Saltalamacchia Catching On With Red Sox

It’s not an easy thing to replace a captain of 7 years on a professional sports team.  A guy like Jason Varitek, a rock for the organization and team leader from 1997-2011, is hard to replicate.  In particular in this era in major league baseball versatile catchers who contain top notch leadership skills are hard to come by.  It almost mirrors the old adage in the NFL that franchise quarterbacks are nearly impossible to find and you should savior them while you have one.  Varitek’s career started to dwindle a few seasons ago and the Sox even brought in a big name, former Indians catcher Victor Martinez, to split time with him.  When Martinez was allowed to walk in free agency a year and a half after he was acquired it was back to the drawing board for the Red Sox.

Saltalamacchia is becoming the player the Sox hoped for when they traded for him

Enter Jarrod Saltalamacchia.  Salty was acquired at the trade deadline during the 2010 season for spare parts and was placed in Pawtucket for the remainder of the year.  Salty was a big prospect coming up with Atlanta but hit a wall in Texas after he was acquired in a trade that sent Mark Teixeira packing.  Saltalamacchia was stuck in the minors and couldn’t even throw the ball to second base accurately when the Sox picked him up.  At the end of the year when Martinez walked to Detroit the Red Sox gave Saltalamacchia the keys to the car to at least share with Varitek for a year.  Many thought that a year playing with Jason Varitek would be vital.  Although he wasn’t the same player physically that he once was he had not lost anything mentally and could be a wealth of knowledge for a young guy playing under him.  It seems that those thoughts are coming to fruition.

Salty had a decent enough line last season splitting with Varitek.  He tailed off at the end of the season but his .235/.288/.450 line wasn’t horrible for a part time catcher.  He added a career high 16 home runs and 56 RBI.  He had a 31% caught stealing rate which was excellent considering how poorly the Red Sox pitchers held runners on.  People worried that when Varitek retired Salty would have trouble progressing without him but Salty is proving early in the season that one season may have been enough with Varitek.  Saltalamacchia looks like a much more confident player out there on the field this year.  He seems to have taken on Varitek’s role of team leader particularly with the young pitchers that he works with.

Salty had a Varitek moment when he stood up to Luke Scott

His offense has improved so far this year.  His .274/.311/.573 line with 9 home runs and 22 RBI make him a prime candidate for the American League All-Star team.  Only J.P. Arencibia of the Blue Jays has as many home runs as Saltalamacchia out of all American League catchers (not counting Mike Napoli who plays 3 different positions).  Of catchers in the American League with at least 100 plate appearances only A.J. Pierzynski and Joe Mauer have a higher batting average.  The improved play is contributed by his heightened confidence.  He may well break down again before the end of the season but he should be more used to the long season after finally going through it for the first time in two seasons last year.

Saltalamacchia showed everyone how much of a leader he had become in a 10 day stretch that started a few weeks ago in Tampa.  He was hit in the ear with a foul ball and suffered a gash that required 12 stitches.  Salty convinced manager Bobby Valentine to start him the next day in Philly and proceeded to hit a home run in the game.  He hit another one that weekend in Philly that was the 3rd longest home run of the season.  The following weekend when Tampa Bay came to Boston a brawl nearly broke out in the 9th inning when Sox pitcher Franklin Morales hit Rays slugger/big mouth Luke Scott in the leg.  When Scott started walking towards the mound Salty rudely cut him off with a bump of his chest guard.  The next night Salty came in the to 9th inning as a pinch hitter with the Sox down a run and promptly hit a game-winning walk-off home run against Rays’ closer Fernando Rodney who had not blown a save all year long.  It was reminiscent of Jason Varitek’s stand up to Alex Rodriguez and the subsequent game winning home run by Bill Mueller except this time Salty handled it all himself.

It’s rather amusing that for years Theo Epstein seemed to be trying to find a catcher to replace Jason Varitek.  He finally did in a throwaway trade at the deadline in ’10.  He took a shot in the dark with Saltalamacchia and Salty is looking to pay back the favor by becoming the player that the Red Sox didn’t seem to have.  In a few years Saltalamacchia will likely be joined by prospect Ryan Lavarnway to create a formidable catching duo.  Salty will have to quickly turn around the knowledge bestowed on him by Varitek to teach Lavarnway how to become a player and a leader.  If the start of this year is any indication then Salty should have his Varitek impression down pat by then.

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Red Sox And Rays Start Series With Fireworks

Maddon has turned into an over-officious gasbag

In what was becoming a rather uneventful game last night the benches of the Red Sox and Rays cleared after Franklin Morales hit Luke Scott in the top of the 9th inning with two outs.  This was the second game in a row that Luke Scott has been hit after a Red Sox player had been hit earlier in the game.  Last week in Tampa Adrian Gonzalez got into an otherwise harmless back-and-forth with the Boston media who were questioning where his power had gone.  Sick of the media talking about it he swore to them that he would hit a home run that night.  Later in the day Rays pitcher David Price retweeted a comment from a fan that the Rays should hit Gonzalez in his first at-bat after he predicted a home run.  Gonzalez was promptly hit in his first plate appearance.  That’s what makes Rays manager Joe Maddon’s post-game comments so interesting (and hypocritical).

Very proud of our effort 2nite. What occurred in the 9th reeked of intent. Was ridiculous, absurd, idiotic, incompetent, cowardly behavior. @RaysJoeMaddon

That is what Rays manager Joe Maddon tweeted after the game last night.  You can read more of Joe Maddon’s nauseating post-game comments here.  The odd part to me is that I’ve never seen a manager come out so vigorously against a guy getting hit intentionally even though the last game these two teams played, less than 10 days ago, Rays pitcher Matt Moore clearly hit Adrian Gonzalez intentionally.  What am I missing here?  I’ve been watching baseball religiously since I’ve been about 6 years old and it’s been one of the unwritten rules in baseball all my life and probably well before I was born.  If you feel a team is hitting your guys on purpose you get one of their guys back.  And when you throw at someone in retaliation you throw at their back side area, the “fleshy part of the thigh” to steal a quote from The Sopranos.  That’s exactly where Franklin Morales hit Scott last night.

Ever the classy one Scott grabbed Salty’s throat after he was hit

Maddon is like the little kid who preemptively tells his mother that his brother has been stealing cookies from the cookie jar so his brother gets all of the blame.  He is all over the place in his quotes.  Saying that his franchise is above things like that (please) and then basically predicting that someone on the Sox will get hurt because of this.  Maddon and the Rays have been operating the standard small-market vrs. big-market us against them philosophy for years and to his credit it has worked.  Now it’s just starting to become a joke.  The unwritten rules in baseball are never re-written.  They don’t change depending on your payroll.  The Red Sox and Yankees have every right to defend their guys when they are getting thrown at.  The sad part about this whole thing is that the media will actually buy his garbage even though if it was a Bobby V. or a Joe Girardi saying these things they would be criticized and rightfully so.

When you put a guy on a pedestal, like the media does with Maddon, then obviously he is going to develop an over-inflated ego and at this point his head is the size of a watermelon.  Plenty of managers in the MLB, both with big market clubs and small, handle themselves with class and humility (Terry Francona anyone?).  Maddon is no longer one of those guys and he still gets talked about like he’s God’s gift to managing.  Is the job that he has done been as good as any manager in the league since he’s been in Tampa?  Absolutely but let’s be real here.  The guy is a baseball manager, he’s not God, he didn’t cure cancer or anything like that.  We don’t really need to put him on high like he’s the messiah or something.  In my opinion, right now, he’s looking more like the spoiled rich kid who always has to get his way then the graceful overachiever that he was when he got the job in Tampa.  I think it’s time that we all got over Joe Maddon.  He’s just a baseball manager.  He’s a very good one but a very arrogant one as well.  Let’s stop acting like he is something different than what he actually is.

On a side note I loved Saltalamacchia standing up for his teammates and getting in Scott’s face.  It’s clear that the guy learned a TON in his 1 year with Varitek about being a leader. He is acting more and more like him every night.

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Jon Lester Needs To Return To Form For The Red Sox To Contend

The Red Sox organization has been in a free fall since last September 1st.  Mirroring the Red Sox’ fall from grace has been the decline of the guy that used to be looked at as our young ace pitcher, Jon Lester.  Lester is only 28 years old this year but if he can not rebound from his sub-par pitching since last September than sadly we may have already seen the best days of Jon Lester as a pitcher.

Lester has been an inconsistent performer since last September 1

Lester’s woes have flown under the radar with Josh Beckett being public enemy #1 for what he’s done off the field, Clay Buchholz pitching as bad as any starter in the league at the outset of the season, and John Lackey in exile (even though he’s in the dugout at every home game) after Tommy John surgery.  Lester also got points from Red Sox Nation when he stepped up and accepted responsibility for what happened last season in the clubhouse and expressed remorse for what became of the Red Sox season and manager Terry Francona.  Lester, however, has been as inconsistent as any player on the Red Sox since last September 1st when the wheels began to come off of the wagon.

Consider that Lester made 25 starts between opening day and August 27th.  Of those 25 starts 19 of them were quality starts (pitching at least 6 innings while giving up only 4 runs or less).  A quality start is a benchmark for consistency for  a major league pitcher and a 76% Quality Start rate, which Lester had going into September last year, is an excellent number.  Lester also struck out at least 5 batters in 20 of his 25 starts including 11 in a game against the Angels on May 3rd of last year.  He had a 3.09 ERA heading into September last season and had walked 3.3 guys per 9 innings.  His shortest outing of the season was a 4 inning outing against Toronto on July 5th due to an injury that caused him to leave early in his next start as well and eventually land on the disabled list.  There were only three other occasions where Lester could not get into the 7th inning meaning he reached the 7th in 80% of his starts through August.  Then came September 1st.

Lester made 6 starts in September.  He had 3 quality starts, a 50% QS rate.  He went 5 innings, 4 innings, and 2 1/3 respectively in his other 3 outings.  His ERA in the month of September was 5.48, he walked 4.6 guys per 9 innings, and he sported a 1-3 record.  Things have not gotten better for Lester so far this season.  In 7 outings to start the year he has 4 quality starts.  He’s got a 4.29 ERA and he’s had more than 5 strikeouts in only 2 of his 7 starts.  He had given up 18 walks so far on the season.  He’s got a 1-3 record thus far.

When you put together Lester’s numbers from September 1 of last year the results are disappointing.  His 7 quality starts in 13 outings leaves him with an average 54% QS%.  He has a 4.76 ERA and a 4.2 BB/9 rate.  His record is 2-6.  Compare that with his 3.09 ERA and 3.3 BB/9 rate through August of last year and you find a serious downgrade in production.  Compared even further to his career stats going into last season when he had a 3.55 career ERA, 3.4 BB/9 rate and averaged about 16 wins per season you would assume that Lester is a much more effective pitcher than he’s been showing.

Lester’s been easily flustered by umpire calls but he needs to bare down in those situations

So the million dollar question is – what is the problem?  It doesn’t seem to be health related.  I do see Lester get flustered early in games over close calls that go the other way and he tends to lose his composure.  But why now at this point in his career?  Why does he seem to be regressing rather than maturing as a pitcher at age 28?  I doubt anyone knows the answer and I am hoping that what seems like a statistical anomaly is exactly that, a blip on the radar for a guy that has a ton of talent and will put it all behind him.  Lester hasn’t totally lost his arm, he’s just inconsistent.  You’ll see flashes of the Lester we thought we’d see every night and then the guy who throws too many pitches will come back 5 days later.  Lester is coming off of a string of sub-par outings and tonight would be the perfect time for him to throw another gem and give the Red Sox their 4th consecutive quality start, something they’ve only done one other time this season (series in Chicago).

Despite all the talk about beer, chicken, and golf it all comes down to starting pitching.  The Red Sox are 15-19 largely because their starting pitching has been inconsistent and hasn’t gotten deep into outings.  The bullpen has settled down but is still being used far too much because the starters aren’t going deep into games.  Jon Lester, not Josh Beckett, should be the ace of this staff.  He is 3 years younger than him and in the prime of his career.  If Lester doesn’t bear down and become the pitcher that he should be it will be hard to see us anywhere near the race this September 1st.  Hopefully tonight we will start to see that guy.

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The Daniel Bard experiment has provided mixed results thus far for the Red Sox

Daniel Bard wanted to either close or start for the Red Sox this season after 3 seasons at the Red Sox’ primary set-up man for former closer Jonathan Papelbon.  When Bard had a horrendous September last season the front office shied away from simply handing him the closers job and went out and acquired proven closer Andrew Bailey from the Athletics.  That left the starters role for Bard.  The Red Sox had a need for a starter in the back of the rotation so it was a fit.  Bard would have to win the job in spring training however.  After a rocky start to the spring Bard settled down and was named to the 5th starter’s role just before the beginning of the season.  Results thus far have been mixed.

Bard’s starting career has been solid if inconsistent thus far

Bard has made 6 appearances, 5 starts and the one appearance out of the bullpen.  Interestingly enough he’s gotten a decision in all 6 appearances he has made, sporting a 2-4 record.  1 of the 2 wins came in his relief appearance so he is 1-4 as a starter.  The record might not necessarily reflect how well Bard has pitched.  Bard has a 4.83 ERA which is not horrible for a starter.  Bard has a average run support per game of 5.40 which isn’t too bad either but he did have a 1-0 loss to the Rays on Marathon Monday.  He’s been inconsistent with strikeouts.  His K/9 rate is an even 6 but he has only had 1 strikeout in each of his last 2 starts.  In his first 3 starts he had 6, 7, and 6 strikeouts respectively.  On Tuesday he tied his innings high for the year by going 7 full innings but he disappointingly couldn’t record an out in the 8th despite only throwing 86 pitches going to the inning.  Durability is still an issue and it probably will be all season long.  It’s not just pitch count durability but innings related too ie. he could have 70 pitches going into the 8th inning but he still may tire because his body is just not used to sitting down and getting back up 8 or 9 times a night yet.

Bard is still trying to figure it all out

One thing that Bard has done far better than ANYONE on the staff is limit the long ball.  He has only given up 1 home run all year, a bomb by White Sox slugger Paul Konerko on a 3-0 pitch.  All of the other Red Sox starters have at least 3 home runs given up and the bullpen has given up a whooping 15 home runs combined.  The home run has killed the Sox staff this year because there haven’t been that many solo shots given up by them.  Bard has also improved on his control.  Since his 7 walk performance against the Rays on Marathon Monday Bard has only walked 8 guys in 4 appearances since, half of which came Tuesday night in Kansas City.  Bard seems to get lost for an inning which is what happened for pretty much all of September but then he was only pitching 1 inning so I guess it’s better off this way.

Of course many people are still clamoring for Bard to return to the bullpen.  I wrote about that myself just a few weeks ago here.  A lot of things have changed since then however.  Firstly the longer they hold off the less sense it makes as the longer we go the closer Andrew Bailey is to returning.  Secondly we need Bard in the rotation still because our alternative options are dwindling.  Aaron Cook got the call-up and promptly got spiked in his 2nd inning of work, sending him to the D.L.  Now Daisuke Matsuzaka, coming off of Tommy John surgery, is the last hope and that’s not even mentioning the 500 lb. gorilla in the room known as Clay Buchholz’ season thus far.  Bard will eventually end up in the bullpen this season, his innings limit will guarantee that.  The fact of the matter is that they need him to start right now and then just hope that Buchholz has come around and Dice-K and Cook are healthy when that time comes.

Bard’s problem has been the 1 inning.  That’s not so bad when you consider that he hasn’t started since low A ball.  Bard is still learning to be a starting pitcher in this league and he’s doing it in the most stacked division in baseball.  This year will provide good experience for the future no matter how the season turns out for Bard and the Red Sox.  It looks like they will stay the course with Bard, which is the best bet at this point.  The bullpen has settled down a bit and the key arms should be recovered from the debacle in Baltimore over the weekend.  Bard’s place for now is the rotation.  Will he ever turn into the top of the rotation guy that he’s got the potential to be?  Maybe, maybe not but at least he’ll be able to say that he got his chance.

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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/Rays series recap

If I told you on Thursday that the Red Sox would win 3 out of 4 from the Rays you’d be pretty excited.  That’s exactly what The Red Sox did this weekend on the backs of some great pitching and some timely hitting.  The only blemish of the weekend was a 1-0 loss on Marathon Monday in which Daniel Bard went into the 7th inning with a shutout.

Beckett was impressive in 8 innings on opening day at Fenway

Success in baseball starts with your starting pitching and after the first 6 games on the road there seemed to be a lot of questions about the Red Sox’ starting pitching staff.  The Sox starters answered the call in the 4 games against Tampa.  Josh Beckett started thing off with a superb 8 inning effort against the Rays at the home opener.  Beckett’s velocity was still hovering around 91 MPH but he had better location than he did in his first start and he kept the Rays swinging early in counts.  Beckett seems like a new pitcher and at least for this game it worked.  Clay Buchholz had a horrendous beginning to his start in game 2, giving up 4 runs in the 1st inning and throwing 43 pitches in the first 2.  Like Beckett Buchholz started locating his pitches better and getting the Rays to swing early in counts.  This resulted in him pitching through the 7th inning while the Sox’ offense put Buchholz in line for a win.  Buchholz hadn’t pitched in 10 months so it seems like the rust was starting to wear off during his 2nd start of the season.

Doubront has put together two solid starts for the Sox

The young guys in the rotation were equally as impressive as the veterans.  Felix Doubront had another solid outing on Sunday, keeping Rays’ hitters on their toes with a mix of change-ups and curve balls to go with his 95-96 MPH fastball.  Doubront tallied 7 strikeouts in 5 innings and only gave up 1 walk despiting reaching 90 pitches in the 6th inning.  He gave up 4 runs but like Buchholz, kept the Sox in the game.  Doubront needs to work on his pitch count but that’s not anything surprising for a young pitcher.  The best pitching performance of the series may have belonged to Daniel Bard, who pitched shut-out baseball for 6 2/3 innings on Monday morning.  He had 7 strikeouts himself but was undone by his 7 walks, including the one to walk in the only run of the game.  I can kind of see why Valentine left Bard in their, he wants him to get experience in those tough situations, but this one cost them the game.  Like Doubront, Bard needs to cut down on his pitches.  Bard was outstanding for most of the day however, mixing in his nasty curve ball to go along the with his fastballs.  One thing that’s for sure is that there is a boatload of potential in the back of the Sox rotation right now.  How they come to realize it will be interesting to watch

Morales may end up being the main setup guy for the Sox

It wasn’t just the starting pitchers who were impressive in this series.  The bullpen, much maligned after the 1st 6 games, is really starting to come together.  Aceves pitched two clean innings, including one for a save on Sunday.  He’s now sat down the last 9 batters that he’s faced after his horrible start.  Is he the long term answer at closer while Andrew Bailey is hurt?  Maybe not but you’ve got to feel a hell of a lot better about him now than you did a week ago.  I’ve always been a Franklin Morales fan and he has the look of a bonafide set-up man with his consistent 96 MPH fastball.  “The Monster” Vicente Padilla has also slotted in nicely in the back of the bullpen for the Sox.  Scott Atchison continues to be an unsung hero in the ‘pen with a sub-2.00 ERA in the early going.  The bullpen always needs to feel itself out in the early part of the season and things eventually fall into place, even if it’s not how you thought it would look.  Right now the bullpen is looking much, much better than it did in Detroit.

Big Papi is on fire in the early going for the Sox

As good as the pitching was in the series the offense was the offense.  They exploded for 31 runs in the first 3 games against the highly touted Rays’ young pitching staff.  Only veteran Jason Shields could slow them down in the final game of the series.  Big Papi was a monster going 9-for-16 during the series and continuing his torrid early season pace.  The Sox only got home runs from Adrian Gonzalez and Dustin Pedroia on the road in the first 6 games but got a HR from 5 different players in this series including 2 each from Mike Aviles and Cody Ross.  The loss of Jacoby Ellsbury is big but Mike Aviles picked up the slack in the lead-off spot by going 5-for-13 along with the two bombs, both of which put the Red Sox ahead late in the game on Saturday and Sunday.  Kelly Shoppach was a spark plug at the bottom of the order when he was in there, going 4-for-7 in his two starts.  He also gave his the most entertaining moment of the series when he slide 10 feet from the bag and had to literally dive head first into 2nd base on a steal attempt.  He was safe and it was his 1st career steal on his 1st career attempt.

Aviles has been one of many contributors in April

Defensively the Sox were solid, getting some good plays out of Cody Ross in center and right field as well as Ryan Sweeney in right.  The infield is playing really solid defense right now, early season fears of Mike Aviles’ inability to man the shortstop position on a consistent basis seem to have been quelled.  Tampa has run all over us in recent years but the Sox kept them at bay.  It was something emphasized in the off-season, either by bringing in a big arm like Kelly Shoppach at catcher or by having the coaches work with the pitching staff to do a better job at holding runners on.  Whatever it is is working because people aren’t running all over the Sox this year like they have in the past.

The two things that people will remember about Bobby Valentine this series was what he said about Youk and leaving Bard in the game a little too long.  His coaching staff has done a great job so far though.  Him and McClure have worked great with the bullpen and are really hitting their stride in that regard.  He seems to be moving the lineup around nicely.  Aviles seems like a nice choice to replace Ellsbury for now and he mixes in guys like Shoppach and Sweeney perfectly.  Many said this team would be lucky to win 4 games on this tough home stand against Tampa, Texas, and the Yankees.  They have 3 already and, with Lester and Beckett pitching the two game series against the Rangers, could have the 4 wins wrapped up by the weekend series against the Yankees.  Whatever you want to say the beginning of this year looks like it’ll be a far cry than the debacle that started last season.

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Red Sox Series 1 Recap

It feels like deja vu all over again as the Red Sox were swept in 3 games on the road to start the season for the 2nd time in as many years.  To get the excuses out of the way first, I wonder who the Red Sox pissed off at the MLB offices to draw the defending American League Champions at home to open the season one year and then the defending AL Central champs with the reigning M.V.P. and Cy Young winner the next.  I long for the days of opening up against the Baltimore’s of the world.  It’s important to remember that while we are 0-3 we still aren’t as bad off as we were last season when we started 0-6.  We’ll see what happens in Toronto but here’s what I saw in the first series:

Lester was out-dueled by Verlander on opening day but was otherwise the lone bright spot in the rotation

First off, obviously the pitching was atrocious, save Lester and some good performances from Padilla and Morales in relief on Sunday.  The Tigers do have a good lineup and Miguel Cabrera looks like he’ll be a beast all season hitting in front of Prince Fielder.  I think that the 1-2 punch of Cabrera and Fielder definitely got into the heads of the Red Sox pitching staff as the series went on.  They combined for 5 home runs in the last two games and went 3-for-4 with 3 RBI in the two blown save innings on Sunday.  The Sox staff also had tremendous trouble keeping Tigers’ lead-off hitter Austin Jackson off the base-paths and he caused havoc on numerous occasions.  Josh Beckett said he wasn’t injured but his velocity was troubling.  It didn’t look that bad in spring training and suddenly he topped out at about 92 on Saturday.  Clay Buchholz was equally as bad in his outing on Sunday and you hope that he is just shaking the rust off at this point.  Both Beckett and Buchholz had trouble locating their fastballs and that is the last thing you want to do against a lineup like the Tigers.  Now Felix Doubront and Daniel Bard will have to come up big in Toronto.

Alfredo Aceves was in a word, awful against Detroit

Then there is the bullpen.  Right now it has no identity.  The silver lining here is that it seems like a very similar start to the 2003 season where the bullpen had no identity and were blowing games left and right early on.  The Sox acquired Diamondbacks pitcher Byung-Hyun Kim and eventually inserted him into the closers role and things kind of fell in line from there.  Hopefully Valentine is still feeling out the bullpen (for those saying that he should have done that in spring training, remember that minor leaguers are playing at the end of all of the games so you can’t really do it that way) and once things are settled he’ll have confidence in certain guys to put in key situations.  Obviously Melancon and Aceves are off to auspicious starts.  I’ve always been a Franklin Morales guy and he showed some grit today and I’d like to see him put into more pressure situations late in games.  Padilla was very effective today but he’s more of a “jack of all trades” guy to be used in a variety of situations.  Everyone is suddenly on the Daniel Bard for closer bandwagon but I’m skeptical.  I don’t like the idea of simply handing the closers job to a guy that almost single handedly blew the season last September.  Remember Beckett and Lester had 2 bad starts at the end and Papelbon blew the last game but Bard was consistently awful throughout the whole month of September.  And now he’s the savior?  I’m not buying it.  People talk about Aceves or Melancon not having that closers mentality.  Well, I’ve never seen it from Bard either to be honest.  I say that they stay the course with Bard as a starter and find some other solution at the back of the bullpen.

Big Papi has started the year on fire along with fellow masher Adrian Gonzalez

The offense is actually farther ahead of where the offense was after three games last year when you consider that the Sox scored more runs on Sunday (12) than they did for the entire series in Texas last year (11).  Of course they only scored 2 runs in the first two games but Verlander’s stuff was electric on opening day and the offense had a rough game on Saturday but a lot of times, especially with a lineup as stacked as the Sox’ is, it takes one big game to get an offense going.  Last year they couldn’t score more than 5 runs in any of their 1st 6 games on the road and scored over 5 only twice in the first 15 games.  Sunday they scored 12 runs and the meat of the order – Pedroia, Gonzalez, and Ortiz – are all hitting the ball well in the early going.  It also helps that role players such has Ryan Sweeney, Nick Punto, and Mike Aviles, all guys that the Sox didn’t have on opening day last season, have contributed thus far in the early going.  The Blue Jays have two young pitchers going in the first two games and close out the series with Ricky Romero who has a career 7.12 ERA vrs. the Red Sox.  The Sox can use the match-ups to catapult the offense early in the season, something they didn’t do last year.

As always it all comes down to the pitching.  Lester looks great but there has to be some early concern about Beckett and Buchholz.  Hopefully the Tigers vaunted lineup had something to do with it as well.  The bullpen is still working out the kinks obviously and Valentine seems content on sending people out there to sink or swim and he really has no other options at this point.  Some guys sunk (Melancon, Aceves) and some guys swam (Padilla, Morales).  Hopefully another power arm emerges in the back of the bullpen.  Not sure who it can be but someone is going to need to step up here soon.  Now it’s on to Toronto and thankfully we can put Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder in the rear view mirror for a while.

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