Quick Thoughts on Red Sox Game #1

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

  • Lester was sharp in all but 1 inning

    Lester was sharp in all but 1 inning

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

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

    Jonny Gomes celebrate his hustle run in the 9th

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

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

    Jackass

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

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

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Crawford Trade Rumors Seem Bogus

Bob Nightengale of the USA Today sent the baseball world abuzz earlier today when he posted an article stating that the Red Sox and Marlins have had discussions about pulling off a blockbuster trade.  In the trade Carl Crawford and a prospect, presumably a high level starting pitcher would go to the Marlins in exchange for third baseman Hanley Ramirez, the former Red Sox prospect who was traded for Josh Beckett back in 2006, and former closer Heath Bell, who just signed a 3 year 27 million dollar contract prior to this season.  It’s worth noting that Nightengale reports that the Marlins have approached the Red Sox with the offer.

Don’t expect to see Carl Crawford taking his talents to South Beach anytime soon

Having said that I see several reasons why the Red Sox wouldn’t do this deal.  First off they have no definitive need to move Crawford.  With Jacoby Ellsbury’s long term status with the team in question as he approaches free agency it doesn’t seem prudent to move Crawford at this point.  Then there is the players that the Red Sox would get in return.  First off – despite being in desperate need of a closer in the off-season the Sox passed on Bell.  In Miami Bell has already lost his closers role and has a 6.48 ERA out of the Miami bullpen.  Considering that the Sox have one of the best bullpen ERA in the majors since they blew a 9 run lead to the Yankees in April it would seem that acquiring Bell would actually make the bullpen worse.  Not to mention paying him another $18 million in guaranteed money in 2013 and 2014.  Regarding Hanley Ramirez, sure he is a great talent and he may need a change of scenery to resurrect his career but I don’t think he makes sense either. The Sox have Will Middlebrooks, Jose Iglesias, and Xander Boegarts to play the left side of the infield.  Acquiring Ramirez would block two of those guys from making it to the majors.  It’s unlikely that it will be Middlebrooks, who was all but crowned the third baseman of the future when Kevin Youkilis was moved to facilitate more playing time for him, which means Hanley would move back to shortstop where his defensive play is sure to decline as he ages.  Neither player seems like a particularly great fit for the Red Sox.

I am sure that the Marlins approached the Red Sox about this deal and why not?  They would get rid of a mistake contract (Bell) and an unhappy player (Ramirez) for Carl Crawford and a prospect pitcher which they desperately need (all 5 of their current starters are slated to hit free agency by the end of next season).  The problem is it takes two to make a trade and this is a trade I can’t imagine that the Red Sox would be eager to make.

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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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2012 Red Sox Player Previews: The Prospects

The Red Sox have made a habit if trading or buying the core of their teams for the past 15-20 years.  Theo Epstein had one stretch towards the beginning of his tenure in which he stocked his minor league system with players like Jon Lester, Dustin Pedroia, Clay Buchholz, and Jacoby Ellsbury who make up the current core of the team.  Theo seemed to have one last hurrah as the Sox system has been left with 4 position players that will likely start the year in Pawtucket and one or all of these players may see major league time before the year is up.  Here’s a look at the 4.

Shortstop Jose Iglesias

Red Sox SS Jose Iglesias

Here’s a look at Iglesias’ 2011 season in Pawtucket:

Games: 101
Average: .235
On-Base Percentage: .285
Slugging Percentage: .269
On Base plus Slugging (OPS): .554
Home Runs: 1
Runs Batted In: 31
Runs: 35
Doubles: 9
Walks: 21

As most all Sox fans know by now Iglesias is quite the defensive whiz.  The Sox brass knew as soon as they signed him after he defected from Cuba that he had superior defensive skill and hoped they could groom him into a more complete player in their system.  After incumbent starting shortstop Marco Scutaro was traded in the off-season it created an immediate opportunity for Iglesias to compete for the starting job.  Iglesias impressed fans and manager Bobby Valentine in Fort Myers with his defensive skills and gave fans a glimpse of the future double play duo of Iglesias and Pedroia.  In the end it was decided that Iglesias had not developed the offensive part of his game enough to keep him with the big club for the beginning of the season.  In particular Iglesias had developed a habit of swinging early in counts to avoid getting behind into breaking ball counts.  The organization will continue to work with him to break this habit and further develop the rest of his offensive game while Mike Aviles gets his crack at the starting shortstop job.  Make no mistake though, Iglesias IS the shortstop of the future.  I am not exaggerating when I say that Iglesias will be competing for a Gold Glove within his first few seasons in the league.  Once Iglesias entrenches himself at short for the Red Sox expect him to be there for a very long time.

Catcher Ryan Lavarnway

Red Sox C Ryan Lavarnway

Here’s a look at Lavarnway’s 2011 season in Portland and Pawtucket:

Games: 116
Average: .290
On-Base Percentage: .376
Slugging Percentage: .563
On Base plus Slugging (OPS): .939
Home Runs: 32
Runs Batted In: 93
Runs: 75
Doubles: 23
Walks: 57

Lavarnway is probably the biggest surprise in the Red Sox organization. He was a virtual unknown at the beginning of last season but his 32 home runs between Portland and Pawtucket put him on the map. Lavarnway was called up to the big club twice last year and did not disappoint. He hit .231 with 2 home runs and 8 RBI in 17 games and gave the Red Sox some key at-bats at the end of last season in Baltimore. He is the opposite of Iglesias in that his hitting seems to be major league ready but his defense is suspect. Lavarnway was often times used as a DH in both Pawtucket and Boston to get him in the lineup and that may have stinted his development at catcher. To Lavarnway’s credit he seemed to spend a great deal of his own time in the off-season working on his defense and catching instructor Gary Tuck has raved about his improvements in spring training. Lavarnway also got himself into better shape during the off-season and that is something that helped fellow catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia improve his defense behind the plate. Still I think he could use a bit more defensive seasoning.  Just remember how atrocious the defense at catcher was at times for the Sox last season. One thing that is interesting is that Theo Epstein could not for the life of him develop someone at two positions during his tenure in Boston – shortstop and catcher – and two guys are on the cusps of the majors as he’s walking out the door.

Third Baseman Will Middlebrooks

Red Sox 3B Will Middlebrooks

Here’s a look at Middlebrooks’ 2011 season in Lowell, Portland, and Pawtucket:

Games: 116
Average: .285
On-Base Percentage: .328
Slugging Percentage: .508
On Base plus Slugging (OPS): .834
Home Runs: 23
Runs Batted In: 94
Runs: 62
Doubles: 26
Walks: 26

Middlebrooks is the only guy on the list that has not yet played in the majors. He is only 23 and burst onto the scene last season by jumping all the way to Pawtucket after starting the season in Single A Lowell. All tolled he hit .285 with 23 home runs and 94 RBI between all three levels last season. He is also a plus defender, which is a premium for a third baseman. He is farther off than Iglesias and Lavarnway but if pressed could be a candidate to come up to the big club if things go horribly wrong in the Red Sox infield. Still he is not that far off and he could be ready after a full season in AAA. If you look at the tea leaves there are two possible ways to facilitate a spot for Middlebrooks next season. The first would be to let Youkilis walk and give Middlebrooks the third base spot. The second would be to let David Ortiz walk and shift Youk to DH to make way for him. Obvious neither veteran is about to give up their spot but you have to start thinking about how Youkilis’ hip will hold up on the hot corner. In any event Middlebrooks’ debut is on the horizon.

Outfielder Ryan Kalish

Red Sox OF Ryan Kalish

Here’s a look at Kalish’s 2011 season in Lowell and Pawtucket:

Games: 24
Average: .228
On-Base Percentage: .291
Slugging Percentage: .293
On Base plus Slugging (OPS): .585
Home Runs: 0
Runs Batted In: 0
Runs: 11
Doubles: 6
Walks: 9

I would likely have been writing a standalone preview for Kalish as the starting right fielder had he not injured his shoulder trying to make a diving catch last season. Kalish has the most extensive major league time of anyone on the list.  Unfortunately he had to have surgery on his ailing shoulder in the off-season and he will not be able to play in games at the outset of the season. He hit .252 with 4 home runs and 24 RBI in 53 games with the big club in 2010. When he is fully healthy and in the Sox’ starting lineup he will probably be a comparable player J.D. Drew without all of the hate since he’ll only make a fraction of the salary. Kalish is a guy that you know will develop into a fan favorite a la Trot Nixon but he should focus on recovering from his injury so he can make the maximum impact upon his return. The presence of Cody Ross should lessen the need for Kalish to rush back to the big club.

It’s rare to have 4 guys who seem like can’t miss prospects that high in your system and particularly rare for a big market club.  A “can’t miss” guy in AAA is a lot more can’t miss than a “can’t miss” guy in low A ball obviously.  These guys will a play an important part in the future.  Maybe not all this season but at some point.

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