybe he likes the bar scene, maybe all of the hate keeps him motivated.  Who knows?  What I do know is that many people close to the veteran right-hander think that he’s none too anxious to waive his no-trade.  Due to the contract the return would be nothing special anyway and let’s face it, Beckett has been one of the most consistent starters for the Sox this season.  Of his 12 starts 8 have been quality starts.  Only Jon Lester has more quality starts, with 9 in 15 starts.  Beckett will probably play out his contract here so people should probably get used to him sticking around for a while.

Verdict – Keep Him

SP Jon Lester – This is similar to people saying that they should trade Pedroia.  I don’t really see the point…you don’t dump a guy after a poor 1/2 season.  He’s by far the most durable starter for the Sox over the past 2-3 years so I see little sense in giving him up when you have a lack of starting pitching depth.

Verdict – Keep Him

SP Clay Buchholz – I could copy and paste the above in this spot.  Like Lester he’s only 28 and signed to a team-friendly deal.  He had a bit of trouble coming back from his back injury from last season but he seems to have put that behind him.  He’s missing his scheduled start today because of the flu but that shouldn’t keep him out too long.

Verdict – Keep Him

Doubront’s been a work horse in his rookie season

SP Felix Doubront – He’s 24 and is 8-3 on June 23rd of his rookie year.  Next question.

Verdict – Keep Him

SP Daisuke Matsuzaka – The Red Sox have spent roughly $98 million on Daisuke since they acquired him before the 2007 season.  Might as well see this thing through and pay him the $5 million remaining.  I’m not sure he’s got much value anyway since it’s up in the air whether or not he is committed to continue playing in the U.S. after his contract expires at the end of the season.

Verdict – Keep Him

SP/RP Franklin Morales – Morales has seemed to curb the control issues that have plagued him for most of his career.  He’s made 2 good starts in place of Josh Beckett.  He’s probably the Sox most versatile pitcher since Aceves is currently the closer.

Verdict – Keep Him

SP/RP Daniel Bard – This one of tempting.  Part of me says that he’ll eventually put it together but part of me says that he never will and you might as well try to get a maximum return for him while you can.  When I see Bard I see visions of his college teammate Andrew Miller.  Miller has been traded twice already and had to fight for a roster spot on the Sox this season.  He finally found his spot as a reliever but only after two major league teams had already wasted time waiting for him to realize his potential.  If there is a Matt Garza type of player out there and Bard can be the centerpiece of a trade I don’t think he’s the type of guy that you walk away from the table to keep.  His arm and head are too much of a question mark to consider him a sure thing.

Verdict – Trade Him if you can make him the centerpiece of a potential blockbuster

Padilla could be the odd man out if they get Bailey and Bard back in the back end of the bullpen

The Bullpen – As the old saying goes “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.  The Sox bullpen has been exceptional since the beginning of May.  Andrew Bailey will have a place when he comes back and so will Bard if he’s not moved.  Miller is the late inning lefty.  Bailey, Aceves, Bard, and Melancon will take up in the back end.  Scott Atchison has excelled in his very specific role.  Clayton Mortensen, Junichi Tazawa, and even Mark Prior are waiting in the wings.  Two guys who could be moved are Matt Albers and Vicente Padilla.  When the back end is healthy they would prove to be redundant and everyone always needs bullpen help.

Verdict – Keep Bailey, Aceves, Melancon, Miller, Atchison, and Mortsensen.  Trade Padilla and Albers for value.

C Jarrod Saltalamacchia – Saltalamacchia just turned 27 and looks to be headed to Kansas City as one of the American League All-Star catchers.  The Sox should honestly be thinking of a contract extension for Salty rather than a trade.  He’s a keeper.

Verdict – Keep Him

Shoppach fits good in the backup C role for now

C Kelly Shoppach – He may have some value but I’d keep him.  The Sox need a backup catcher and Ryan Lavarnway is still developing and wouldn’t be best served to come up to the big leagues to get 1-2 starts a week.  There probably isn’t a better secondary catcher available than Shoppach so I’d keep him for the rest of the year and let the young catchers in the minors continue to develop down there.

Verdict – Keep Him

So there you have it.  Bard is our best piece and like I said teams are always looking for relievers so we might be able to steal something of value for an Albers or Padilla.  Beckett is going nowhere so it’s best if Red Sox Nation dropped that notion.  There is no point in doing a fire sale since a lot of these guys are still young and could be valuable in the future.  There’s no need to sell off players like Lester and Buchholz at this point.

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Red Sox Finally Climb Out Of Last Place

If someone told you at the beginning of the season that the Red Sox would be situated in last place in the American League East division from opening day until June 2nd you would have probably gone into full-blown panic mode.  The truth of the matter is that despite being in last place for two full months the Red Sox climbed up into 4th place last night and now stand only 2 games behind the 1st place Orioles and Rays.  They are only .5 game behind the Yankees at this point for 3rd place as well.  Such is life in the American League East this year.  No one team is much greater than the rest and once the Red Sox bounced back from a horrid start and the Orioles came back down to earth a bit the division has been bunched up together for the past few weeks and it will probably stay that way for much of the remainder of the year.

Things are looking up for Bobby V.’s Red Sox

One thing that’s for sure at this point is that it’s time for Red Sox Nation to give the devil its due.  Bobby Valentine has done a phenomenal job these past few weeks to get the Red Sox back into the AL East race.  He had a rocky start and he certainly heard it from the fans but after settling in Bobby V. has really found his groove.  He has had to maneuver around a minefield of injuries, many significant, and has done an excellent job.  He had what amounted to a patchwork bullpen at the beginning of the season after the injury to Andrew Bailey and ineffectiveness of Mark Melancon and has done an excellent job maintaining with what he has back there.  He’s worked well with the starting pitchers.  For the better part of the last month Bobby Valentine has seemed to push all of the right buttons and it’s time he gets his due.

Andrew Miller has become a key component in the Red Sox bullpen

The bullpen was a mess in the early going but Valentine and Ben Cherington never stopped trying to fit the right pieces in.  They weren’t afraid to admit a mistake when they sent Mark Melancon, who they traded two players for to become the primary set -up man, to AAA Pawtucket to get himself right.  They added Andrew Miller who has the big frame and arm but not the mentality to be a starter into the pen and he is enjoying a renaissance of sorts in his new role.  He stuck with Alfredo Aceves and Vicente Padilla even though they struggled in the early-going and they have become more reliable.  He has gotten used to the roles that he wants the pitchers to have and it’s worked out for the better.  He’s used Scott Atchison in a bridge role and he has responded with an early 0.89 ERA.  He uses Matt Albers primarily against righties late in games and Albers has a 1.32 ERA against them thus far.  Conversely he’s used Rich Hill as a lefty specialist and Hill has a 1.13 ERA against left-handed hitters for the season.  Whatever Bobby V. seems to do with the pen works these days and that’s a far cry from where we were at the beginning of the year.

Valentine has stuck with Nava who’s paid dividends

The injuries and spare parts in the lineup actually tailors more to Bobby V.’s managing style.  Valentine is not the type of manager to keep the lineup the same every night so it’s no surprise that he is mixing and matching with guys like Mike Aviles, Ryan Sweeney, and Daniel Nava.  Instead of replacing Jacoby Ellsbury with a permanent lead off hitter in his absence Valentine has done lead off man by committee which is probably a good idea since there is not a guy on the roster currently with extensive lead off experience with the exception of 36-year old Scott Posednik.  He’s shown faith in guys that have produced like a Daniel Nava.  Francona was a great manager but he tended to stick with the veteran players even if a younger guy was out-producing him.  Nava has been great, Will Middlebrooks has wrestled away a spot in the every day lineup and Mike Aviles has shown why neither Marco Scutaro or Jed Lowrie are missed in the Red Sox order.  No matter where they are in the lineup it seems like another role player or two is producing every game.

The Sox have been hot since Ortiz’ players-only meeting

Lastly the biggest improvement of the team from the start of the year comes in the chemistry department.  I’m not sure if they had to hit rock bottom to come up from the problems of last season but the Josh Beckett golf outing/David Ortiz meeting seems to have become the turning point in team chemistry.  The players seem looser now than they have for a long time.  Sure winning cures these types of things but they have seemed to have gotten over that hump and have come together as a team.  Whatever happened to team chemistry I hope it keeps up because these guys are playing like a team and winning games.

It’s amazing to think that this team was all bit written off a mere few weeks ago.  Now the starters are pitching better including Clay Buchholz and Daniel Bard who both went through brutal stretches.  The bullpen is winning games.  The lineup, whatever it is for any given game, is producing.  Eventually guys like Jacoby Ellsbury, Cody Ross, Carl Crawford, and Andrew Bailey will be back.  There is still a long way to go and anything can happen but you can’t deny that there’s life in this team now.  You couldn’t say that about them a month ago.

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Fenway Park no longer friendly confines for Red Sox

Fenway Park used to be a huge home field advantage for the Boston Red Sox.  In 2011, before September 1, the Red Sox had a 41-26 record at home.  Since then they have been 8-19 at home.  From 2007-2009 the Red Sox won over 50 game at home each season.  As a matter of fact from 2002-2009 the Red Sox won over 50 games every year with the exception of 2006, in which they won 48 at home.  Somehow, somewhere along the way the Red Sox have lost a bit of that Fenway magic.  They closed out last September going 4-10 at home and have started this season going 4-9.

“Fenway magic” has been severely lacking since last September 1

When you think of the Red Sox in their heyday (2004-2008) they were a team that feasted on opposing pitching at Fenway Park.  There were several factors that went into it, the biggest being the intimidation factor.  Think of Fenway Park from an opposing player’s point of view.  The fans are all tightly fit into little Fenway Park, usually 35,00-38,000 fans every night.  Everywhere you turn there are fans.  On top of the monster, behind the bullpen, around the bend in right field, there is no escaping them.  Then there was the Red Sox lineup.  What Theo Epstein did, and what I think Dan Duquette and Lou Gorman failed to do at times, was put together a lineup that was just made for Fenway Park.  The lefties were guys who could use the whole field.  The righties were pull hitters who would wear out that wall.  And the opposing pitchers were aware of all of this.  The Red Sox lineup could quickly get into a pitcher’s head, particularly a young and inexperienced guy.

Red Sox fans are everywhere, even above you at Fenway

So why are the Red Sox not as successful at home as they are on the road?  In a word – pitching.  The lineup is still hitting .011 higher at home than on the road (.275 vrs. .264) and they have 3 more home runs at home than on the road (16 vrs. 13).  The pitching, however, is night and day between home and the road.  The staff ERA is a run and a half higher at home than on the road (6.17 vrs. 4.66) and they have given up an astonishing 22 home runs so far at Fenway as opposed to 12 on the road.  They’ve given up 27 more hits at home than on the road and opposing teams have scored 25 more runs at Fenway this year as opposed to games played away from home.  Sure the Sox offense is not quite as prolific as it once was, especially with injuries to Ellsbury, Youkilis, and Crawford, but they have held up their end of the bargain more often than not.  A team with a $175 million payroll should have a starting rotation that can hold opposing teams to 5 runs or less in a game.  The Sox offense has been overturned quite a bit in recent years and those guys will have to get used to hitting at Fenway, particularly the guys from the National League.  You would have assumed that the Sox would have a starting staff that could overcome their growing pains.  They haven’t been able to do so since last September.

Obviously the Red Sox pitching staff has severely underachieved since last September 1 but there is another factor involved that may hurt them a bit – the fact that their division rivals started to rebuild more intelligently.  For years the O’s and Rays would pick up guys like Fred McGriff, Jose Canseco, Sammy Sosa, etc. just to keep up with the Red Sox and the Yankees.  Consider that when guys like Evan Longoria, B.J. Upton, Nick Markakis, and Matt Wieters have already played 10 games a year for 5 or 6 seasons before they have even hit their prime the intimidation factor of playing at Fenway Park is substantially undermined particularly when you’ve had a great deal of success against the Sox as a guy like Longoria has.

Masterson has gone on to become a very productive pitcher in Cleveland

Lastly the Red Sox have done a poor job of developing pitchers in their minor league system and that’s a big part of the drop-off in their pitching production, particularly at Fenway Park.  The Sox have sold off a number of young arms, usually to acquire guys to bolster their lineup.  Guys like Justin Masterson and Nick Hagadone could be helping the major league staff at this point, particularly Masterson who has become a very versatile pitcher.  The Sox’ system is void of arms above the A level whereas they’d have a guy like Casey Kelly moving closer towards the majors if they didn’t send him away.  The group of pitchers that the Sox have now don’t seem to have the ability to harness the advantages of being a pitcher who calls Fenway Park home with the exception of Josh Beckett who still pitches considerably better at home than on the road.  Vicente Padilla, who is supposed to be a key bullpen arm has an 18.00 ERA at Fenway as opposed to a 1.59 ERA at home.  The other set-up guy, Franklin Morales, has a 12.46 ERA in 4 1/3 innings at home yet has not given up an earned run in 4 2/3 innings on the road.  Current closer Alfredo Aceves hasn’t been as effective on the road as the others with a 6.75 ERA thus far but he’s got a sky-high 7.94 ERA at Fenway.  Numbers like that are not going to get it done for the Red Sox.

The Red Sox need to go back to basics when building their pitching staff.  They need to find guys that have the guts to get big outs late in games at Fenway.  Games like the one against the Yankees a few weeks ago when the bullpen gave up an 8-run lead are absolutely unacceptable.  I know there is an endless number of conspiracy theories but in my opinion the “Fenway aura” is really a myth.  The Red Sox don’t perform any better or worse no matter how many hapless fans sing Sweet Caroline.  Obviously a more intelligent, boisterous crowd will help with the intimidation factor, but that really comes with a successful team.  The solution to me is much simpler – fix the pitching and you will fix the problem.

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Red-hot Red Sox look to come home on 7 game winning streak

“I think we’ve hit bottom.  If this isn’t the bottom then we’ll find some new ends to the earth or something”

Bobby V. has gone from goat to hero in the matter of a week

That was Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine’s quote 8 days ago after the debacle in Boston in which the Red Sox blew a 9-1 lead to the Yankees in the 7th inning and lost the game 15-9.  In many ways it was rock bottom, being embarrassed like that by your biggest rival at home and dropping your record to 4-10.  Thankfully the Red Sox didn’t find those new ends of the earth.  After Sunday’s rain out the Sox headed on the road and have basically pulled a 180 on their season in 6 games in Minnesota and Chicago and go into today’s Sunday matinee looking for a clean 7-game sweep of their AL Central foes.  The Sox are now at .500 with a 10-10 record, a feat that they didn’t accomplish until May 15 last season, and could miraculously finish with a record over .500 in April if they can take the last two games of the month.

Bobby Valentine has been much maligned this season but things seem to be clicking now.  His moment of levity in the first game of the series in Minnesota may have helped Alfredo Aceves start to rebound from his horrid start.  After Aceves gave up a long fly ball to light hitting Trevor Plouffe Valentine trotted to the mound and asked Aceves if he was trying to kill him.  Aceves said no and proceeded to close out the game and his next two chances on the trip without allowing a run.  As a matter of fact the bullpen as a whole is pitching better as they have only given up 1 earned run on the road trip.  Junichi Tazawa looks like he may become a contributor as he’s pitched 6 scoreless innings since being recalled last weekend.  Daniel Bard also came in and contributed 2/3 of an inning on Monday and you might see more of that here and there for the rest of the season as they try and keep his innings count down.

As far as the starting pitching went Bard showed why he should be in the starting rotation.  He pitched 7 strong on Friday night giving up 3 runs on 6 hits and striking out 6.  He showed that he is really too valuable in the rotation, particularly with Clay Buchholz continuing to struggle.  Felix Doubront continued to impress, pitching 6 innings on Thursday and giving up 3 runs on 5 hits and K’ing 2.  He finally got his 1st win after a few impressive performances that included a wasted great start last Saturday against the Yankees in the infamous 15-9 game.  The performance of the week probably belonged to Jon Lester on Saturday night.  After having to throw over 30 pitches in the 1st inning Lester bore down and finished the game with 7 strong innings of shut-out baseball.  He scattered 5 hits and only walked one while striking out 7.  He endured a 10 pitch at bat on his final batter of the game but finally put Alex Rios away with his 120th pitch of the game.  That broke a personal 5 game losing streak for Lester.  The starting pitching as a whole has seemed to have found a groove with the exception of Buchholz.  Hopefully he is just working off the rust and will come around soon.

Aviles has been the fire starter for the Sox lineup

The offense has continued to click on all cylinders on the road and it all begins with Mike Aviles, who has replaced Jacoby Ellsbury as the team’s lead-off hitter.  He has gone 8-for-27 on the road trip with 2 HRs, 5 RBI and a walk.  He’s set the pace for an offense that has scored 45 runs on the 6 game road trip which has included 3 games of 10 or more runs.  Cody Ross started things off with a clutch 2 home run performance in game 1 to propel the Sox offense which has also gotten 3 home runs from Jarrod Saltalamacchia, 2 from Aviles and David Ortiz and 1 each from Darnell McDonald and Kevin Youkilis.  Adrian Gonzalez, while not going deep, has continued to be an RBI hit machine, going 7-for-20 with 6 RBI.  The only game on the trip in which he didn’t get an RBI was the Friday night 10-3 rout in Chicago.  He saved his best piece of hitting for the Saturday night game when he took a good Jake Peavy pitch up the middle for the only run of the game in the 4th inning.  David Ortiz has continued his red-hot April on the trip, going 7-for-22 with 2 HRs and 6 RBI.  The scary thing about this offense is their are doing all of this on the road and, in Chicago’s case, against some pretty good pitching.  I’m interested if they continue to click on all cylinders when they come back to the friendly confines on Monday.

Josh Beckett takes the hill on Sunday against Gavin Floyd of the White Sox as the Sox try to go 7-for-7 on the road trip.  If they do it will provide a huge boost to the team as they head into May with a favorable schedule for the first two weeks.  The honeymoon may have been a disaster for Bobby V. and company but the first week of the marriage seems to be going good and hopefully it carries over.  The biggest difference from this season’s version of the Red Sox compared to last years is the production that they are getting from the back of the rotation.  Doubront and Bard continue to give the Sox solid starts from the back-end and are improving as they gone on.  Last year they got limited production from those spots whether they came from John Lackey, Tim Wakefield, Kyle Weiland, or someone else.  When you’ve got 5 guys that can go out there and pitch it makes a world of difference.  The one weak link is the bullpen but if they’ve started to get themselves right and Bobby V. is starting to get a feel for how to use these guys this team is poised to be a very dangerous team from here on out.  Those new ends of the earth will seem so far away if the Sox can complete the clean sweep of a crucial 7 game road trip.

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Quick Thoughts on the Red Sox/Twins series

Don’t look now but the Red Sox are on a winning streak!  Their futility against the league’s better teams in the early going is concerning and it makes you wonder if this team has what it takes to win a World Series but they are clearly in the top 6-7 teams in the American League so eventually their play would plateau when they started to play the weaker teams.  That seems to have started this week in Minnesota.  Here are some thoughts on the series:

  • Jon Lester's April struggles are back in 2012

    On the starting pitchers:  Jon Lester is a little off right now.  He seems to have an inning or a stretch in the game where he doesn’t quite seem right.  It almost cost us the game on Monday but Cody Ross fixed that.  Remember that Lester has struggled in April in the past only to put it together in May for the rest of the summer.  Hopefully that is what is going on with him now.  Josh Beckett wasn’t as good as he was in his last two outings due largely to the 40+ pitch 1st inning that contained a questionable strike zone.  The encouraging thing is that Beckett bounced back and got through 6 innings and only gave up 1 run.  He seems to be in a bit of a groove now.  Clay Buchholz wasn’t as bad last night as he was last week against the Yankees but that is not saying much.  He is still throwing far too many pitches and pitching to too much contact.  With Aaron Cook pitching well in Pawtucket you have to wonder how long they’ll go with Buchholz before he gets one of those mystery DL stints.

  • Aceves celebrates his bases loaded save on Wednesday

    On the bullpen:  Well, at least Alfredo Aceves make it exciting.  He is at least getting a little better but clearly you don’t need to see 1-run games being closed out with the bases loaded.  It looks like we’ll sink or swim with Aceves at closer.  The whole Bard thing remains a mystery but there wasn’t another option besides him to start Friday’s game in Chicago.  His next start will say a lot about his role going forward.  Most of the other guys pitched well on Monday and Tuesday but they had trouble cleaning up Buchholz’ mess on Wednesday.  Justin Thomas got some critical innings and didn’t fare well.  He’ll soon be replaced by Rich Hill.

  • On Mike Aviles:  This guy was on fire in Minnesota.  He went 6-for-13 with 2 HRs, 6 RBI, and 3 runs scored.  For all of the worry that was out there after Jacoby Ellsbury was injured Aviles has done more than enough to temper the masses.  So much so that if he keeps it up he might stay at the top of the order with Ellsbury hitting 2nd.  It’s early but the Red Sox look like the clear winners in the Marco Scutaro trade.
  • On the rest of the offense:  The offense continues to click on all cylinders with 6, 11, and 7 runs in three games in Minnesota.  Big Papi continued his hot ways with a monster home run in game 2.  Cody Ross was the hero in game 1 with his two late inning home runs.  Even Kevin Youkilis got in on the fun with some hits to get him back up to the Mendoza line.  Adrian Gonzalez is starting to drive in runs in bunches again.  It should be interesting to see how this group performs in Chicago with some better pitching against them.
  • Bobby V. has had his hands full with Boston's bullpen

    On Bobby V.:  That moment of levity with Alfredo Aceves and the Sox infield on Monday might be looked back at the turning point for the Red Sox.  Some of his bullpen moves are still inconsistent but I guess that could be a by-product of an inconsistent bullpen.  The lineups moves that he’s had to juggle around have all seemed to have been on point so far.

  • What’s next:  A 4 game series in Chicago to take us through the weekend before the Sox come home next week.  Pitching match-ups are Doubront (0-0, 3.94) vrs. Humber (1-0, 0.63), Bard (1-2, 4.38) vrs. Danks (2-2, 5.11), Lester (0-2, 6.00) vrs. Peavy (3-0, 1.88) and Beckett (2-2, 4.56) vrs. Floyd (1-3, 3.60).  Obviously Phillip Humber is coming off of last weekend’s perfect game on Thursday night in his start vrs. the Sox.

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Playing the Red Sox blame game

The “Red Sox blame game” has become en vogue in these parts thanks to another slow start by the Red Sox.  Of course things are a bit more hostile this year when they were last year due to the stink of the September collapse and subsequent jettisoning of Terry Francona and bailing out of Theo Epstein.  Basically to play the blame game you make a pie chart and assign a percentage of blame to who you think it most responsible for the current state of the Red Sox.  Here’s my version of the blame pie:

Former Sox GM Theo Epstein ran off to the Cubs in the off-season

35% former GM Theo Epstein – Theo was the architect of 2 World Series teams in Boston but he also lead the roster into a state of disarray in recent years.  He signed John Lackey to a huge contract when they didn’t really need to add another big money pitcher back before the 2010 season.  In anticipation of losing closer Jonathan Papelbon he signed reliever Bobby Jenks to a 2-year, $12 million contract and he doesn’t look like he’ll put on a Sox uniform ever again.  As much as I think Crawford can still be an asset I can certainly see questioning the wisdom of signing a guy when you have to sign a younger guy with a similar skill set (Jacoby Ellsbury) very shortly.  It’s like they set a high market for one of their own young players which seems kind of crazy when you think about it that way.  Then there is the myriad of prospects that have been traded away in the past few seasons that have depleted the farm system.  He gave up Justin Masterson and Nick Hagadone for a season and a half of Victor Martinez.  He gave up Casey Kelly and Anthony Rizzo to get Adrian Gonzalez after the bungled Mark Teixera negotiations.  He gave up a potentially very valuable outfield piece in David Murphy to acquire Eric Gagne who was a disaster for half of a season in Boston.  Theo’s record on trades in past years has been bad and his free agent signings have not been much better.  He bloated the payroll to the point where over $67 million in players are currently assigned the Red Sox’ disabled list.  To make matters worse he cut and run after the debacle of last season in what seemed to be a maneuver that he had started to plan as far back as the beginning of last season.  Let’s not forget that he won a power play over Larry Lucchino in 2005 and every indication is that he had the final voice on any player moves.  Simply put he left the Red Sox organization holding the bag.

Cherington walked into a tough situation but he was Theo's right hand man previously

25% current GM Ben Cherington – I almost feel bad here because Cherington did a great job finding cheap players with the payroll constraint that he had to deal with this off-season.  Cody Ross, Ryan Sweeney and Kelly Shoppach have all produced in the early going.  Ben loses me in two places.  First is that he was Theo’s right hand man for the past several seasons.  You would think if he knew that he was the heir apparent to Theo, who had seemingly been planning his exit for some time, that he would try to jump in and dissuade Theo from signing some of these dumb contracts or making some of these poor trades.  He’s got to be held at least a little bit accountable for the previous regime.  The other thing that counts against Ben is his handling of the bullpen in the off-season.  This was the major need in the winter.  Letting Papelbon walk I can see.  Trading for Andrew Bailey was a pretty good move as well but although Bailey’s spring injury was a fluke he has had injury issues in the past.  That tells me that you should really go out and fine a good, proven setup guy and maybe more than one.  Instead Cherington went out and got Mark Melancon, who closed for the Astros in the NL Central.  Although he didn’t give up much to get him it was a curious move particularly since there wasn’t another move to bring someone else in to work with such an unproven guy.  Obviously with neither Bailey nor Melancon able to pitch at this point the bullpen is an utter disaster.  I have to think better decisions could have been made.

Guys like Aceves are not doing the job they were asked to do

20% The Players – This one is another tough one because you are lumping the whole team together.  Unlike last year, when the whole team seemed to be underachieving, this slow start seems to be a product of underachievement on the pitching side of things.  Josh Beckett gets a lot of money and shouldn’t be giving up 6 home runs in a game like he did in Detroit.  Jon Lester needs to pitch better than he has the last two times out.  Clay Buchholz has been a disaster so far and he’s making too much money to pitch so poorly.  The bullpen, well, all of these guys are major league players so they should start pitching like them.  I know the Yankees, Rangers, and Tigers are good lineups but it is pretty embarrassing when you literally can’t get anyone out.  Daniel Bard is more worried about his future paychecks than where he can help the team best.  If I did this last year I would have placed more blame on the players, as a matter of fact they probably would have gotten the majority, but it’s tough to do that this year with Papi hitting well over .400 and Aviles filling in admirably at the lead off spot and things like that.

These guys might be annoying but they are not the main reason we are 6-10

15% The Owners – This is where I break from most people.  Theo left on his own volition so you can’t really blame them for that.  Yeah, there was the Tito thing and the fact that he was replaced by Bobby Valentine but notice that Bobby V. hasn’t been named on the blame pie chart yet.  The ownership group doesn’t really deserve as much of the blame as they get for what happens on the field.  The Red Sox have a higher payroll than all but 1 of the 30 MLB teams, which is of course the Yankees.  All I hear is people complaining about them selling bricks.  Who cares about that?  It’s their job to make money and selling bricks creates revenue?  What’s the issue.  This is the problem that people don’t understand – there aren’t 3 guys who do the same job.  Lucchino is the baseball guy, he doesn’t have anything to do with selling bricks.  That would be Tom Werner who is the marketing guy.  It’s hard to argue that Tom Werner is not very good at his job.  He doesn’t have anything to do with the baseball decisions so blaming him for players not performing on the field seems ludicrous.  Then there is John Henry who is the facilitator and I’ve already mentioned that the Sox have the second highest payroll in the league.  They parred their payroll in the off-season, much like the Yankees also did to little fanfare, more because they were sick of paying increasing revenue sharing taxes to low revenue teams who in turn pocketed the money rather than because they didn’t have the money.  Are the Red Sox owners arrogant, over-bearing, and generally unlikable?  Sure they are but that doesn’t make it their fault that $190 million worth of players are not performing on the field.

Bobby V. must cringe every time he has to do this

3% current manager Bobby Valentine – Despite the boos you hear at Fenway Bobby V. has done a pretty good job in my opinion.  He made a few errors but most of his gambles have paid off.  You can’t really blame him for making too many pitching change mistakes since most of the guys he calls upon can’t get anyone out anyway.  He got a spark when the offense struggled the first two games and he placed Nick Punto in the lead off role.  Replacing Aviles for the injured Ellsbury at the top of the lineup seemed to be a great move.  Moving Ryan Sweeney into the #2 slot seems like a move that is paying off as well.  The only two flaws to Valentine’s year so far are the Youk comments, which he may have been right about anyway, and the Bard situation but as Bard’s comments have shown he hasn’t been too cooperative in the process.

2% Former Manager Terry Francona – He goes on here for now.  If at the end of the season things haven’t turned around then you can take him off and put his current percentage of blame (and probably more) on Valentine.  The reason I put him here is that you can make the argument that some players, particularly pitchers, are struggling with a more hard-nosed approach to the game after being subject to Camp Francona for all those years.  It’s a little thing and something that should fade over time but that’s why he only gets 2%.

There it is, my blame pie.  I’d make a chart but I don’t think it’s that necessary.  Agree?  Disagree?  Feel free to let me know.

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Bard, Aceves’ unwillingness to step up for team is disappointing

Back before the 2007 season when Jonathan Papelbon was coming off of his 1st full season as closer he was moved to the rotation.  Organizational philosophy says that you put your best arms in a position where they would get the most work, which is in the starting rotation.  Sometimes extenuating circumstances come up.  Towards the start of the season, when it became apparent that there was no better option in the bullpen to close games out than him, Papelbon went to manager Terry Francona and sacrificed his starting spot, where the big money was made, for a chance to help the team where he could help best.  So Papelbon became the closer and held the job for the next 5 seasons and then signed a 5 year contract with the Phillies worth over 15 million per season, the largest ever for a relief pitcher.  Things seemed to work out for Papelbon with what started as a selfless, team-oriented act.

Alfredo Aceves seems to lack the mental toughness to close games out

Fast forward to 2012.  The Red Sox acquired A’s closer Andrew Bailey to replace Papelbon but unfortunately an injury right before the season started put him on the shelf for the balance of the summer.  The Red Sox needed someone to step up and fill in for Bailey.  Alfredo Aceves was named the closer although he had never held the job before.  He has struggled mightily in the role and when Nick Cafardo was filling in for Jerry Remy in the NESN booth last night he mentioned that Aceves had told Cafardo’s Globe colleague Michael Vega that he was not comfortable closing and likely never will be.  One has to wonder if his ego was bruised when he was not named to the starting rotation coming out of spring training and that has as much to do with his early season mental ineptitude as does the fact that he is uncomfortable closing.  Aceves has always been seen as a jack of all trades.  He will never be a top end of the rotation guy like Felix Doubront and Daniel Bard have the potential to be so he shouldn’t be too hurt about losing out to superior talents.  But if he can’t mentally get into the role the team is asking of him, I’m not sure how much use that he has to the team.

Daniel Bard seems more concerned about his own role than the good of the team

Aceves may not be comfortable with his role but at least he doesn’t publicly refuse to do it like Daniel Bard has.  Bard came out before last night’s game and made it clear that he had no intention of returning to the bullpen full time.  What is interesting about that is that the last time I checked Bard didn’t make the personnel decisions on the team, Bobby Valentine did.  It’s one thing for a bona fide leader like Pedroia to be openly question the manager but apparently Bard forgets the horrendous September he had last year not to mention the fact that he didn’t even secure a spot in the starting rotation until his last several starts of spring training.  I’ve never seen a pitcher who has accomplished so little so publicly throw egg on his manager’s face like Bard did with his pregame comments last night.  That level of diva-ness is generally reserved for the big guns such as Pedro and Roger.  One thing that Bard apparently didn’t learn from his former bullpen mate Papelbon is humility.  As much as a show off and an over the top personality that Papelbon was at least he was a team player.

Make no mistake about it, these guys want to start for one reason and one reason only – money.  Maybe they are just personally selfish guys or maybe it’s an overall attitude that younger pitchers are taking around the league as a whole.  I’ve noticed a few of the young Tampa Bay pitchers act like spoiled children on the mound at times.  Apparently the $60 million over 5 years that Papelbon earned on the free agent market wasn’t enough.  Whatever the reason the Red Sox desperately need to find someone to close out games and the fact that neither of these guys seem to want to step up is incredibly disappointing.

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Red Sox/Rangers series recap

The Red Sox returned to their early season pitching futility in a two game series against the Rangers on Tuesday and Wednesday.  Jon Lester was lit up early and Mark Melancon was lit up late in an 18-3 loss of game 1.  Josh Beckett held his own but it was not enough to overcome a great pitching performance by Derek Holland on Wednesday night and the Sox once again fell to the Rangers 6-3.

Jon Lester had no answers for the Rangers lineup on Tuesday

As far as the starting pitching goes, Jon Lester’s performance was inexplicable.  It was just one of those things.  He had some trouble getting a feel for the ball after the long home run he gave up to Mike Napoli, who absolutely murders Red Sox pitching.  He actually looked good before that but the home run seemed to throw him off and he couldn’t get into a rhythm after that.  He threw 50 pitches in the 2nd inning and couldn’t record an out in the 3rd before getting yanked.  I’m guessing this was an aberration for Lester and he’ll throw the ball better next time out.  Josh Beckett was much better on Wednesday night.  He is gaining velocity, he went from 91-92 in his first two outings to 93-94 last night, and continues to locate his secondary pitches well.  He gave the Sox a quality start in 7 strong innings and the only blemish was a run scored on a ground ball up the middle and a 2-run homer by, yup, Mike Napoli.  Beckett seems to have settled in after that first outing.

The bullpen is still as mess at times.  Mark Melancon was supposed to be a primary set-up guy for this team but he’s now down in Pawtucket after giving up 3 home runs on Tuesday night.  Michael Bowden has been designated for assignment.  Franklin Morales, who looked great before last night, gave up 3 runs to the Rangers in the 8th inning.  The good news is that Aceves is settling in and Matt Albers and Scott Atchison are pitching better for the Sox.  Vicente Padilla is holding his own in a set-up spot as well.  Perhaps we’ll see if Junichi Tazawa, called up for Melancon and coming off of Tommy John surgery, can contribute.  We may look back at the Andrew Bailey injury and see it as the thing that undid the Bobby V. era before it even started.

Youkilis celebrated his 1st HR of the season Wednesday night

The lineup is doing alright but faced some tough pitching in the two games.  It’s a pretty good staff when you have two guys, Scott Feldman and Alexei Ogando, who have been all-stars as starers as your primary set-up guys.  Papi continues to hit with 1 in each of the 2 games against Texas.  Dustin Pedroia hit his 3rd jack of the young season and Adrian Gonzalez added his 2nd in Game 1.  Kevin Youkilis finally got on the board with a 2-run shot on Wednesday night.  Ryan Sweeney continues to hit well and added an RBI single in the bottom of the 9th last night against Joe Nathan.  Kelly Shoppach continues to hit with another double last night.  Mike Aviles went 2-for-6 with two walks in the series and continues to hold his own at the lead-off spot.  The Sox defense is actually the best in the league so they’re not getting killed in that department either.

So the Sox are 4-8 after 12 games.  Too bad they didn’t start that good last year, they’d have been in the playoffs if they had.  Now they have a crucial series against the Yankees to finish the home stand.  The funny thing is, as a Sox fan, the Yankees don’t scare me as much as the the other teams we have played so far.  We’ve played this team well over the past couple seasons, something you couldn’t say about the Rays or Rangers.  Friday should be exciting, regardless of the record.  I’m looking forward to watching the ceremony and I hope there are a lot of older players that were kind of forgotten about over the years (Luis Rivera, Jeff Frye, Jody Reed, Bob Zupcic, the list goes on and on.)  Anyway until then keep your heads up and go B’s.

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Quick thoughts on Red Sox/Blue Jays – Game 4

A few quick thoughts on the Red Sox’ triumphant first win of the season last night at the Rogers Centre:

  • Felix Doubront was impressive in his first start of the season for the Sox.  He had trouble with his pitch count but like most young pitchers there is an adjustment period from the minors to the majors.  Henderson Alvarez, whose stuff was electric in his own right last night, had the same issue.  By in large most minor league hitters aren’t as patient as major leaguers and often go out of the zone more so it’s an adjustment to see exactly how much you can get away with in the majors.  The results were good however for both guys when they were near the plate.  Doubront had 6 strikeouts in 5 innings and looked particularly tough against left handed batters.  He was the stopper for all intents and purposes after the two horrible performances by Beckett and Buchholz.  I’m thinking that both of these young Venezuelan pitchers, Doubront and Alvarez, won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.
  • Dustin Pedroia, as always, was the fire-starter.  He will be the heart and soul of this team as long as he is a member of it.  Just no quit in the guy.
  • I see a lot of people talk about how the Red Sox are an “unlikable” team and I have to take a little offense to that.  For starters there still seems to be some negativity surrounding Adrian Gonzalez and his comments at the end of last year about “God’s plan”.  Newsflash – the guy is religious, which he has every right to be.  Get off your high horses.  It’s not like he’s pushing in religion on you, just saying what he believes which, in this country, he has every right to.  It just shows how much fans can be media sheep.  If people stopped listening to guys who are making controversial comments in the sole effort to attain viewers and/or listeners and started formulating opinions with their own brains maybe Red Sox Nation wouldn’t seem so stupid these days.
  • Speaking of likable players I think it will take some time but many fans will fall in love with some of the new guys.  Ryan Sweeney, Cody Ross, Nick Punto, and Mike Aviles always give it 110% when they are out there and seem to care.  They really have been the difference in the better offensive start this year compared to last year.  Role players doing the little things to help the team.  Cherington wanted to bring in guys who wanted to play and play hard in the off-season and he looks to have succeeded.  Meanwhile J.D. Drew is enjoying his retirement at 36 and Jed Lowrie hasn’t played an inning yet for the Astros.
  • Last night was big for Alfredo Aceves and we’ll see how he responds going forward.  Obviously if Bard has a good start today it will probably lock him into the starting rotation, at least for the foreseeable future, and the closers job will be Aceves’ job to hold onto.
  • Scott Atchison really is an unsung member of the Sox pen.  He had a respectable 3.26 ERA last season and pitched 3 scoreless last night to keep the Sox in striking distance for the comeback.  He’s pitching his way to a spot on the staff even when everyone is healthy.
  • Interesting match-up tonight as Bard makes his first start against Kyle Drabek, who was knocked around by the Red Sox last year then it’s Lester, who pitched superbly in Detroit on opening day, and Ricky Romero, who has a 7.12 career ERA vrs. Boston.  Things could look much better this year compared to last year on the home opener and that is something you wouldn’t have expected as recently as the 7th inning last night.
  • It was nice to see the Rogers Centre buzzing like the old days last night.  Hopefully they can maintain the interest.

That’s all for now.  Enjoy the games and if you have DirecTV you can watch all of the MLB games for free until the 15th.  Check the 700 channels.

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