The Red Sox Blockbuster – A Day Later

Well we are one game into the post-armageddon era of the Red Sox roster and the results were a lot similar to what they were before the trade.  Clearly a team with one of the worst starting ERAs in the league is not going to be fixed with the jettison of one pitcher.  The pitching needs to be overhauled in a big way but unlike two days ago the Sox now have the financial flexibility to do it.  It is still amazing that such a deal went down on August 25th, 25 days after the non-waiver deadline.  Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald had some interesting stuff on the deal this morning.  When you add it all up you can find two undeniable facts regarding the two sides.  The first is that the Red Sox didn’t want to give up Adrian Gonzalez.  The second is that the Dodgers wanted him so badly that they literally made the Red Sox an offer that they couldn’t refuse.

Cherington had a Godfather-like moment yesterday – all of the family business was settled

I remember a few months ago and in the last off-season hearing the Red Sox ownership express concerns about getting under the luxury tax next season for fear of major tax penalties.  I’d imagine that those fears are quashed now.  The Sox have roughly $120 million in space between their year end payroll and the luxury tax threshold.  They could still go out on a spending binge of $60 million in new salaries for next season and still be a cushion of between $50 and $60 million.  The Red Sox aren’t going to spend all of the money that they have just saved in one off-season but the change in financial flexibility from one day to the next is just staggering.  Last year the Red Sox couldn’t even make an offer to pitcher Hiroki Kuroda, a 37-year old starter, because they couldn’t spend the $10 million on a one year deal it would take to get him.  This year they could sign three Kurodas and have plenty of money left over.

I’m not too familiar with the Dodgers situation but it’s  been pretty clear since the new ownership got there that they badly wanted to exercise the Frank McCourt demons.  Apparently they decided the best way to do it was to spend, spend, spend and then spend some more.  Previously they had taken on all of Hanley Ramirez’ remaining contract from the Marlins even though Miami would have been happy to chip in some money to get Hanley out of town.  They claimed Joe Blanton off of waivers from Philly and assumed his whole contract when Philly let him go.  They also claimed Phillies starter Cliff Lee, who is owed $21.5 million over the next 3 seasons but the Phillies pulled him back.  Then they made the huge move yesterday.  They took on over $250 million in salary considerations over the next 5 seasons to secure the first baseman that they wanted.  If a move like that seems preposterous it’s because it is.

The shocking thing about it isn’t just that the Dodgers took on all of that salary but they even gave up some good prospects as well.  This is where general manager Ben Cherington gets a lot of credit.  Even if Henry and Lucchino made it clear that they weren’t going to simply give Gonzalez away it was Cherington who had to do the leg work.  In trades to dump salaries you usually expect something mid level or lower in return (and usually have to pick up some of the tab).  Cherington gunned for the Dodgers #1 prospect, pitcher Zach Lee, but the Dodgers balked.  Cherington then wound up “settling” for the Dodgers #2 and #3 prospects, pitchers Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster.  They also got potential decent bats in OF/1B Jerry Sands and IF Ivan DeJesus.  They also got a major league player, 1B James Loney, that they can audition for the rest of the year and see if he is a fit.  The Red Sox not only got tremendous financial flexibility in the deal but they also got players that they could potentially use in major roles in the future.  One thing Cherington has done very well this season was bolster the Red Sox biggest organizational weakness – acquire high level pitching prospects at or near major league ready.  Since he’s taken the job he’s acquired Clayton Mortensen, Chris Carpenter, Zach Stewart, and now De La Rosa and Webster.  Not too shabby.

The Sox should now do what they should have been doing for years – build around Pedroia and Lester

You’ve heard the word “reset” a lot in the last few days and in a lot of ways that is the perfect word for it.  When the Red Sox were winning the World Series in 2007 you looked at four young players that the Red Sox could potentially build their team around in the future.  Now this off-season you can conceivably see the Red Sox build a new team around those four players – Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, and Jacoby Ellsbury.  There now seems to be an abundance of talent in the minors with the addition of the Dodgers prospects – 3 of the guys acquired have a chance to make the Red Sox squad out of camp next year.  The only one who will certainly need more time in the minors is Webster and that is only because he is 22 years old.  The Red Sox also have a trio of exciting prospects – shortstop Xander Boegarts, outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr., and pitcher Matt Barnes, who are making a bee-line towards the major league roster and should arrive somewhere in the next 10-18 months.  And of course they now have the financial flexibility to add virtually any veteran player around this young core.

We obviously don’t know what’s going to happen moving forward but we know this much – there are A LOT more options on the table for the Red Sox now going into the off-season then there were just two days ago.  Such a move to shift so much payroll from one organization to the next is unprecedented and almost 48 hours after the news first broke it’s still hard to fathom.  One pundit said that this could turn into the Herschel Walker trade for baseball.  I certainly hope it does.  In any event this will go down as one of the most transformational moves in franchise, if not league, history.  Those who were complaining about the direction of this team can probably back off a bit now.  Of course the Red Sox will probably finish horribly for the rest of this season as they audition younger players but here’s the cherry on top – the Red Sox could top off this sweeping organizational change with a top 10 pick in next year’s MLB draft.

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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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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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Keep ‘Em Or Trade ‘Em – Red Sox Outfield Edition

Earlier in the week I did the infield so today we’ll look at the outfield.  Since so many guys have shuffled in and out of the lineup in the outfield there are quite a few guys to get to here and at the end of the day there are a limited number of roster spots if everyone is healthy so someone’s gotta go.

NOTE – I forgot to mention in the last column that David Ortiz has 10/5 no trade rights so he can veto any trade which would be another argument against trading Papi.  The only other Sox player with 10/5 rights is Josh Beckett and I’ll get to him on Sunday.

Ross’ right handed power is essential to the Sox lineup

Cody Ross – Ross is on a 1-year deal so he would be a rent-a-player for any potential trade partner.  With the exception of Darnell McDonald he is the only exclusive right-handed hitter that the Red Sox have in their outfield.  For that reason alone, particularly if Youkilis is traded, Ross is near untouchable.

Verdict – Keep Him

Ryan Sweeney – Sweeney is 27 and cost-controlled but he’s one of the most versatile outfielders that the Red Sox have.  He’s been on the DL twice already this year and currently resides there now.  He would be a guy that teams would inquire about but his health concerns may turn them off.  He also has virtually no power so if teams are looking for a power outfielder then they’ll look elsewhere.  He’s an intriguing trade option no doubt but I think at the end of the day his injuries preclude him for being moved at this point.  He also has some long term value to the Sox that some of these other guys don’t have.

Verdict – Keep Him

Kalish will probably stick around in Boston for a long while

Ryan Kalish – Kalish would be the most valuable Red Sox outfield piece on the open market.  He’s just 24 years old and seems to have put his injury problems of last season behind him.  He could be the center piece of a deal to bring a big time major league player back in return but I don’t see the Red Sox moving him.  He is their best outfield prospect ready to play in the big leagues right now and with only Carl Crawford signed beyond next season it seems like he’ll be primed for a lot of playing time in the future.  If he wasn’t injured he’d be the starting right fielder this season.  He stays and probably for a while.

Verdict – Keep Him

Daniel Nava – This is an interesting one.  I know that Nava has become a tremendous fan favorite in his time in Boston and he’s exactly the scrappy kind of player that the fans love.  The thing is that he’s 29 years old so he’s not any sort of young prospect and you’d be basically selling a guy at their highest point of value.  Nava is the type of guy that a contending team that is desperate for outfield help would overpay for at the deadline.  He has less than 2 years of service time so he is cost-controlled and he’s still got options.  Let’s face it – at the end of the day all of these guys can’t have a roster spot.  Only 5 outfielders will be kept on the roster at a time until September 1 and you could sell Nava high right now.  One option is to trade Sweeney and keep Nava but Sweeney is younger and his health issues may prevent you from getting the most value from him.  I’d hate to see him go but this one makes the most sense.

Nava’s value will never be higher

Verdict – Trade Him, his value will never be any higher

Darnell McDonald – McDonald is a pretty average player and I think that the only reason he has made it this far is that the Red Sox have no other right-handed hitting outfielders besides Cody Ross.  You wouldn’t get much if anything for him in return but with versatile players like Nava, Sweeney, and Scott Posednik ahead of him it would be hard to see him with a chair when the music stops.  He’s a good clubhouse guy but will likely fall victim to the numbers game.

Verdict – Trade Him

Scott Posednik – Posednik’s speed has been a great asset for the Red Sox since he was called up.  He is also hitting close to .400 for the Red Sox.  It’s tough not to see the Red Sox finding a place for him when he is healthy.  Even at 36 he is probably the fastest guy on the Red Sox not named Ellsbury or Crawford.  Imagine the ground covered by an outfield with those three guys late in games?  Surprisingly Posednik has proven to be very valuable to the Sox since they picked him up and should be the 5th guy even when everyone is healthy.

Verdict – Keep Him

Carl Crawford – Contract and health issues make this conversation a non-starter.  Just get him healthy and in the lineup and hope to get something close to the player he was in Tampa.  Maybe the rest and rehab did him good.

Verdict – Keep Him

Ellsbury’s health diminishes his value

Jacoby Ellsbury – This is another interesting one.  Scott Boras said yesterday that there have been zero talks about a contract extension with Ellsbury which is interesting since he is going into the final year of his contract next season.  The time to trade him would be somewhere between now and the start of next season.  There are two problems with trading him before the deadline this season.  First is obviously his health.  He is looking at a early to mid July return.  The second is that any trade involving Ellsbury would net a substantial return.  It would likely involve an All-Star caliber player or high level prospects coming back in return.  The issue really is timing.  If Ellsbury comes back around the All-Star break that leaves other teams two weeks to evaluate whether or not Ellsbury is healthy enough to contribute this season (not a given considering what happened in 2010) and then they’d have to work on a complicated trade with the Red Sox front office.  There really doesn’t seem like there is enough time for a blockbuster Ellsbury deal to come together at the deadline.  I can absolutely see it in the off-season depending on where contract extension talks go but for now he stays.

Verdict – Keep Him, for now

By the length of this article alone you can see that there is a numbers game in the Sox outfield.  Eventually if all of these guys are healthy they can’t keep them all.  It will be interesting to see what the Sox actually do when the time comes.  Of course all of these guys have to get healthy first.  Sunday morning I’ll have pitchers and catchers.  That one should be fun.

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Red Sox Finally Climb Out Of Last Place

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

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

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

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

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

Valentine has stuck with Nava who’s paid dividends

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

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

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

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

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Red Sox And Phillies Are Mirror Images Heading Into Weekend Series

173 Million Dollars.  18 wins.  Last place.  That’s where the Boston Red Sox stand on May 18th, 2012.  173 million dollars.  20 wins.  Last place.  That’s where the Philadelphia Phillies stand on May 18, 2012.  That is as similar as two teams can get at this point in the season.  It’s also incredibly disappointing for two teams who were looked at as surefire playoff contenders and possible World Series candidates.  As luck would have it for these two teams it is still early as there is still over 4 full months in the season.

Ellsbury’s injury was one of many endured by both teams in the early going

The similarities don’t stop with the wins and payroll.  The Phillies lost slugging first baseman Ryan Howard to a torn ACL in their final playoff game last year and are waiting to get him back.  Their other star infielder, Chase Utley, was also injured in spring training and the Phillies have been without him for the start of the season.  The Red Sox had similar woes when they lost closer Andrew Bailey and left fielder Carl Crawford to injuries in spring training and then lost center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury during the home opener.  The silver lining with all of these injuries is that all of these players are expected back before the All-Star Break which means both of these teams are going to get as good of an upgrade as you can get mid-season.  If they both can keep it close in the standings, and they have so far, the returns of these players could provide a big boost for the stretch run.

Big Papi and the Sox offense haven’t missed a beat so far

The only difference between the two teams is that while the Red Sox have hit the ball well their pitching has been inconsistent and the Phillies have had the starting pitching you’d expect from those guys but they’ve struggled offensively.  Obviously the Phillies don’t have their two best offensive hitters so it’s not a huge surprise that they couldn’t match production.  The Red Sox on the other hand are going with their best 5 in the rotation and the results thus far have been less than fruitful.  They have pitched better as of late but can they keep it up?  The bullpen suffered a big blow with Bailey going out but they have somewhat recovered.  The Phillies bullpen isn’t all that much better themselves.  Only Jonathan Papelbon (I’ll get to him in a minute) and Antonio Bastardo have an ERA under 4.00.  They’ve put a lot of pressure on their starters to get deep into games.  In the National League with the pitcher hitting that’s sometimes tough to do.

Papelbon suddenly has beef with the Sox

Then there is our old friend Jonathan Papelbon who seemingly has built up a grudge against the Red Sox out of nowhere.  I’m a little bit surprised because I, and I assumed a lot of other people, saw this divorce coming for a few years before it actually happened.  The Red Sox didn’t come to him with a long term deal and he was content with getting as much as he could in arbitration and playing it year to year.  Papelbon said on more than one occasion that he wanted to get the biggest deal ever for a closer on the free agent market and the Red Sox are notorious for not going above 3 years on any reliever.  So Papelbon went and got his 4 year deal with a 5th year option from the Phillies and the Red Sox got a new cost controlled closer.  Everyone got what they wanted right?  Apparently not because all of a sudden Papelbon feels disrespected.  My brother told me for a few years now how much he hated Papelbon because of all of his ridiculous antics and I always thought he was exaggerating but looking back on it maybe I had my Red Sox-colored glasses on.  This guy really is sort of a clown.

This series really is a big series for both teams.  Whoever wins this series should be right back in the thick of things in their division.  The pitching match-ups are as follows:  Bard-Hamels, Lester-Blanton, Beckett-Lee.  Tonight may be the most important game.  Daniel Bard will be the wild card.  Lester has dominated the Phillies in the past and Lee is pitching great this year.  But at the end of the day it will all come down to whether or not the Red Sox can maintain their pitching and if the Phillies can keep up offensively.  Who ever does what they need to do will have a leg up on their pennant race.

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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 7

The Red Sox opened up the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park with a bang, a literal bang in the 8th inning when the first 10 guys reached base before they recorded an out.  It was a big win for the Sox to start the 9 game home stand.  Here’s some quick thoughts.

  • On Josh Beckett:  I was worried about Beckett’s velocity early on but he was locating the ball much better than he did against the Tigers.  He shaved some MPH off of his change-up and that worked out better for him as well.  It seems like he was taken aback by his lack of velocity if the first game much like the rest of us were but he took steps to work around the velocity drop and it worked out well for him on Friday.  His next start comes next week against Texas so we’ll see if he can keep it up.
  • On David Price:  I am convinced that this guy has the stuff to be one of the best pitchers in major league baseball but there’s something holding him back.  I think it’s in his head to be honest.  He was trying to paint and was getting frustrated when he wasn’t getting calls (in the umps’ defense his strike zone seemed very good in relation to NESN’s K-zone).  When he got frustrated he started aiming the ball which made things even worse for him.  Maybe he will mature as he gets older but if he doesn’t he will leave a lot of potential on the table.
  • On Jacoby Ellsbury’s injury:  Obviously it has a chance to be devastating.  If he’s gone for two months it may not be as bad…you would need the D-Mac, Ross, Sweeney trio to produce until Crawford get back and then you would have the 4 guys until Ellsbury gets better.  Obviously Crawford is the wild card here.  He wasn’t around two years ago when Ellsbury missed all that time but he has the potential to do a lot of the same things that Ellsbury does offensively.  I say he has the potential because he didn’t do it last year.  The Sox would really need him to be the player that he was in Tampa if Ellsbury is going to miss extended time.
  • I guess the “call Ryan Lavarnway up” bandwagon can cool off now after Kelly Shoppach’s performance yesterday.  Shoppach had 3 hits and scored 3 times in the win.  He also had the highlight of the game when he slid 10 feet in front of the bag on a steal attempt and had to jump up and dive head first into the bag, which ended up being almost a literal dive head first into the bag.  You can’t really blame a guy who had never even attempted a steal in his career.  Notice too that not many people try to run on Shoppach when he’s behind the plate.
  • Ellsbury and Gonzalez put on a hitting clinic in the 3rd inning when they both took nasty David Price pitches the other way for RBI base hits.  You don’t see hitting that good that often in the majors anymore let alone twice in one inning.  That’s how they used to teach you how to do it – just go with the pitch – starting all the way back in town baseball when I was younger.

So the Red Sox are 2-5 now and if they win today they will get the 3rd win.  Remember last year they didn’t win their 3rd until the 13th game of the season.  Clay Buchholz needs to do exactly what Josh Beckett did yesterday – locate his fastball better.  His breaking stuff was actually pretty good in his first outing so if he puts it together with his fastball he should bounce back much the way that Beckett did.

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Quick thoughts on Red Sox/Blue Jays – Game 5

Here are some quick thoughts on the Sox’ 5th game of the season while game 6 gets underway:

  • Daniel Bard looked ok…just ok.  He has some good pitches but he is having the same problem as he did in September of last year – while he will make a lot of guys swing and miss when they make contact on him they generally find a hole.  I’m not sure what it is or how to correct it but one thing is for sure – it seems that if you put him in the closers role you might not see much different from Bard than what you saw last September.  He needs to stay in the rotation and work it out.
  • Jacoby Ellsbury needs to step up.  Including today’s game he is 0-for-6 leading off the game.  He’s the table setter and he hasn’t been setting the table which is a problem because the guys behind him have been hitting the ball pretty well.
  • Cody Ross has been disappointing.  It looked like he was poised for a fast start after a very good spring training but it hasn’t translated.  On the flip side Ryan Sweeney, who was awful all spring training long, continues to swing the bat well.
  • Kevin Youkilis, one of the other early scufflers, showed signs of life yesterday with two hits.  Hopefully that will get Youk going because the last thing you need is a black hole in the middle of the lineup.
  • I don’t want to jinx it because we’ve got a whole game left to play (and 16 more after that during the season) but the Red Sox pitchers have absolutely handled Jose Bautista in the early going.

That’s all for today.  I was a bit distracted from the game last night due to the Heat/C’s game but will have a rundown of today’s game tonight.  Lester is the stopper again and I have a feeling that you’re going to hear that a lot, especially in the early going.

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