Quick Thoughts on Red Sox Game #1

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

  • Lester was sharp in all but 1 inning

    Lester was sharp in all but 1 inning

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

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

    Jonny Gomes celebrate his hustle run in the 9th

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

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

    Jackass

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

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

Follow me on Twitter

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.

Follow me on Twitter

Bob McClure Wasn’t Just A Scapegoat For The Red Sox

The McClure and Valentine marriage was less than a match made in heaven

The Red Sox fired pitching coach Bob McClure on Monday, just 122 games into his first season on the Sox’ staff.  He was the 3rd Red Sox pitching coach in as many years and his firing paved way for the 4th, assistant pitching coach Randy Niemann.  A lot of people are calling McClure a scapegoat for what’s gone on with the Red Sox this season but can you really be a scapegoat if you fail at your job miserably and are fired for it?  The thing that gets Bobby Valentine off of the hook for this one is that McClure wasn’t a Valentine hire.  You can’t say that canning McClure is Valentine trying to pin the troubles of the 2012 Red Sox on his pitching coach because, according to all reports, McClure wasn’t really Valentine’s pitching coach.

McClure was hired by the Red Sox organization last off-season before Bobby Valentine had even picked his coaching staff.  He was hired to be a organizational pitching instructor and not the major league staff’s pitching coach.  The official story given by Ben Cherington and Bobby Valentine today, and stop me if you’ve heard this before, is that they interviewed a handful of potential pitching coach options and Bob McClure was added to the list as a dark horse and apparently “wowed” in the interview and was given the job over Valentine and Cherington’s original list of candidates.  That story sounds an awful like how Valentine himself was hired over the myriad of candidates that Ben Cherington interviewed in the early part of the process.  Does anyone care to guess who it was that pushed Bob McClure to the front of the line?  I’m guessing Larry Lucchino “suggested” to Valentine to hire McClure in the same way that he “suggested” to Cherington to hire Bobby V.

It seemed like a doomed situation from the get-go.  Bobby Valentine was saddled by a pitching coach that he didn’t pick and didn’t necessarily have any trust in.  McClure was tossed into a fractured coaching staff as a man on his own.  The other coaches that Valentine has had a frosty relationship with, bench coach Tim Bogar, hitting coach Dave Magadan, and bullpen coach Gary Tuck, are all Terry Francona loyalists.  McClure was coming into the situation cold.  The hiring of an assistant pitching coach, Valentine confidante Randy Niemann, certainly couldn’t have helped the relationship but these are adults that we’re talking about here and McClure was hired, and paid, to do a job.  A job that he apparently thought he could do while barely talking to the manager of the team aka his boss.  As much as I hate to say it that’s the 2012 Red Sox in a nutshell.

McClure may not have liked Valentine but that’s not an excuse to have one of the worst pitching staffs in the league

McClure’s abrasive attitude may have been tolerable if the Red Sox didn’t have one of the worst pitching staffs in the league despite being one of the highest paid.  Jon Lester, who should have been in the prime of his career, went through one of the worst stretches that I’ve ever seen a pitcher of his caliber go through.  Josh Beckett has been mediocre throughout the season.  Clay Buchholz struggled mightily throughout the beginning of the season.  Where were the adjustments?  Daisuke Matsuzaka?  That was another failed experiment.  Felix Doubront had a great start to the season but, again, when he hit the wall where were the adjustments?  What is the point of a pitching coach if not to help the pitchers make adjustments needed to succeed?  Simply put Bob McClure didn’t get the job done.  Now Bobby Valentine will get a month to work with his hand-picked guy, Randy Niemann, as he fights to retain his job for next season (which is another story for another day).

Bob McClure is really a symbol of what was wrong with this team in 2012.  Is Bobby Valentine an attention whore whose sarcasm and brashness doesn’t play in today’s baseball?  Absolutely.  Is that an excuse for guys to sit down on their jobs while getting paid lots of money?  Of course not.  McClure is just the first shoe likely to drop as a result and it’s honestly hard to feel bad for him regardless of how much of a jerk Bobby Valentine is.  The sad part is the true picture of the 2012 Boston Red Sox is starting to show.  It’s a team that was so fractured that only 3 players (Adrian Gonzalez, Dustin Pedroia, and David Ortiz) and 1 coach (Alex Ochoa) even gave an attempt to unit the players and the coaching staff.  And in this day and age, in this city, with this media and fan base, 4 guys isn’t nearly enough.

Follow me on Twitter

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.

Follow me on Twitter

Adrian Gonzalez Heating Up For Red Sox

A-Gon has found that stroke again

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow me on Twitter

Is Bobby V. Getting Too Much Of The Blame?

Is Bobby V. Getting Too Much Of The Blame?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow me on Twitter

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.

Follow me on Twitter

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.

Follow me on Twitter

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.

Follow me on Twitter

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.

Follow me on Twitter