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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Red Sox Manager Search Will Be Different From Last Year

In something totally different in Red Sox Nation the Sox will be looking for the 2nd new manager in as many years.  After Terry Francona’s 8 successful years at the helm in Boston Bobby Valentine barely made it through the one.  So it’s back to the drawing board.  While the Red Sox will look to several of the managers that they did the last time around they will be taking a wholly different approach in the winter of 2012.

Valentine was a disaster in his year at the helm

The structure of the team is entirely different this time around.  Last year, in the wake of the September collapse and all that went down behind the scenes, the Sox were looking for someone stern and experienced who could keep the big contracts and big ego guys in line.  They looked early at some up-and-coming guys with less experience but they clearly valued someone who had been in a major league dugout before and narrowed the field down to Valentine and Tigers 3rd base coach and former Pirates and White Sox manager Gene Lamont.  Valentine won out in the end and as we saw the results were an utter disaster.  He attempted to overcompensate for the coddling ways of his predecessor and wound up alienating many members of the team before the season was even off the ground.  He never developed a great relationship with his coaching staff, even the ones that he chose himself.  In the end Bobby V. wasn’t the right guy for the job.

Fast forward to 2012 and it’s a whole different ballgame for Valentine’s future replacement.  Gone is 71 and 1/4 million dollars from the Red Sox 2013 payroll with the subtractions of Kevin Youkilis, Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Nick Punto.  The big egos and big contracts have been reduced to John Lackey and, well, John Lackey.  Two of their three remaining productive hitters from last year’s lineup, David Ortiz and Cody Ross, have expiring contracts.  It’s a totally different landscape for the next Red Sox manager and one could make the argument that this situation is a much better situation for an up-and-comer to enter than the one that faced the new manager last season.  And for that reason the names that were not good enough for the Red Sox last season may look a lot more attractive this time around.

Alomar lost out to Francona in Cleveland but could be the right guy in Boston

Of the 4 guys that the Red Sox interviewed last season only 1, Cubs manager Dale Sveum, is not available.  Phillies bench coach Pete Mackanin has been fired and doesn’t seem like he’ll be in the mix this time around.  That leaves two guys – Indians bench coach Sandy Alomar Jr. and Blue Jays first base coach Torey Lovullo.  You could make a serious argument that those 2 guys are 2 of the top 3 on the Red Sox list for their next manager.  Alomar lost out on the Indians job to Francona and looks to be the next big managerial candidate in the majors.  If not Boston he’s expected to be a contender for possible openings in Miami and Toronto.  Then there is Lovullo who spent a year as manager of the Pawtucket Red Sox.  With a younger generation of players coming up for the Sox it would be to Lovullo’s benefit to have familiarity with the Red Sox’ minor league system.

There are other names in the mix, chief among them former Sox pitching coach and current Blue Jays manager John Farrell.  I’d expect the Red Sox will spend the early part of next week surveying the situation with Farrell and the Blue Jays before deciding whether that avenue is one worth pursuing.  I don’t expect them to dance around with the Blue Jays for too long before moving on Farrell or simply moving on.  There are some pros and cons to bringing Farrell back but I’d rather get into that when its clear that he’s an actual candidate.  Of course there are other names being thrown around, perhaps former Sox players Mike Lowell or Bill Mueller.  Maybe Marlins bench coach Joey Cora who should be about ready to step out of Ozzie Guillen’s shadow after spending 9 seasons as his #2.  His brother Alex played in Boston for four years.

The picture should get a lot clearer early next week.  After all unlike last season when in late August replacing Terry Francona would have thought to be unheard of, the Sox brass has probably been looking to the future since as far back as July.  Either way remember the names Lovullo and Alomar.  They may have not had enough experience for management last year but the dynamic of the team has changed and Ben Cherington may see one of these two guys as the right man for the job this time around.

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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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How Should The Red Sox Handle Carl Crawford’s Injury?

Crawford looks more comfortable in Boston this year but there is no sense delaying his Tommy John surgery

The Red Sox signed Carl Crawford to a monster contract before the 2011 season and Crawford had a disappointing first year in Boston.  He hit only .255 and stole only 18 bases, well below his career totals when he was in Tampa where he regularly terrorized the Red Sox.  Crawford was anxious to make Red Sox Nation forget about his poor first season but a series of injuries delayed his comeback until July 16th.  Word was that even though he was healthy enough to play that he would eventually need Tommy John surgery on his elbow, likely at the end of this season.  So the question now is – at what point does Crawford shut it down and get the surgery?

Crawford has played much better this year than he did last year with the Red Sox.  In his 24 games since he has come of the DL he is hitting .258 with 3 home runs and 13 RBI.  He is hitting much better at home than on the road though which is something that he needs to fix.  The problem for the Red Sox is that even with Crawford back in the lineup the Red Sox are still sputtering around the .500 mark.  The Sox have not put out their best lineup all season and when they lost 3B Will Middlebrooks for the rest of the year it meant that they won’t at any point.  At some point David Ortiz will be back in the lineup but by then it will be far too late for the Red Sox to get back into contention.  One might say that the Sox should shut Crawford down and get the surgery now.

There is a lot of different information about exactly how long it takes a position player to recover from Tommy John surgery.  Despite Rob Bradford of WEEI’s claim that it takes just as long for a position player to recover from Tommy John surgery as a pitcher, meaning 10-12 months, the numbers simply don’t back that up.  Two position players got Tommy John Surgery last August, Padres OF Brad Hawpe and Reds SS Zach Cozart.  Both players were cleared for full baseball activity by mid-February, almost 6 months to the day from the time of their surgery.  So even if Crawford were to wait until the end of the season to get the surgery he would likely be able to be cleared for baseball activity before opening day.  However if he shuts down at the end of this month and gets the surgery then he should be healthy enough to participate in spring training next season.

One other thing is that Crawford is still “likely” to need the surgery which sounds like a final decision has yet to be made.  Why is there still doubt that the procedure would have to be done?  I’m not sure but it doesn’t make sense for him to “probably” need Tommy John surgery for 3 months and then all of a sudden not need it.  My money is that he will get the surgery at some point in the next few months and will hopefully feel a lot better and more comfortable as a result.

At this point the Red Sox should re-evaluate the decision at the end of the month.  If the Red Sox are still at or under .500 then they should shut Crawford down and have him get the surgery.  A surgery in early September means that he should be able to resume baseball activities in early March and would be more healthy going into next season then he was this season.  He doesn’t need to try and rush to get back to the team like he did this year.  Hopefully with his major injury concerns behind him he can relax and get back to being the Carl Crawford that we expected when he signed here last off-season.  There’s no need for false hope at this point.  This season is lost, it might be time to start looking towards the next one.

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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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Adrian Gonzalez Heating Up For Red Sox

A-Gon has found that stroke again

On June 22nd, 28 days ago, Adrian Gonzalez was hitting .256.  He had only 6 home runs through the first 3 months of the season.  Everyone was wondering what was wrong with Adrian Gonzalez and for good reason.  When the Red Sox acquired him before last season he had the reputation of being one of the best pure hitters in the game.  He didn’t disappoint in his first year in Boston, putting up a .338/.410/.957 line with 27 home runs and 117 RBI.  Despite all of the idiotic criticism pointed at him for mentioning God in a post-game 162 interview Gonzalez did more than his share in September while the rest of the team collapsed around him with a .318/.455/.977 line in September with 4 home runs and 14 RBI.

So it was a mystery that by June 23rd of this year Gonzalez had put up a .256/.313./.705 line with only 6 home runs and 43 RBI.  The mystery has apparently been solved by Gonzalez.  Since June 22nd A-Gon has added a full 40 points to his average and now stands at .296.  From the way he is swinging the bat it looks like he will rush past the .300 mark any day now and not look back.  Gonzalez has added two opposite field home runs on the current home stand showing that his ability to hit for power to all parts of the field has not disappeared.

So why the big turn around for A-Gon?  Some people think that he messed up his swing while he was switching from first base to right field earlier in the season.  I suppose his .404 batting average since moving back to first base full-time might support that.  Others think that he put too much pressure on himself to pick up the slack for other players that were injured or under-performing.  I tend to always go with the simplest solution and in this case it’s this – Adrian Gonzalez is a great hitter and even great hitters go through tremendous slumps.  Eventually all great hitters, like A-Gon, break out of these slumps and sometimes in a big way.  David Ortiz did it 2 years in a row in 2009 and 2010 when he got off to horrible starts in each of those two seasons.  Dustin Pedroia was hovering around the .260 mark for the 1st 3 months of last season before putting it together and finishing the year with a .307 average.

Gonzalez will look to be a catalyst for a Red Sox 2nd half surge

In my opinion Gonzalez was trying to pick up the slack earlier in the year and was looking to hit home runs.  Even if a player has opposite field power they will tend to try and pull the ball when they are trying to hit home runs.  They will also chase pitches out of the zone.  Gonzalez was doing both.  Right around the time his 18 game hitting streak started in mid-June he changed his approach and went back to basics.  That resulted in him getting his swing back.  First came the hits now comes the home runs.  All A-Gon has to do is stay the course with his approach for the rest of the year and he should be his usual productive self.

The Red Sox need Gonzalez’ bat to be hot now more than ever with David Ortiz on the DL.  Gonzalez has gotten a hit in 22 of the last 23 games that he’s played and the one that he didn’t get a hit in he only had one plate appearance before leaving the game due to illness.  Simply put Gonzalez is red-hot right now.  He’s hitting .438 so far in July with a 1.063 OPS.  He already has 12 RBI for the month.  Gonzalez seems poised to put this team on his back offensively, if he hasn’t already, which is exactly what the Sox needed at this point in time.  Gonzalez’ return to form might not be entirely what the Red Sox need to catapult them into October (I’m looking at you Beckett, Buchholz, and Lester) but he certainly won’t hurt their chances if he hits like the old A-Gon for the rest of the year.

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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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Is Bobby V. Getting Too Much Of The Blame?

Is Bobby V. Getting Too Much Of The Blame?

There has been a lot of talk in the media in the past few days about the way Bobby Valentine has handled the job as Red Sox manager this year, most of it being critical.  Gorden Edes really started the conversation yesterday morning when he published this article.  Edes’ article is a rather critical look at the communications problems hounding the Sox that included quotes from unnamed veteran players that say Valentine doesn’t have the support of “anyone” in the clubhouse.  Rob Bradford chimed in today with a look at the situation for Valentine’s perspective.  It seems that issues continue to plague the Boston Red Sox clubhouse and now the blame seems to be falling at the feet of new manager Bobby Valentine.

First off I realize that Bobby Valentine is probably not the easiest guy to get along with.  He’s got a big personality and he comes of as very arrogant a lot of the times.  He also probably came in with a chip on his shoulder having been out of the major leagues as a manager since 2002.  He was also brought in to replace a player’s manager and probably felt that he had to overcompensate for that by being the “bad guy” at times in the Sox clubhouse.  Secondly I realize that Terry Francona was one of the best managers in Red Sox history and insanely popular among players and fans alike.  It was a shame how it all ended for Tito here in Boston.  But let’s look at the reality of the situation here.

The Red Sox’ problems didn’t start when they hired Bobby Valentine.  They embarrassed themselves last season when they had one of the worst collapses in MLB history amid a myriad of problems in their clubhouse.  They are on the verge of missing the playoffs for the 3rd straight year.  Players are underachieving all across the board.  Now people are trying to convince us that it’s all Bobby V.’s fault.  The same Bobby V. that was working for ESPN while the team collapsed last September.  The same Bobby V. that wasn’t even in the country when the Sox failed to qualify for the playoffs two seasons ago.  Bobby V. may not have helped things when he was hired this off-season but it’s not like things were going great when he got here.

Players have underachieved under both Valentine and Francona during the last 3 seasons

Would it have been better if they kept Tito?  Ask yourself honestly after seeing what’s happened in the clubhouse and on the field in his last two seasons, particularly last September, and tell me if the answer is really yes.  Would the Sox have been better off had they hired someone else as manager in the off-season?  Yeah, they probably would have but do you really believe that this team would be that much higher in the standings with someone else?

Here’s the situation – the players simply have to look in the mirror and ask themselves if they really want it.  They need to decide if they really want to turn the ship around.  They need to decide if they want to put that uniform on that says “Boston” on the front and represent this team and this city to the best of their abilities.  It’s put up or shut up time for these guys.  They were here last September, Valentine wasn’t.  They were here in 2010 when they didn’t qualify for the playoffs, Valentine wasn’t.  It’s on them to get us back there.  They need to go out there and get the job done.  I don’t care if they like Bobby Valentine or not.  In the end they’re playing for Boston, not him

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Red Sox’ 2nd Half Begins Tomorrow Night

The second half of the MLB season begins tomorrow night in Tampa for the Sox with a big 3 game series vrs. the Rays.  As hard as it is to fathom the Sox could potentially pass the Rays in the standings with a sweep.  This weekend could very well determine the fate of the Red Sox’ 2012 season.  Here are 5 storylines to keep an eye on in the second half:

Ellsbury returns from injury Friday night

1. Can Jacoby Ellsbury boost the top of the Red Sox order?  Mike Aviles did a fine job earlier in the season at the lead-off spot and Daniel Nava held his own in the middle.  Neither guy is the pure lead-off threat that Ellsbury is.  Ellsbury will join the team Friday night in Tampa Bay for the first time since the home opener at Fenway back in April.  Ellsbury was an MVP candidate last season and don’t discount the fact that he now only has a year and a half to show that he can repeat the performance as he heads into free agency.  The Sox offense hasn’t been the problem but the lack of clutch hits and guys getting on base before the run producers in the Sox lineup has hurt them.  Ellsbury is the first step to recreating a top-to-bottom lineup that puts guys in the right spots.  Aviles and Nava will see better pitches in the lower part of the order and should be able to get on for the top of the lineup.  Of course he needs the shoulder to hold up first so we’ll see what this weekend brings.

Lester himself has expressed frustration in his sub par 1st half

2. What Lester and Beckett will show up in the 2nd half?  The numbers have been beaten to death over the All-Star break.  Combined they are 9-13 with an ERA over 4.50.  Beckett has been hampered with a shoulder problem for much of the year.  Lester himself just this week has expressed frustration in his own ability to get the job done.  The Sox need these guys to step up because there is nobody else to pick up the slack for them in the rotation unless a trade is made.  Lester in particular has been disappointing as he is only 28 years old and does not look close to the pitcher that he was in 2008-2010.  Pitchers generally don’t break down this early, especially big durable guys like Lester so you have to wonder what the problem is.  Is it the coaching?  A physical problem?  A mental one?  Whatever it is he’d better sort it out fast.

3. Can Carl Crawford contribute anything?  Crawford is staring down the possibility of Tommy John surgery on his arm in the off-season but word is he might have it sooner if he has too much discomfort.  Nevertheless Crawford is scheduled to play in Pawtucket tonight and is expected to join the big club on Monday for his season debut.  Again if Crawford is healthy he would lengthen the Sox lineup.  Then there is the issue of productivity.  Although he was productive at times last year Crawford couldn’t stay consistent.  Some though the pressures of the big market got to him.  Crawford is a hard worker and there’s been a lot of talk about how he’s been determined to make things work in Boston.  Obviously the injuries have not allowed him to prove anything.  At some point you wonder if the Sox just cut their losses and have him do the surgery now so he can be back for next year.  But at this point it looks like he is going to give it a go.

Gonzalez only managed to hit 6 home runs in the 1st half

4. Will Adrian Gonzalez’ power return?  The biggest mystery of the first half of the season is what happened to Gonzalez’ power.  Maybe it was the shoulder surgery, maybe another physical issue came up.  Maybe the pressure got to him.  Gonzalez was on a tear right before the All-Star break with an 18-game hitting streak that was snapped when he went 0-for-1 in 1 plate appearance last Sunday night.  I think Gonzalez was thinking too much about hitting the long ball.  Once he concentrated on simply getting hits they started to come in droves.  I think if he continues that approach during the 2nd half of the season then the home runs will start coming.  I expect a more productive 2nd half for Gonzalez and if Ellsbury is getting on in front of him it will create more RBI opportunities for him even if he is only hitting singles or doubles.

5. Will the Red Sox be buyers or sellers at the deadline?  We may know the answer to this question within the first week after the break.  If the Red Sox get off to a slow start they may be enticed to move a few pieces off for prospects.  Before we get into it they will not trade Lester, Pedroia, Ortiz, or any of the other big name players.  Guys like Mike Aviles, Kelly Shoppach, or Cody Ross could get moved.  There is already talk of trading Ryan Sweeney between now and tomorrow night to make the space for Ellsbury.  The Sox can trade off a few of their veteran bullpen arms and replace them with Clayton Mortensen and Junichi Tazawa.  Basically anyone who is blocking a young player with potential in the minors could get moved in order to get them some at-bats if the season is lost.

It will be an interesting few weeks between now and the trade deadline.  The Sox could be right back in the thick of things or you could be looking at guys like Jose Iglesias and Ryan Lavarnway getting time in the 2nd half of the season to groom them.  The biggest storyline of them all might be what will become of Bobby Valentine.  I don’t think he’s done the worst of jobs but if the Red Sox flop in the 2nd half you have to assume that his job will be on the line.  We’ll see starting tomorrow night how these guys will respond.

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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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