Quick Thoughts on Red Sox Game #1

The good news is that for the first time since 2010 the Red Sox started 1-0.  The better news is that for the first time since 2010 that the Red Sox will not be swept in the first series of the season.  The new look Red Sox offense put a ton of pressure on Yankees ace CC Sabathia and Jon Lester got his first opening day victory in three tries for the Red Sox.  Here are some quick, very premature thoughts on the first game of the season.

  • Lester was sharp in all but 1 inning

    Lester was sharp in all but 1 inning

    Jon Lester looked sharp in all but 1 inning but that 1 inning is a killer.  Last year the guy would just lose himself at times and that is what led to his downfall.  It happened again in the 4th inning but luckily he got it back in the 5th to finish out the start and get the win.  Lester needs to eliminate that problem inning because the bottom line is he’s piling up too many damn pitches early in the game.  He can’t rely on the bullpen all season long to clean up his messes.

  • All that being said above the Red Sox bullpen did a hell of a job cleaning up his mess.  It was an interesting strategy by Farrell to use virtually everyone but it worked out today.  Andrew Miller showed how maddening he can be by walking the first two and striking out the next two.  Bailey and Hanrahan both had some extra juice on their fastballs today, they may have been saving that stuff for the regular season.  If the guys in the back end pitch like they did today this team will be tough to beat with a lead late in games.
  • Jonny Gomes celebrate his hustle run in the 7th

    Jonny Gomes celebrate his hustle run in the 9th

    The Red Sox offense did work without Napoli or Middlebrooks doing anything.  Crazy as it sounds I’m not rushing Papi back because Jonny Gomes is a gamer.  That was a great hustle play to score on Ellsbury’s infield single in the 9th.

  • It was nice to see the Red Sox get back to basics overall.  There was no half-assing on the base paths.  Iglesias did what he had to do to get on base with a bunt single and two infield hits.  Bradley walked 3 times, which is as many times as Crawford walked ALL SEASON last year.  They worked Sabathia early and drove up the pitch count and he only lasted 5 innings.  This is the kind of thing that you saw night in and night out during the Francona years and hopefully it’s a sign of things to come this season.
  • I can’t believe I saw Jarrod Saltalamacchia walk 3 times in the same baseball game.  I’ll wait and see if it was just an aberration or if he has finally learned how to take pitches.
  • Jackass

    Jackass

    It was a great start for the Red Sox no doubt but there is one thing that can’t be denied – the Yankees lineup sucks.  Every time they started a rally they’d have a scrub like Lyle Overbay or Jayson Nix come up (or is it Lance Nix?  I’m not even sure which one it was.)  Guys like Vernon Wells, Travis Hafner, even Ichiro, these guys haven’t been any good in years and they are relying on them in key spots.  You could see that Youk strike out against Bailey in the 7th coming from a mile away.  Like we haven’t had that scouting report on him for a decade.  And he’s their clean-up hitter right now.

  • Joba Chamberlain looks like a jackass with his porn stache.
  • The thing that I hate about opening day is they play the first game and you are all pumped up for baseball to be back and then they don’t play again for another day and a half.  We’ll see if the Red Sox can make it 2 for 2 Wednesday night in the Bronx.

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Whatever Happened To “Red Sox Baseball”

Saltalamacchia is a great clubhouse guy but just doesn’t seem to be a great organizational fit

I’ve been watching the Red Sox struggle through the 2012 season and i can’t help but wonder what happened to the “Red Sox Baseball” that GM Theo Esptein implemented in the early part of the last decade that helped the Red Sox win two World Championships.  No, I’m not talking about that silly cosmetic stuff that anonymous sources report about what’s going on off the field.  I’m talking about what they do on the field, more specifically at the plate.  The Red Sox don’t take pitches anymore.  They don’t talk walks anymore.  They don’t make pitchers work hard anymore.  They often have poor at-bats, mostly from the bottom of the order.  Why did the Red Sox stop bringing in players with high OBP rates?

John Henry bought the Red Sox with an obsession with Oakland GM Billy Beane’s “moneyball” philosophy.  When he couldn’t secure Beane’s services he turned to another young moneyball disciple in Theo Esptein.  The Red Sox built the 2004 roster on players that walked.  Kevin Millar, David Ortiz, Bill Mueller, and Mark Bellhorn were all acquired before the 2003 or 2004 seasons and they all had one thing in common – they got on base.  The Red Sox built their 2007 roster by drafting players like Dustin Pedroia and supplementing the roster with guys like Mike Lowell and J.D. Drew who all got on base.  Now they have a bottom of the lineup that consistently have 3 or 4 pitch at-bats and leaves the pitcher fresh for the top of the order the 2nd and 3rd times around.  Guys like Mike Aviles and Jarrod Saltalamacchia are the opposite of the prototype moneyball type hitters.  Here’s a look at the OBPs for the starting lineups in the World Series winning years of 2004 and 2007.

Damon was the prototypical moneyball lead-off hitter

2004:

C Jason Varitek .390, 1B Kevin Millar .383, 2b Mark Bellhorn .373, SS Orlando Cabrera .320, 3B Bill Mueller .365, LF Manny Ramirez .397, CF Johnny Damon .380, RF Trot Nixon .377, DH David Ortiz .380

2007:

C Jason Varitek .367, 1B Kevin Youkilis .390, 2B Dustin Pedroia .380, SS Julio Lugo, .294, 3B Mike Lowell .378, LF Manny Ramirez .388, CF Coco Crisp, .330, RF J.D. Drew .373, DH David Ortiz .445

Now let’s take a look at the OBP numbers for the starting lineup so far this season:

C Jarrod Saltalamacchia .282, 1B Adrian Gonzalez, .352, 2B Dustin Pedroia, .336, SS Mike Aviles .285, 3B Will Middlebrooks .325, LF Carl Crawford .308, CF Jacoby Ellsbury .309, RF Cody Ross .337, DH David Ortiz .414

The differences are astounding.  In 2004 and 2007 only 1 player in the Sox starting lineup, Julio Lugo, had an OBP under .300 and he was at .294.  This year they have 2, Saltalamacchia and Aviles, and both are .285 or under.  Lugo, Orlando Cabrera, and Coco Crisp were the only 3 guys in those two seasons to have a OBP of .330 or lower.  Only 4 guys in the Red Sox starting lineup this season – their 3 best hitters, Gonzalez, Pedroia, Ross and Ortiz – are over the .330 mark.  Jacoby Ellsbury’s .309 OBP is a horrible number for a lead-off hitter and pales in comparison to the .380 OBP of 2004 lead-off man Johnny Damon.  Bill Mueller’s .365 OBP was 2nd lowest in the Red Sox starting lineup in 2004.  He’d have the second highest in this year’s lineup.

It’s clear what the Red Sox need to do.  They need to re-acquire players who takes pitches and get on base.  They need to rebuild the roster with the 2004 version as a guideline.  When Theo Epstein took over in 2002 he envisioned a 100 million dollar player development machine.  Now it’s just a 100 million dollar mess.  For the Red Sox to get back into the post-season they need to simply get back to Red Sox baseball.  Judging by the numbers above it doesn’t seem like a guy like Mike Aviles, Jarrod Saltalamacchia or even Jacoby Ellsbury would fit into that plan.  They need to get rid of the guys who don’t get on base and replace him with guys who do.

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Ellsbury And Crawford Providing A Spark At The Top Of The Red Sox Lineup

We’ve seen more of the Tampa Crawford since his return from the DL

When Carl Crawford signed with the Red Sox before last season people expected to see a dynamic 1-2 punch at the top of the Red Sox lineup with Jacoby Ellsbury and Crawford.  While Ellsbury put up an MVP season last year Crawford did not live up to the hype and hit primarily in the 6th and 7th spot in the lineup all season.  Fast forward to 2012.  Carl Crawford was coming off of wrist surgery and had to start the year on the DL.  Jacoby Ellsbury suffered a shoulder injury in the 7th game of the season.  Both guys would end up on the disabled list until the all-star break as the Sox got by with a makeshift top of the lineup in their absence.

Now both guys are back and the Sox are reaping the benefits that they have been waiting for since they signed Crawford.  In his 5 games since coming off of the disabled list Crawford has 7 hits and a walk in 20 at bats giving him a .450 OBP.  All of his at-bats have come in the #2 hole in the lineup.  He’s also been productive when he’s gotten on base, stealing 3 bases and scoring 6 runs in his 5 games back.  In Ellsbury’s 8 games back at the top of the order he’s gotten 12 hits in 35 at-bats.  He’s stolen a base and scored 5 runs.  The duo has combined for 5 steals and 11 runs in just 8 games.

Ellsbury has been a welcome sight back at the top of the Red Sox order

Offense hasn’t been the problem for the Sox all season long but they have had some trouble scoring runs in stretches.  Not only does the return of an effective Ellsbury and Crawford solidify the top of the Red Sox order it also lengthens the lineup as a whole.  Mike Aviles can stay at the bottom of the order and they have guys like Will Middlebrooks all the way down at the #7 spot in the lineup.  When David Ortiz returns a healthy lineup will probably look this this – Ellsbury, Crawford, Pedroia, Ortiz, Gonzalez, Ross, Middlebrooks, Saltalamacchia, Aviles.  That is as deep as any lineup in the American League.

When these two guys are playing at the top of their games offensively there is a snowball effect that trickles down to the rest of the Red Sox lineup.  We’ve already seen Ortiz, Gonzalez, and Ross get good pitches to hit while pitchers are distracted by Ellsbury and Crawford on the base paths.  Ellsbury will have to stay healthy and Crawford will have to stay productive for the rest of the year but if they can then we will see the top of the lineup that Theo Epstein envisioned when he signed Crawford prior to the 2011 season.

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Random Red Sox Notes

A couple random Red Sox thoughts on a hot day in Boston…

  • Aaron Cook has been a find for Ben Cherington

    Theo Epstein seemed to make a million “low-risk, high-reward” pitcher signings when he was with the club and Ben Cherington followed suit before this season.  He may have found a diamond in the rough in Aaron Cook.  After gashing his leg in his first start and going on the disabled list Cook has come back and made 4 starts.  In those 4 starts he has given up 5 earned runs, struck out 2 and walked 1 batter.  He’s had 7 swings and misses.  Despite what the nerds over at sons of Sam Horn might tell you, Cook isn’t just lucky.  His sinker has been as good as I’ve seen since his return.  A good biting sinker will force balls into the ground off contact and balls hit like that generally find a glove in the infield.  He’s currently got a 3.38 ERA which is 2nd lowest among Sox starters who have made at least 5 starts behind only Franklin Morales.

  • Just when you thought that the Red Sox were finally going to be healthy David Ortiz pulled up lam while running around the bases after Adrian Gonzalez’ home run.  Hopefully Papi just needs a few days rest and will be back in the lineup soon.  The initial prognosis seems promising.
  • A-Gon seems to have his swing and his confidence back

    Adrian Gonzalez seems to have finally found his swing.  After hovering in the .260 range for the first three months of the season A-Gon now has his average up to .288.  He now has 50 RBI on the season.  A-Gon seems primed for a big offensive run here in the next few weeks.  Maybe that will quiet a few of his idiotic critics.

  • Carl Crawford made his season debut last night.  He did what they want him to do, getting on-base twice and scoring both times.  His lead-off walk in the 8th inning was the catalyst for the game-winning rally.  He’s never been a big walk guy, even in Tampa, but he had an OBP over .400 during his rehab stint.  Maybe he worked with the coaching staff to improve his plate discipline during his rehab.  Either way a productive Crawford will equal a lot more runs for the Red Sox so here’s hoping it continues.
  • Ryan Dempster?  No thanks Theo.
  • I hate to say this because Jarrod Saltalamacchia had a tremendous first half of the year but he just looks spent out there now.  If they can find a taker for Kelly Shoppach (and they probably can) then they should pull the trigger and bring Ryan Lavarnway up to work an even platoon with Salty.
  • Hopefully I’m not the only one who is sick of Kevin Youkilis.  He needs to GTFA.
  • If you’re going to the game tonight stay hydrated.

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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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My 2012 MLB All-Star Ballot

Voting for the 2012 MLB All-Star game ends this Thursday, June 28th so you only have 2 more days to vote up to 25 times (per e-mail address).  I’m just an old fashioned guy so I only vote the once, as close to the deadline as I can.  Here’s who I’ve got for the American and National League starters for the All-Star Game:

1B

American League – Paul Konerko, Chicago White Sox – Konerko is having one of his best seasons at age 36.  He’s hitting .337 which leads all qualifying AL first basemen by .034 points.  He also leads all qualifying 1B with 13 home runs and trails only Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols, and Mark Teixera in RBI.

Reds 1B Joey Votto

National League – Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds – This one is a no-brainer.  Votto is hitting .335 with 14 home runs and 47 RBI.  He leads all qualifying National League first basemen in each of those categories as well as runs which he’s scored 48.  He’s probably the M.V.P. of the National League for the 1st half of the season

2B

American League – Robinson Cano, New York Yankees – Cano might be having his best season yet.  He’s leading all qualifying AL second basemen with a .302 batting average and 17 home runs.  Only Cleveland’s Jason Kipnis’ 42 RBI are more than Cano’s 39 among AL 2B.

Yankees 2B Robinson Cano

National League – Brandon Phillips, Cincinnati Reds – Phillips makes it 2-for-2 for the Reds in my NL infield.  His .284 batting average is 4th among qualifying NL 2B.  His 10 home runs are tied for 2nd behind Atlanta’s Dan Uggla.  He leads all qualifying National league 2B with 45 RBI.  He’s among the best defensive second basemen in MLB.

SS

American League – Elvis Andrus, Texas Rangers – It’s tough to go against Derek Jeter here but he has cooled down a bit.  Andrus only has 1 home run but he is only .004 behind Jeter with a .300 batting average.  His 44 runs scored and 13 stolen bases lead all qualifying AL SS and only Mike Aviles, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Alexei Ramirez have more RBI among AL SS.

Cubs SS Starlin Castro

National League – Starlin Castro, Chicago Cubs – Castro is the lone bright spot in the dismal Cubs 2012 season.  He leads all qualifying NL SS in batting average (.301) and RBI (39).  He is 4th in runs scored with 39 and 2nd in stolen bases with 16.

3B

American League – Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers – I was tempted to go with Angels’ youngster Mark Trumbo here but I guess experience won out.  Only Trumbo and Adrian Beltre have a higher average among AL 3B than Cabrera’s .307.  His 15 home runs is 2 less than Trumbo’s 17 and he leads all qualifying 3B with 59 RBI which is ten more than Trumbo, the next guy on the list.

Tigers 3B Miguel Cabrera

National League – David Freese, St. Louis Cardinals – Freese has quietly followed up last year’s World Series M.V.P. with an all-star caliber 1st half.  His .281 batting average is 4th among qualifying NL 3B and his 13 home runs and 46 RBi lead all qualifying NL 3B

C

American League – Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Boston Red Sox – I went with the home town tie-breaker here.  Salty is close with A.J. Pierzynski and Mike Napoli.  His 13 home runs leads all qualifying AL C and his 34 RBI are 3rd behind Pierzynski and J.P. Arencibia.  His .254 batting average is 3rd behind Joe Mauer and Pierzynski.

Cardinals C Yadier Molina

National League – Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals – Yady is having another monster season in St. Louis.  He’s 2nd among qualifying NL C with a .319 average.  He leads all NL C with 11 home runs and his second behind Arizona’s Miguel Montero with 41 RBI.  No one is better at throwing runners out at 2nd.

DH

American League – David Ortiz, Boston Red Sox – This is the biggest no-brainer since Votto.  Only Andy Dirks has a higher batting average among qualifying AL DH than Papi’s .304.  He is 3rd among AL DH with his 20 home runs and 2nd in RBI with his 52.  Adam Dunn leads Papi in both HR and RBI but Ortiz has an average almost a full hundred points higher.

Red Sox DH David Ortiz

OF

American League – Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue JaysJosh Hamilton, Texas RangersAdam Jones, Baltimore Orioles – Hamilton leads everyone in RBI with 66.  He also has 23 home runs and a .318 batting average.  Bautista leads the AL in home runs with 24.  He also has 57 RBI, 2nd among qualifying AL OF behind Hamilton.  Adam Jones boasts a .300 average, 19 home runs and 40 RBI for the contending Orioles.  He is also the best fielder of the bunch and one of the best defensive CF in the league.

Cardinals OF Carlos Beltran

National League – Carlos Beltran, St. Louis CardinalsRyan Braun, Milwaukee BrewersCarlos Gonzalez, Colorado Rockies – Beltran is having a nice season replacing Pujols in St. Louis.  He’s batting .313 with 20 home runs and 57 RBI.  Braun, the reigning National league M.V.P., hasn’t missed a beat after winning the appeal to overturn his 50 game suspension.  He’s hitting .314 with 20 home runs and 52 RBI.  The 20 home runs apiece for Beltran and Braun ties them for the lead among qualifying NL OF.  CarGo is hitting .327 with 17 home runs and 53 RBI for the Rockies.

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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-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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Boston Red Sox 2012 Opening Day Preview

A lot of us would like to forget the 2011 baseball season, or at least the final month of it.  Today marks the first day that we can officially start to move on.  The Red Sox will try to erase the stink of the 2011 season by embarking on a march to what they, and we, hope will culminate in another World Championship.  Things may look bleak in light of the events of last year and it may be hard to realize that, save the loss of Jonathan Papelbon, this is basically the same team being fielded by the Red Sox.  That team last year was just 1 win away from the playoffs.  The Sox may be in a more enviable position this year in a sort of an underdog role rather than having heaps of expectation placed on them.  Here is a quick look at the opening day roster and the guys waiting in the wings on the 15 day DL:

Red Sox 2B Dustin Pedroia

Infielders and Catchers – SS Mike Aviles, 1B Adrian Gonzalez, 2B Dustin Pedroia, IF Nick Punto, C Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C Kelly Shoppach, 3B Kevin Youkilis

There were a few tough omissions from spring training, notably prospects Jose Iglesias and Ryan Lavarnway, but it’s hard not to argue that, when healthy, there aren’t many more starting infields as good as the Red Sox in the American League.  Gonzalez and Pedroia are good for at least 155-158 games a season barring injury and are both rock solid, consistent players on both offense and defense.  Mike Aviles should do just fine for what he is, as should Nick Punto in the utility role.  The wild card is the health of Kevin Youkilis.  If he’s healthy, expect him to be productive.  If he needs extended time off due to injury I would expect the Sox to call on Iglesias to come up and play just about every day at short with Aviles manning the hot corner.  Salty will hopefully be more consistent with a year under his belt and Shoppach should help against lefties and with his defense.

Outfielders – CF Jacoby Ellsbury, OF Darnell McDonald, RF Cody Ross, OF Ryan Sweeney

This is an interesting group.  Obviously it is missing Crawford for the start of the season.  Can Ellsbury replicate his success of last season?  It will be a tough task because he was very, very good last year.  I doubt he’ll do as good as he did but he won’t totally fall off either.  Cody Ross is a guy fans are really going to love and I can see him getting the bulk of the playing time in right field, even after Crawford is back.  Ryan Sweeney has potential but he has been dreadful all spring and will probably have to fight Darnell McDonald for playing time at the start of the season.

Red Sox P Clay Buchholz

Starting Pitchers – Daniel Bard, Josh Beckett, Clay Buchholz, Felix Doubront, Jon Lester

This is another wild card group.  You can count on productivity from Beckett, Lester, and Buchholz if they can all stay healthy.  There is no indication that Buchholz’s back problem is going to linger but you never know with pitchers and injuries.  Bard looked timid early on in spring training but came on towards the end to solidify his spot in the rotation.  He’s certainly got the stuff to succeed.  The guy to watch in the group is Felix Doubront.  He’s been flying under the radar for the past few seasons because he’s been hurt.  He’s a young lefty with good stuff and if he settles in and stays healthy he can win 10-15 games for you.  If he does that there should be no reason that the Sox aren’t in contention by the end of the year.

Relief Pitchers – Alfredo Aceves, Matt Albers, Scott Atchison, Michael Bowden, Mark Melancon, Franklin Morales, Vicente Padilla, Justin Thomas

Obviously the big story here is the injury to Andrew Bailey.  Aceves will make for an interesting closer but I do think he’ll have a shorter leash then a regular closer.  I can see a platoon with Melancon emerging if they are both pitching well.  A lot of people see Padilla as a set-up guy in this bullpen but he’s the only one stretched out so they’ll have to go to him in long situations if they need to.  Morales can be a strong set-up guy, he’s got really great stuff and he’s equally effective against righties and lefties.  Albers pitched well early last year and hopefully he can condition himself to keep it up this year.  I’ve never really seen anything from Bowden so he’ll have to show the Sox something or it will likely come down to him or Atchison when Crawford comes back.  Justin Thomas will be there until Rich Hill is ready unless he is pitching so much better than the other guys that you can’t send him down.

Red Sox OF Carl Crawford

The amazing thing about this list is that you have two guys who had Tommy John surgery last June and are starting the season on the 15 day DL.  I liked what I saw from Hill in his limited time last year but am a bit worried that his motion, that was so effective, was actually the cause of his injury.  Dice-K would be a huge boon to the rotation if Bard or Doubront aren’t pitching well or there is an injury.  Andrew Miller has the stuff but he needs to harness his control, maybe a start in Pawtucket wouldn’t be so bad for him.  Crawford doesn’t seem to be too far behind and should be back before the start of May.

We haven’t even talked about new manager Bobby Valentine.  Here’s the thing about Valentine, beneath all the pot shots and the snide comments the guy is a good manager.  He knows to work a clubhouse and he knows how to coach a baseball team when they’re out on the field.  he’s got good coaches around him, notably hitting coach Dave Magadan who has been here for 5 years already and has been preaching the Red Sox way of hitting since then and Tim Bogar who’s been on the staff for 5 years as well.  I’m not really buying what Curt Schilling was saying about the players not taking to Valentine since so many of them came out so quickly and criticized Schilling’s comments.  Bobby V. will do just fine managing the Sox but we’ll see how he handles the media and how many times his mouth gets him in trouble.

Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine

So there you have it.  Championship team?  We’ll see.  Of course after all of this drama we actually have to play the games.  The Sox have an opening three game set against the Detroit Tigers in Detroit and then they head north to Toronto.  The 0-6 start from last season will clearly be on everyone’s mind so it’s important for the Sox to come out of the gate strong.  The Tigers are a tough opponent, they’ve added Prince Fielder and Justin Verlander is coming off of an M.V.P. and Cy Young season so the crowd will be pumped.  It’s important to remember that losing game 1 is not the end of the world, Verlander only lost 4 all of last season after all.  The 2nd two match-ups in the series favor the Red Sox.  Josh Beckett is 3-2 with a 2.50 ERA against the Tigers and Clay Buchholz is 1-1 with a 2.58 ERA.  Detroit’s Doug Fister is a good pitcher and hasn’t pitched bad against the Red Sox but game 3′s starter Max Scherzer has been absolutely horrid against the Sox, going 0-2 with a 9.45 ERA.  Winning 2 out of 3 would be great going into Toronto but they need to take it 1 game at a time.  Of course a 3 game sweep at the hands of the Tigers would be a disaster since the team would then be on its heels just 3 games into the season just like they were last year.  Let’s hope we’re not talking about that come Monday morning.

Opening day is always an exciting time is this year is really no exception.  You’ve got the 100 year anniversary of Fenway Park on tap this year and a team full of motivated players determined to right the wrongs of 2011.  The baseball season is a long and strange road with a lot of twists and turns, we found that out last season.  My advice right now would be to sit back and enjoy the ride.  Let’s hope that it turns out to be a good one.

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2012 Red Sox Player Preview: Jarrod Saltalamacchia

Saltalamacchia enters his 2nd season as the Sox' primary catcher

Many were surprised at the start of spring training last year when the Red Sox were seemingly ready to hand the primary catcher’s job to Jarrod Saltalamacchia, whom they had traded for at the trading deadline in 2010 and spent the last few months of that season in Pawtucket.  Saltalamacchia was a big time prospect in the Braves organization and was the centerpiece of the trade that sent first baseman Mark Teixeira from the Texas Rangers to Atlanta in July of 2010 but toiled in the Rangers organization for 3 years until the trade to Boston.

Salty was not an All-Star by any means in his first year as Red Sox catcher but he did show that the risk the Red Sox took on him might be worth the reward in the long run.  Salty was solid at the plate for much of the regular season but tailed off towards the end as the increased work load caught up to him.  He also had a disappointing end to the season after he got hit in the shoulder by a foul tip in the 3rd to last game of the season and had to sit out the crucial final 2 games for the Sox.  Saltalamacchia’s work behind the plate was decent enough and he should be better this year with a year in the organization under his belt.

Here’s a look at Saltalamacchia’s 2011 season (career highs in parentheses)

Games: 103 (103, 2011)
Average: .235 (.266, 2007)
On-Base Percentage: .288 (.352, 2008)
Slugging Percentage: .450 (.450, 2011)
On Base plus Slugging (OPS): .737 (.737, 2011)
Home Runs: 16 (16, 2011)
Runs Batted In: 56 (56, 2011)
Runs: 52 (52, 2011)
Doubles: 23 (23, 2011)
Walks: 24 (31, 2008)

 

2012 Outlook:

As you can see above Salty set career highs in many offensive categories last year.  He did deal with fatigue problems as the year went on.  He played 101 games at catcher last season, 18 more than his previous career high of 83 in 2009 in Texas.  Saltalamacchia’s numbers suffered in September as the fatigue set in.  By the end of August Salty was hitting for a respectable .252 batting average.  After a 11 for 68 month of September Salty lost 17 points on his average to finish at .235 for the season.  Hopefully after the extended work at catcher last season Saltalamacchia has worked up his durability and his body will hold up at the plate for a full season.  One thing that was encouraging last season was his increase in power and the fact that he didn’t lose that late in the season.  His 16 home runs were a career high and even in September 3 of his 11 hits were long balls.  He also had career bests in double, triples, and RBI last season.

Salty was in the top half of the league at catching base stealers last season

Defensively Salty was much improved over his train wreck of a performance behind the plate in his time with the Rangers.  Still there is much room for improvement at the backstop.  Saltalamacchia was having trouble just getting the ball back to the pitcher a la Rube Baker from the movie Major League II towards the end of his stint with Texas.  The Sox coaching staff worked with him on it in the minors after the trade and he came out looking a lot more confident in 2011.  He had A LOT of passed balls though, 26 to be exact.  That was 10 more than the Mets’ Josh Thole, who came in 2nd with 16 passed balls.  Remember that Saltalamacchia had to catch Tim Wakefield’s knuckle ball last year.

Saltalmacchia was much improved throwing runners out last season.  He threw runners out at a 31% clip which was above the league average.  In fact only 4 catchers who started as many games as Salty behind the plate had a better caught stealing %.  He went through a few stretches last year in which he had some accuracy troubles getting the ball down to 2nd but with the high caught stealing % that tells you when he is accurate he is very good at catching runners.  Hopefully he got enough confidence in throwing the ball last year that the accuracy issues will disappear in 2012.

Saltalamacchia did a decent enough job with the pitching staff last year and he’s coming in this season with a full year of working with the staff under his belt.  He should be particularly comfortable with staff ace Jon Lester, who he caught almost all of last season.  He also got extensive work with Clay Buchholz before Clay’s injury last season.  Salty only caught Josh Beckett a handful of times and will likely split the duty with Kelly Shoppach this season.  Saltalamacchia will also use a lot of wisdom that was bestowed on him last year by veteran Jason Varitek.  Saltalamacchia looks back fondly on his time spent with Varitek and he surely learned a lot, particularly about the current pitching staff, that should help him in the future.

Salty will try to make Red Sox Nation forget about Jason Varitek in 2012

It will be an important year for Saltalamacchia as even a modest improvement in most of his numbers will likely signal that he has a long term future as catcher of the Red Sox.  If he improves on his 2011 numbers and shows some increased durability you could expect Salty to be a similar offensive player to Varitek in his prime.  That is more than adequate for a catcher hitting in the bottom third of the lineup in this day and age.  Of course the way the pitchers respond to Salty will be important as well but he seems to already have a rapport with Jon Lester and will hopefully be able to spend some time with Beckett, who he only caught twice last season, in spring training.

The Saltalamacchia experiment was a risky one but I think you could confidently say “so far, so good” after year one.  We will need to see him do it for more than one season though.  That’s why 2012 is a crucial year for Salty.  If he stays consistent and improves his durability it looks like the experiment will be a success.  One thing about Salty early in this camp is that he is getting glowing reviews regarding his leadership skills among the younger pitchers and catchers.  That is an important trait for a catcher to have and is part of what made Jason Varitek such a success during his time in Boston.  If that part of Tek’s game rubbed off on Saltalamacchia last season the 26-year old may be in for a very bright future.

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