Random Red Sox Notes

A couple random Red Sox thoughts on a hot day in Boston…

  • Aaron Cook has been a find for Ben Cherington

    Theo Epstein seemed to make a million “low-risk, high-reward” pitcher signings when he was with the club and Ben Cherington followed suit before this season.  He may have found a diamond in the rough in Aaron Cook.  After gashing his leg in his first start and going on the disabled list Cook has come back and made 4 starts.  In those 4 starts he has given up 5 earned runs, struck out 2 and walked 1 batter.  He’s had 7 swings and misses.  Despite what the nerds over at sons of Sam Horn might tell you, Cook isn’t just lucky.  His sinker has been as good as I’ve seen since his return.  A good biting sinker will force balls into the ground off contact and balls hit like that generally find a glove in the infield.  He’s currently got a 3.38 ERA which is 2nd lowest among Sox starters who have made at least 5 starts behind only Franklin Morales.

  • Just when you thought that the Red Sox were finally going to be healthy David Ortiz pulled up lam while running around the bases after Adrian Gonzalez’ home run.  Hopefully Papi just needs a few days rest and will be back in the lineup soon.  The initial prognosis seems promising.
  • A-Gon seems to have his swing and his confidence back

    Adrian Gonzalez seems to have finally found his swing.  After hovering in the .260 range for the first three months of the season A-Gon now has his average up to .288.  He now has 50 RBI on the season.  A-Gon seems primed for a big offensive run here in the next few weeks.  Maybe that will quiet a few of his idiotic critics.

  • Carl Crawford made his season debut last night.  He did what they want him to do, getting on-base twice and scoring both times.  His lead-off walk in the 8th inning was the catalyst for the game-winning rally.  He’s never been a big walk guy, even in Tampa, but he had an OBP over .400 during his rehab stint.  Maybe he worked with the coaching staff to improve his plate discipline during his rehab.  Either way a productive Crawford will equal a lot more runs for the Red Sox so here’s hoping it continues.
  • Ryan Dempster?  No thanks Theo.
  • I hate to say this because Jarrod Saltalamacchia had a tremendous first half of the year but he just looks spent out there now.  If they can find a taker for Kelly Shoppach (and they probably can) then they should pull the trigger and bring Ryan Lavarnway up to work an even platoon with Salty.
  • Hopefully I’m not the only one who is sick of Kevin Youkilis.  He needs to GTFA.
  • If you’re going to the game tonight stay hydrated.

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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 Pitchers And Catchers Edition

Let’s get right to it…

Beckett will likely not be on his way out of town

SP Josh Beckett – I’ll get this one out of the way early.  Josh Beckett is not going anywhere.  For starters he is on the DL.  Then there is the fact that he is still owed upwards of $40 million over the next 3 seasons.  Thirdly he’s got 10/5 no-trade rights that gives him the right to refuse any trade.  That is probably the most important factor because surprisingly Beckett still likes pitching in Boston.  Maybe it’s the atmosphere, maybe he likes the bar scene, maybe all of the hate keeps him motivated.  Who knows?  What I do know is that many people close to the veteran right-hander think that he’s none too anxious to waive his no-trade.  Due to the contract the return would be nothing special anyway and let’s face it, Beckett has been one of the most consistent starters for the Sox this season.  Of his 12 starts 8 have been quality starts.  Only Jon Lester has more quality starts, with 9 in 15 starts.  Beckett will probably play out his contract here so people should probably get used to him sticking around for a while.

Verdict – Keep Him

SP Jon Lester – This is similar to people saying that they should trade Pedroia.  I don’t really see the point…you don’t dump a guy after a poor 1/2 season.  He’s by far the most durable starter for the Sox over the past 2-3 years so I see little sense in giving him up when you have a lack of starting pitching depth.

Verdict – Keep Him

SP Clay Buchholz – I could copy and paste the above in this spot.  Like Lester he’s only 28 and signed to a team-friendly deal.  He had a bit of trouble coming back from his back injury from last season but he seems to have put that behind him.  He’s missing his scheduled start today because of the flu but that shouldn’t keep him out too long.

Verdict – Keep Him

Doubront’s been a work horse in his rookie season

SP Felix Doubront – He’s 24 and is 8-3 on June 23rd of his rookie year.  Next question.

Verdict – Keep Him

SP Daisuke Matsuzaka – The Red Sox have spent roughly $98 million on Daisuke since they acquired him before the 2007 season.  Might as well see this thing through and pay him the $5 million remaining.  I’m not sure he’s got much value anyway since it’s up in the air whether or not he is committed to continue playing in the U.S. after his contract expires at the end of the season.

Verdict – Keep Him

SP/RP Franklin Morales – Morales has seemed to curb the control issues that have plagued him for most of his career.  He’s made 2 good starts in place of Josh Beckett.  He’s probably the Sox most versatile pitcher since Aceves is currently the closer.

Verdict – Keep Him

SP/RP Daniel Bard – This one of tempting.  Part of me says that he’ll eventually put it together but part of me says that he never will and you might as well try to get a maximum return for him while you can.  When I see Bard I see visions of his college teammate Andrew Miller.  Miller has been traded twice already and had to fight for a roster spot on the Sox this season.  He finally found his spot as a reliever but only after two major league teams had already wasted time waiting for him to realize his potential.  If there is a Matt Garza type of player out there and Bard can be the centerpiece of a trade I don’t think he’s the type of guy that you walk away from the table to keep.  His arm and head are too much of a question mark to consider him a sure thing.

Verdict – Trade Him if you can make him the centerpiece of a potential blockbuster

Padilla could be the odd man out if they get Bailey and Bard back in the back end of the bullpen

The Bullpen – As the old saying goes “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.  The Sox bullpen has been exceptional since the beginning of May.  Andrew Bailey will have a place when he comes back and so will Bard if he’s not moved.  Miller is the late inning lefty.  Bailey, Aceves, Bard, and Melancon will take up in the back end.  Scott Atchison has excelled in his very specific role.  Clayton Mortensen, Junichi Tazawa, and even Mark Prior are waiting in the wings.  Two guys who could be moved are Matt Albers and Vicente Padilla.  When the back end is healthy they would prove to be redundant and everyone always needs bullpen help.

Verdict – Keep Bailey, Aceves, Melancon, Miller, Atchison, and Mortsensen.  Trade Padilla and Albers for value.

C Jarrod Saltalamacchia – Saltalamacchia just turned 27 and looks to be headed to Kansas City as one of the American League All-Star catchers.  The Sox should honestly be thinking of a contract extension for Salty rather than a trade.  He’s a keeper.

Verdict – Keep Him

Shoppach fits good in the backup C role for now

C Kelly Shoppach – He may have some value but I’d keep him.  The Sox need a backup catcher and Ryan Lavarnway is still developing and wouldn’t be best served to come up to the big leagues to get 1-2 starts a week.  There probably isn’t a better secondary catcher available than Shoppach so I’d keep him for the rest of the year and let the young catchers in the minors continue to develop down there.

Verdict – Keep Him

So there you have it.  Bard is our best piece and like I said teams are always looking for relievers so we might be able to steal something of value for an Albers or Padilla.  Beckett is going nowhere so it’s best if Red Sox Nation dropped that notion.  There is no point in doing a fire sale since a lot of these guys are still young and could be valuable in the future.  There’s no need to sell off players like Lester and Buchholz at this point.

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Red Sox/Rangers series recap

The Red Sox returned to their early season pitching futility in a two game series against the Rangers on Tuesday and Wednesday.  Jon Lester was lit up early and Mark Melancon was lit up late in an 18-3 loss of game 1.  Josh Beckett held his own but it was not enough to overcome a great pitching performance by Derek Holland on Wednesday night and the Sox once again fell to the Rangers 6-3.

Jon Lester had no answers for the Rangers lineup on Tuesday

As far as the starting pitching goes, Jon Lester’s performance was inexplicable.  It was just one of those things.  He had some trouble getting a feel for the ball after the long home run he gave up to Mike Napoli, who absolutely murders Red Sox pitching.  He actually looked good before that but the home run seemed to throw him off and he couldn’t get into a rhythm after that.  He threw 50 pitches in the 2nd inning and couldn’t record an out in the 3rd before getting yanked.  I’m guessing this was an aberration for Lester and he’ll throw the ball better next time out.  Josh Beckett was much better on Wednesday night.  He is gaining velocity, he went from 91-92 in his first two outings to 93-94 last night, and continues to locate his secondary pitches well.  He gave the Sox a quality start in 7 strong innings and the only blemish was a run scored on a ground ball up the middle and a 2-run homer by, yup, Mike Napoli.  Beckett seems to have settled in after that first outing.

The bullpen is still as mess at times.  Mark Melancon was supposed to be a primary set-up guy for this team but he’s now down in Pawtucket after giving up 3 home runs on Tuesday night.  Michael Bowden has been designated for assignment.  Franklin Morales, who looked great before last night, gave up 3 runs to the Rangers in the 8th inning.  The good news is that Aceves is settling in and Matt Albers and Scott Atchison are pitching better for the Sox.  Vicente Padilla is holding his own in a set-up spot as well.  Perhaps we’ll see if Junichi Tazawa, called up for Melancon and coming off of Tommy John surgery, can contribute.  We may look back at the Andrew Bailey injury and see it as the thing that undid the Bobby V. era before it even started.

Youkilis celebrated his 1st HR of the season Wednesday night

The lineup is doing alright but faced some tough pitching in the two games.  It’s a pretty good staff when you have two guys, Scott Feldman and Alexei Ogando, who have been all-stars as starers as your primary set-up guys.  Papi continues to hit with 1 in each of the 2 games against Texas.  Dustin Pedroia hit his 3rd jack of the young season and Adrian Gonzalez added his 2nd in Game 1.  Kevin Youkilis finally got on the board with a 2-run shot on Wednesday night.  Ryan Sweeney continues to hit well and added an RBI single in the bottom of the 9th last night against Joe Nathan.  Kelly Shoppach continues to hit with another double last night.  Mike Aviles went 2-for-6 with two walks in the series and continues to hold his own at the lead-off spot.  The Sox defense is actually the best in the league so they’re not getting killed in that department either.

So the Sox are 4-8 after 12 games.  Too bad they didn’t start that good last year, they’d have been in the playoffs if they had.  Now they have a crucial series against the Yankees to finish the home stand.  The funny thing is, as a Sox fan, the Yankees don’t scare me as much as the the other teams we have played so far.  We’ve played this team well over the past couple seasons, something you couldn’t say about the Rays or Rangers.  Friday should be exciting, regardless of the record.  I’m looking forward to watching the ceremony and I hope there are a lot of older players that were kind of forgotten about over the years (Luis Rivera, Jeff Frye, Jody Reed, Bob Zupcic, the list goes on and on.)  Anyway until then keep your heads up and go B’s.

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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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Boston Red Sox 2012 Opening Day Preview

A lot of us would like to forget the 2011 baseball season, or at least the final month of it.  Today marks the first day that we can officially start to move on.  The Red Sox will try to erase the stink of the 2011 season by embarking on a march to what they, and we, hope will culminate in another World Championship.  Things may look bleak in light of the events of last year and it may be hard to realize that, save the loss of Jonathan Papelbon, this is basically the same team being fielded by the Red Sox.  That team last year was just 1 win away from the playoffs.  The Sox may be in a more enviable position this year in a sort of an underdog role rather than having heaps of expectation placed on them.  Here is a quick look at the opening day roster and the guys waiting in the wings on the 15 day DL:

Red Sox 2B Dustin Pedroia

Infielders and Catchers – SS Mike Aviles, 1B Adrian Gonzalez, 2B Dustin Pedroia, IF Nick Punto, C Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C Kelly Shoppach, 3B Kevin Youkilis

There were a few tough omissions from spring training, notably prospects Jose Iglesias and Ryan Lavarnway, but it’s hard not to argue that, when healthy, there aren’t many more starting infields as good as the Red Sox in the American League.  Gonzalez and Pedroia are good for at least 155-158 games a season barring injury and are both rock solid, consistent players on both offense and defense.  Mike Aviles should do just fine for what he is, as should Nick Punto in the utility role.  The wild card is the health of Kevin Youkilis.  If he’s healthy, expect him to be productive.  If he needs extended time off due to injury I would expect the Sox to call on Iglesias to come up and play just about every day at short with Aviles manning the hot corner.  Salty will hopefully be more consistent with a year under his belt and Shoppach should help against lefties and with his defense.

Outfielders – CF Jacoby Ellsbury, OF Darnell McDonald, RF Cody Ross, OF Ryan Sweeney

This is an interesting group.  Obviously it is missing Crawford for the start of the season.  Can Ellsbury replicate his success of last season?  It will be a tough task because he was very, very good last year.  I doubt he’ll do as good as he did but he won’t totally fall off either.  Cody Ross is a guy fans are really going to love and I can see him getting the bulk of the playing time in right field, even after Crawford is back.  Ryan Sweeney has potential but he has been dreadful all spring and will probably have to fight Darnell McDonald for playing time at the start of the season.

Red Sox P Clay Buchholz

Starting Pitchers – Daniel Bard, Josh Beckett, Clay Buchholz, Felix Doubront, Jon Lester

This is another wild card group.  You can count on productivity from Beckett, Lester, and Buchholz if they can all stay healthy.  There is no indication that Buchholz’s back problem is going to linger but you never know with pitchers and injuries.  Bard looked timid early on in spring training but came on towards the end to solidify his spot in the rotation.  He’s certainly got the stuff to succeed.  The guy to watch in the group is Felix Doubront.  He’s been flying under the radar for the past few seasons because he’s been hurt.  He’s a young lefty with good stuff and if he settles in and stays healthy he can win 10-15 games for you.  If he does that there should be no reason that the Sox aren’t in contention by the end of the year.

Relief Pitchers – Alfredo Aceves, Matt Albers, Scott Atchison, Michael Bowden, Mark Melancon, Franklin Morales, Vicente Padilla, Justin Thomas

Obviously the big story here is the injury to Andrew Bailey.  Aceves will make for an interesting closer but I do think he’ll have a shorter leash then a regular closer.  I can see a platoon with Melancon emerging if they are both pitching well.  A lot of people see Padilla as a set-up guy in this bullpen but he’s the only one stretched out so they’ll have to go to him in long situations if they need to.  Morales can be a strong set-up guy, he’s got really great stuff and he’s equally effective against righties and lefties.  Albers pitched well early last year and hopefully he can condition himself to keep it up this year.  I’ve never really seen anything from Bowden so he’ll have to show the Sox something or it will likely come down to him or Atchison when Crawford comes back.  Justin Thomas will be there until Rich Hill is ready unless he is pitching so much better than the other guys that you can’t send him down.

Red Sox OF Carl Crawford

The amazing thing about this list is that you have two guys who had Tommy John surgery last June and are starting the season on the 15 day DL.  I liked what I saw from Hill in his limited time last year but am a bit worried that his motion, that was so effective, was actually the cause of his injury.  Dice-K would be a huge boon to the rotation if Bard or Doubront aren’t pitching well or there is an injury.  Andrew Miller has the stuff but he needs to harness his control, maybe a start in Pawtucket wouldn’t be so bad for him.  Crawford doesn’t seem to be too far behind and should be back before the start of May.

We haven’t even talked about new manager Bobby Valentine.  Here’s the thing about Valentine, beneath all the pot shots and the snide comments the guy is a good manager.  He knows to work a clubhouse and he knows how to coach a baseball team when they’re out on the field.  he’s got good coaches around him, notably hitting coach Dave Magadan who has been here for 5 years already and has been preaching the Red Sox way of hitting since then and Tim Bogar who’s been on the staff for 5 years as well.  I’m not really buying what Curt Schilling was saying about the players not taking to Valentine since so many of them came out so quickly and criticized Schilling’s comments.  Bobby V. will do just fine managing the Sox but we’ll see how he handles the media and how many times his mouth gets him in trouble.

Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine

So there you have it.  Championship team?  We’ll see.  Of course after all of this drama we actually have to play the games.  The Sox have an opening three game set against the Detroit Tigers in Detroit and then they head north to Toronto.  The 0-6 start from last season will clearly be on everyone’s mind so it’s important for the Sox to come out of the gate strong.  The Tigers are a tough opponent, they’ve added Prince Fielder and Justin Verlander is coming off of an M.V.P. and Cy Young season so the crowd will be pumped.  It’s important to remember that losing game 1 is not the end of the world, Verlander only lost 4 all of last season after all.  The 2nd two match-ups in the series favor the Red Sox.  Josh Beckett is 3-2 with a 2.50 ERA against the Tigers and Clay Buchholz is 1-1 with a 2.58 ERA.  Detroit’s Doug Fister is a good pitcher and hasn’t pitched bad against the Red Sox but game 3’s starter Max Scherzer has been absolutely horrid against the Sox, going 0-2 with a 9.45 ERA.  Winning 2 out of 3 would be great going into Toronto but they need to take it 1 game at a time.  Of course a 3 game sweep at the hands of the Tigers would be a disaster since the team would then be on its heels just 3 games into the season just like they were last year.  Let’s hope we’re not talking about that come Monday morning.

Opening day is always an exciting time is this year is really no exception.  You’ve got the 100 year anniversary of Fenway Park on tap this year and a team full of motivated players determined to right the wrongs of 2011.  The baseball season is a long and strange road with a lot of twists and turns, we found that out last season.  My advice right now would be to sit back and enjoy the ride.  Let’s hope that it turns out to be a good one.

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2012 Red Sox Player Preview: The Bench

The bench is always an important part of a baseball team.  The Red Sox have a mix of guys in their starting lineup who have either been everyday stalwarts like Adrian Gonzalez, Dustin Pedroia, and David Ortiz who rarely miss time or have guys like Kevin Youkilis, Carl Crawford, and Jacoby Ellsbury who have all missed significant time in the past few seasons.  Certain spots are more important than other and for the Sox it is important to have a dependable backup infielder and a few solid outfield options with what they have in the starting lineup.  Here’s what they’re working with this season on the bench:

Catcher Kelly Shoppach

Red Sox C Kelly Shoppach

Here’s a look at Shoppach’s 2011 season (career highs in parentheses):

Games: 87 (112, 2008)
Average: .176 (.261, 2007 & 2008)
On-Base Percentage: .268 (.348, 2008)
Slugging Percentage: .339 (.517, 2008)
On Base plus Slugging (OPS): .607 (.865, 2008)
Home Runs: 11 (21, 2008)
Runs Batted In: 22 (55, 2008)
Runs: 23 (67, 2008)
Doubles: 3 (27, 2008)
Walks: 19 (36, 2008)

2012 Season Outlook:

Shoppach was brought in for one reason – defense.  Last year’s #2 catcher, Jason Varitek, was abysmal when it came to throwing base stealers out and Jarrod Saltalamacchia struggled early on as well.  Shoppach is well regarded as one of the best defensive catchers in the game and had the highest percentage of catching would be base stealers of all catchers in the American League last year.  Shoppach’s production with the bat will be minimal (he has hit under .200 in each of the past two seasons) but he will give you the occasional pop (he’s been in double digits in home runs in 3 of the past 4 years).  The Red Sox will likely play Shoppach almost exclusively against left-handed pitching, which he hits considerably better, so that should limit the liability he brings on the offensive side.  Depending on how starter Jarrod Saltalamacchia is going defensively, you may see Shoppach come into the game as a late inning replacement particularly if the club finds a spot for both him and fellow catcher Ryan Lavarnway on the 40 man roster.

Utility Infielder Nick Punto

Red Sox IF Nick Punto

Here’s a look at Punto’s 2011 season (career highs in parentheses):

Games: 63 (150, 2007)
Average: .278 (.290, 2006)
On-Base Percentage: .388 (.388, 2011)
Slugging Percentage: .421 (.421, 2011)
On Base plus Slugging (OPS): .809 (.809, 2011)
Home Runs: 1 (4, 2005)
Runs Batted In: 20 (45, 2006)
Runs: 21 (73, 2006)
Doubles: 8 (21, 2006)
Walks: 25 (61, 2009)

2012 Season Outlook:

Punto had a nice little season last year with the world champion Cardinals.  Don’t expect him to repeat his offensive success however as he moves from the NL Central to the AL East.  Punto was once a solid supersub who could fill in for long periods of time at any position but at 34 he is more of a traditional utility infielder type now.  Punto’s biggest asset is his versatility in that he can still play all four defensive positions very competently.  He would allow the Red Sox to carry only the one back-up infielder but if youngster Jose Iglesias makes the squad as the starting shortstop then he will share the backup infield duties with mike Aviles.  Expect Punto to take virtually all of the back-up innings on the right side of the infield as well as a fair share at third base, particularly if Youkilis’ injuries flare back up.  Punto will never be an everyday player, if one of the Sox infielders go down long term expect Aviles or Iglesias to take that role, but Punto will give you the little things like a good bunt or solid base running.  He’s a good guy to have around.

Outfielder Ryan Sweeney

Red Sox OF Ryan Sweeney

Here’s a look at Sweeney’s 2011 season (career highs in parentheses):

Games: 108 (134, 2009)
Average: .265 (.294, 2010)
On-Base Percentage: .346 (.350, 2008)
Slugging Percentage: .341 (.407, 2009)
On Base plus Slugging (OPS): .687 (.755, 2009)
Home Runs: 1 (6, 2009)
Runs Batted In: 25 (53, 2009)
Runs: 34 (68, 2009)
Doubles: 11 (31, 2009)
Walks: 33 (40, 2009)

2012 Season Outlook:

Sweeney came over to the Sox along with Andrew Bailey in the trade that sent Josh Reddick and others to Oakland.  Sweeney is one of those guys that you look at and see a great player but all you really get is a decent sub.  He’s got a tall frame like that of a power hitter yet he’s never hit more than 6 home runs in a season.  He’s hit for pretty decent averages in his career though and he’s got some patience at the plate.  I’d expect that Sweeney will start the season in a platoon with Darnell McDonald in Carl Crawford’s spot in the outfield.  After Crawford comes back he’ll likely spell Cody Ross in right field against some right handed pitchers.  Sweeney is a dime a dozen guy in the outfield but he is a good fielder as opposed to Reddick, who was atrocious in the field, and the Sox needed a left handed outfielder off of the bench while prospect Ryan Kalish continues to recover from last season’s shoulder injury.  No offense to Sweeney but I hope we don’t see too too much of him after Crawford is back healthy.

Outfielder Darnell McDonald

Red Sox OF Darnell McDonald

Here’s a look at McDonald’s 2011 season (career highs in parentheses):

Games: 79 (117, 2010)
Average: .236 (.270, 2010)
On-Base Percentage: .303 (.336, 2010)
Slugging Percentage: .401 (.429, 2010)
On Base plus Slugging (OPS): .704 (.766, 2010)
Home Runs: 6 (9, 2010)
Runs Batted In: 24 (34, 2010)
Runs: 26 (40, 2010)
Doubles: 6 (18, 2010)
Walks: 14 (30, 2010)

2012 Season Outlook:

McDonald had a rough start last year after having a very solid 2010.  McDonald logged a lot of playing time in ’10 with Ellsbury’s and Drew’s injuries and seemed to struggle being put back into a reserve role in ’11.  McDonald looked to be on the bubble with the acquisition of Cody Ross and Sweeney but he seemed to get at least a temporary stay of execution when Carl Crawford was injured and Marco Scutaro was traded away.  McDonald seems to be responding this spring with his back against the wall, hitting .467 thus far in camp.  I like McDonald, he’s played hard in the past few seasons with the Sox and seems like a great team player.  I’d like to see him stick but when the club is healthy I’m not sure the numbers game will work for him.  Here’s hoping it does though.

We’re still waiting to hear on the shortstop position and there are a few young guys who may yet make an impact and I will cover them in a separate preview.

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