The Red Sox And Showtime’s “The Franchise” – A Match Made In Heaven

A major image crisis has emerged for the Boston Red Sox over the last 12 months.  Pretty much everyone from John Henry down to the clubhouse guys, with the exception of a few players, now seem to have a negative reputation in Boston.  The fans of Red Sox Nation are quickly becoming disenchanted.  They desperately need to do something to repair their image and it may take more than just becoming a winning team again.

Showtime could have a winner with “A Season with the Red Sox”

The people at Showtime developed a winning concept a few years ago when they created “The Franchise”, a show that piggy-backed off of HBO’s “Hard Knocks”, but instead of following an NFL team through just training camp it follows an MLB team throughout the entire season.  It is a great concept and it makes for really good TV.  Their problem is that in the first two seasons they followed two teams, the San Fransisco Giants and the Miami Marlins, that were out of the playoff hunt by the all-star break.  The most exciting thing about following these two teams in the last two months of the season was the trade deadline.  Now granted the Red Sox were pretty much out of the playoff race by the break as well but I’m guessing they could have kept us entertained quite a bit after the All-Star break.

If it seems like a risky proposition to put these Red Sox players behind a camera in the clubhouse and beyond it’s because it is.  God forbid things get even worse next year it will be embarrassing for the Red Sox but, hey, at least it will make for some compelling TV.  But it’s easy to see that the potential reward far outweighs the risk.  The Red Sox need an image clean-up and while there is a lot of work to do behind the scenes between now and opening day there may not be a better way to introduce the new Red Sox to Red Sox Nation than by putting them on “The Franchise”.  What better way to introduce a new manager to the Red Sox faithful, particularly if he is a young less well-known up-and-comer?  What better way for the fan base to feel more comfortable about it’s own players by actually seeing who they are off the field?  Too many times do you hear a fan or a media-type talk about a player like they know them personally.  None of us truly know any of these guys personally but at least if we got a peak of how they carried themselves behind the scenes then we might feel more comfortable about making a judgment on them.

Superstars like Jose Reyes showed their human side on “The Franchise”

Many new players have not been fully embraced by Red Sox Nation in past years, particularly ones with larger contracts.  I can’t help but think that maybe Red Sox Nation would have embraced Adrian Gonzalez a bit more if they knew a little more about him.  There will be a new generation of Red Sox players coming up next sure.  Guys like Will Middlebrooks, Ryan Lavarnway and Felix Doubront will all have prominent roles with the team.  The Sox will have to go out and bring in some role players to fill in their roster as they retool it.  They’ll also have to bring in veteran pitching.  And of course there is the manager.  The question of Bobby Valentine’s impending exit from Boston is becoming more of a “when” rather than an “if” which means that the Red Sox will likely have their 3rd different manager in 3 years.  Every time that these Red Sox owners have made a managerial change they have gone for the polar opposite of the guy they are replacing.  Look for a young less-known up-and-comer to replace Valentine.  It could be a tough place to break in for a guy like that in a market where a winner is expected year in and year out.  Getting to know the guy behind the scenes might make Red Sox Nation more comfortable with him early on.

If you watched this season of “The Franchise” you know a lot about rookie closer Steve Cishek, an unknown when the season began.  You might have a better view of highly-paid superstar Jose Reyes after watching the show and seeing him lead the Marlins with his jovial, laid back attitude.  You would have gotten to know role players like Justin Ruggiano and Greg Dobbs.  And of course you would have laughed at Ozzie being Ozzie.  At this point, with the exception of a few guys, I feel like I know the Marlins players more than I know the Red Sox guys from watching this season of The Franchise.

As I said before it’s a risky proposition for the Red Sox organization.  As a Red Sox fan it seems like a win/win.  If they are good and you love the team you will likely love them even more by going behind the scenes and watching how they turn the franchise around.  The love affair between the Red Sox and their fans that has been fractured over the past few seasons could be re-ignited.  On the flip side if the Red Sox have another disaster behind the scenes like they have had during the past two seasons then at least we will can still be entertained by the club.  For Showtime it’s a no-brainer.  Getting the Red Sox or the Yankees on “The Franchise” would be akin to obtaining the holy grail for Showtime.  The Yankees have no reason to do it but the Sox have plenty.  So why not?

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The Red Sox Starting Pitching Conundrum

Lester’s season to date has been simply horrid

The Red Sox don’t have a very good starting pitching situation at this point in time.  What may seem like a complicated problem actually has one very obvious root cause – there is no one on the Red Sox staff that can be currently considered an “ace pitcher”.  At times some (Lester, Beckett) may have been considered an ace but they certainly are pitching like one now.  Some (Buchholz, Doubront) have shown flashes but they aren’t quite there yet and who knows if they ever will be.  When you look at the teams competing for a playoff spot they all have an ace – The Yankees have C.C. Sabathia, the Tigers have Justin Verlander, the Rays have David Price, the Rangers have Matt Harrison.  The Red Sox simply don’t have a guy like that.

Obviously the biggest disappointment is Lester who, at 28, should really be in the prime of his career.  Instead his production has taken a nosedive off of a cliff this season.  I’m not sure if there is any official explanation to be had at this point in time but I can tell you that his mechanics are a mess.  He needs to get back to basics and somebody has got to help him along.  Buchholz, like he has his whole career, has shown flashes but injuries continually get in the way of him taking it to the next level.  Beckett actually simply is what he is at this point in his career.  He’s 32 years old and has been pitching in the majors since he was 21.  He’s been a power pitcher his whole career so the downturn in velocity is not unexpected.  He doesn’t seem to have the same options as a Roger Clemens did to elongate his career either.  Doubront has been excellent this year but at 107 innings pitched for the season he is only 20 innings shy of his professional high of innings in a season.  He’ll likely be fatigued as we get into September.

Garza is a solid pitcher but has injury concerns of his own

So what’s the solution?  Looking on the open market there are nice pitchers but nobody to be considered an ace.  Guys like Matt Garza, Fransisco Liriano, and Josh Johnson might be good guys to add to a rotation but none of those guys would be aces that would carry a rotation.  Felix Hernandez seems like a pipe dream right now but I suppose stranger things have happened.  One note here – the much talked about Hernandez for Lester and Ellsbury deal is very far-fetched and I’m not sure why people keep talking about it.  Both Lester and Ellsbury are signed through only next year at a combined salary of $13 million.  Hernandez is under contract for two more years at roughly 20 million per year.  Assuming that they’d actually sign Lester and Ellsbury to extensions they wouldn’t actually be saving any money.  If they don’t sign them they’d simply rent them for a year and a half.  It’s going to take prospects, and lots of them, to acquire Felix Hernandez.

So if there is nobody outside the organization to be had then who inside the organization could fill the role?  The Red Sox have some nice young arms in their system (Matt Barnes, Anthony Ranuado, Brandon Workman) but none of them are close to being major league ready and some may even wind up in the bullpen by time they get to the majors.  Despite what Terry Francona says on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball Daniel Bard is not the Red Sox best pitcher and they’ll be lucky if he can settle into being a solid setup guy let alone an ace.  That basically leaves them with what they’ve got.  Simply put the only way that the Red Sox will have a top-of-the rotation guy is if one of their current starters gets their heads out of their behinds and starts pitching to their potential.

Buchholz has ace stuff when he’s healthy

I can tell you know that it won’t be Josh Beckett.  His ace days are behind him.  He is best served at this point in time to do the best he can in a #3 or #4 role.  His velocity will only decrease with age and he will have to reinvent himself to be effective.  I have developed high hopes for the future of Felix Doubront after seeing him pitch this season but even when he is healthy and durable I see no more than a really good #2 starter.  He’ll be a guy that you can rely on but he doesn’t have shutdown stuff.

It’s all up to Lester and Buchholz at this point.  Lester is really, really bad right now but I guess the one thing that you can hang your hat on is that his drop-off in production is so nonsensical and unprecedented that there is always the chance that he can get it back.  He is only 28 years old and he should still have some formidable years left if he can piece it all back together.  As for Buchholz I love his stuff when he is on.  His problem is his health.  He’s had a array of different injuries/illnesses over the years and they all seem to curb his momentum.  If he ever had a straight, solid and healthy year like he did in 2010 he might be the best pitcher on the staff.  Can these guys put it together?  It’s a big if.  But I’m not quite prepared to give up on Jon Lester just yet.

On another note regarding the pitching staff I am not terribly impressed with the job that Bob McClure has done but at some point the pitchers have got to just go out there and pitch the way they can pitch. I wouldn’t mind if the Sox just cut ties with McClure and went with assistant pitching coach Randy Niemann in the meantime though.

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Re-Assessing The Red Sox Rotation For The Second Half Of The Season

The Red Sox starting rotation has certainly had their ups and downs this season.  They’ve dealt with injuries, inconsistencies and failed experiments.  Despite a dismal west coast trip they are still only 2.5 games out of a playoff spot heading into the final series before the All-Star break against the Yankees.  To contend in the second half they will need the the starting rotation to step up…here’s how things look as we stand right now in the rotation:

Lester needs to step up in the 2nd half

Jon Lester (5-5, 4.34 ERA, 88 Ks) – Lester has been disappointing in the first half.  At times in his career he has pitched like an ace but he has just not shown it this season.  He’s been terribly inconsistent and seems to get flustered easily when he’s on the mound.  The Red Sox really need ace Lester to show up in the 2nd half of the season if they want to contend.  With Josh Beckett aging Lester is the closest thing that they have to a #1 starter.  He had a good start on Tuesday night, giving up only 1 run in 6 2/3 innings so hopefully he can use that start to go on a run.  Lester has been healthy this season and is the Sox most durable starter.  If he can find his consistency it would be huge for the Sox’ 2nd half.

Josh Beckett (4-7, 4.06 ERA, 60 Ks) – Beckett has been the most consistent Red Sox starter by far this season.  He has the lowest ERA of all Red Sox starters who have made at least 10 starts.  He is not a number 1 starter anymore but he is still very productive.  Health is the big issue with him.  He can’t produce if he’s not pitching.  He has already missed 3 starts this year and is battling a shoulder injury.  He looked good in his 1st start back in Seattle and will have a big start against the Yankees on Friday night at Fenway.  The Sox will need healthy Beckett in their rotation to try and get to October.

Clay Buchholz (8-2, 5.53 ERA, 58 Ks) – Buchholz seemed to have started to turn the corner in his last few starts before his stomach problems crept up.  He seemed to have trouble coming back from his back injury from last season earlier this year but when he finally looked to be settling down he had a new issue to deal with.  Time will tell how long he is out and what lingering effects he will have from the stomach problems.  Buchholz is a top of the rotation guy when he is healthy and right so hopefully he gets healthy and right sooner rather than later.

Fatigue may become a factor in Doubront’s 1st full season as a starter

Felix Doubront (8-4, 4.42 ERA, 91 Ks) – Doubront carried the rotation in the early part of the year and has been the workhorse along with Lester in the 1st half.  You have to wonder if all of that will catch up with him however.  The 89.2 innings pitched so far this year is more than he pitched all of last season and it’s only July 5th.  He has looked tired in his last few starts.  Doubront is a good young pitcher who will only get better and you have to think about the long term with him.  I can see a DL or bullpen stint in the next month to preserve him better for the stretch run.

Daniel Bard (5-6, 5.24 ERA, 34 Ks) – The Daniel Bard starting experiment is over.  If he makes it back to the big club this year it will be in a relief role.

Daisuke Matsuzaka (0-3, 6.65 ERA, 20 Ks) – Dice-K is back on the DL after making 5 starts coming off of Tommy John surgery.  The results were not good.  Would anyone honestly be surprised if Dice-K didn’t make another start in a Red Sox uniform?

Fatigue may become a factor in Doubront’s 1st full season as a starter

Aaron Cook ( 2-2, 4.37 ERA, 2 Ks) – Aaron Cook was a low risk-high reward signing and it looks to be paying off.  He throws a good sinking fastball and the Red Sox have played excellent infield defense this year making him a good fit for the club.  He’s a playoff tested veteran who’s been a starter his whole career.  With all of the other questions surrounding the Red Sox rotation I can easily see him sticking around for the rest of the year.

Franklin Morales (1-1, 2.51 ERA, 46 Ks) – Morales is a K machine and has been a pleasant surprise filling in for the Red Sox rotation.  The Sox should ride the wave with Morales right now but he will run into the same problem that Doubront will.  His career high in innings was 46.2 last season.  Right now he is at 43.0.  Morales is too versatile a pitcher to tire out so he may be the odd man out when the Red Sox have 5 healthy guys.  This is also where Aaron Cook has an advantage over Morales, he is stretched out enough to start for the rest of the season.  Either way, Morales will be an important part of the Sox staff going forward.

Every contending team needs great starting pitching.  The pieces are there for the Sox, they just need to continue to execute.  If these guys can get it done the Sox will have a chance to get to October.  If the injuries and inconsistencies continue then they’ll likely be on the outside looking in for the 3rd year in a row.

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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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Felix Doubront Showing That He Has A Bright Future With Red Sox

Lost in the hoopla of the Daniel Bard fiasco is the fact that Felix Doubront is quietly becoming one of the best young left-handed starters in the game.  A lot of the focus was on Bard coming into the season but people forget that it was Doubront who actually secured his starting spot before Bard in spring training.  Doubront, not Bard, is the guy who has shown that he has the potential to be a top of the rotation starter in the early part of the season.  At 24 years old Doubront looks to have a very bright future ahead of him.

Doubront has pitched confidently so far this season

In his 12 starts so far this season Doubront has carried a 6-3 record.  He was under a 4.00 ERA for most of the season before getting knocked around by a tough young Nationals lineup on Friday night.  His ERA now stands at 4.34.  Only 10 left-handed starters in the American League boast a better ERA.  Doubront has been a K machine so far this season as well.  He’s struck out 72 men in his 66 1/3 innings pitched.  5 lefties in the majors have more strikeouts than him – C.C. Sabathia, Cole Hamels, Gio Gonzalez, Johan Santana, and C.J. Wilson.  That’s some pretty good company.  Even in a game where he only lasted 4 innings on Friday night against the Nationals Doubront struck out 6 guys.  He averages 9.77 strikeouts per 9 innings.  That is better than every left-handed starter in the American League and only Gio Gonzalez averages more K/9 as a left-handed starter in the entire majors.  If you factor in right-handed starters as well only Detroit’s Max Scherzer has a better K/9 rate than Doubront in the American League.

The key to a lot of Doubront’s early success has been the same thing that has failed Daniel Bard and some of the other Sox starters – he throws strikes early in counts and gets ahead of hitters.  He’s not afraid to stay around the strike zone.  A guy like Daniel Bard nibbles too much early instead of going right after hitters with his power stuff.  Doubront comes out early and pounds the strike zone.  He has looked very much like Jon Lester did when he came up to the team in 2008 and became a top of the rotation guy (if only Lester would start to look like that guy again).  Doubront’s consistency has been key so far in an inconsistent Red Sox rotation.  He has 7 quality starts in 12 outings.  Only Josh Beckett has more quality starts on the Red Sox staff with 8.  Most of Doubront’s numbers trail only Beckett’s and it’s clear that Doubront has been the second best starting pitcher on the Red Sox staff so far in 2012.  That’s not bad for a guy that had only 3 career starts coming into this season and none since 2010.

Doubront has pitched like one of the top LHP in the AL

People didn’t notice Doubront at the start of the season even though he out-pitched Daniel Bard and every other pitcher going for a rotation spot in spring training.  At this point in time it seems like the future is much brighter for Doubront than it is for Bard.  Doubront is two years younger than Bard and is already showing that he can be a successful big league starter.  Bard hasn’t even proven if he can be a consistent set-up man, let alone closer or starter.

If the Red Sox want to stay in the pennant race then Felix Doubront will have to stay consistent.  His last outing was disappointing but he still K’ed 6 against a tough lineup.  He is 2-1 against the American League East so far and should be 3-1 if the bullpen didn’t blow the 9-1 lead that he left them with in his 1 start against the Yankees.  Lester and Buchholz had inconsistent starts.  If they can come around and Doubront keeps up his pace it’s hard to imagine the Sox not staying in the race, particularly when they get key hitters back from injuries.  Daniel Bard may have been a failure for the Sox but Doubront has been a great success.  And it looks like he may be around for a long time.

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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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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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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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Quick thoughts on Red Sox/Rays – Game 8

The Red Sox, and Clay Buchholz in particular, showed some real gusto yesterday by brushing off a 4 run 1st inning by the Rays and winning the game 13-5.  The Sox now have their 3rd win of the season after 8 games.  It took them 5 more games last year to reach the 3 win plateau.  Here’s some quick thoughts on the game:

  • Buchholz showed what made him an inconsistent pitcher early on – he had control issues and walks would lead to runs.  He had 43 pitches after 2 innings and it was almost inconceivable that he would make it through 7 innings.  Then he started to do what makes him a great pitcher – put the ball around the plate, make the hitters swing.  He’s got great movement and when his stuff is located well it’s hard to get good wood on it.  A lot of balls are hit on the ground, balls are hit right at people and all of a sudden you are breezing through the lineup.  For a Red Sox team that has had horrid results from their starters dating all the way back to September it’s worth noting that they’ve had their starters go 7+ innings for three games in a row now.
  • The Red Sox have hit Tampa Bay pitching terribly over the last few seasons so it is a bit surprising that they’ve been so successful in the early going.  They’ve been more patient and made the Rays’ starters work.  Remember these guys are all young so when they have to throw extra pitches they may become a little flustered.  We’ll see if it can continue with Matt Moore today.
  • Our bullpen received a lot of flak early in the year but Tampa Bay’s seems to be as bad if not worse.  They haven’t put anyone in there during the two games who could get anyone out besides Wade Davis who would go to the rotation if there was an injury.
  • Mike Aviles did a nice job in the lead-off role.  He’ll probably get the lion’s share of at-bats there, at least until Crawford comes back.  I’ve said a few times, these role players the Sox have are all good players.  It may be similar to ’03-’03 when guys like Mueller, Bellhorn, Nixon, etc. all contributed heavily.
  • Franklin Morales’ stuff is very, very good…he may be the set-up guy even when Andrew Bailey is back.  Great trade by the Sox last year.
  • Looks like LINsanity only lasted an inning in Boston.
  • The Sox must be awful confident getting the first 2 from Tampa this season.  They have dominated the Sox over the past few years and seemed to continually kick them when they were down.  The Sox needed a strong start to the home stand and got it by winning the first two against Tampa.  One more and they take the serious and it would be hard to see them not finishing at least 6-3 on the home stand if they take 3 of 4 from Tampa.

An interesting match-up of young lefties today between Doubront and Moore.  The Sox would feel really good about themselves with a win today.  I’ll be at the game.  Looks like there will be nice weather and hopefully another good day at the Fens for the home team.

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Quick thoughts on Red Sox/Blue Jays – Game 4

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

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

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

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