Talkin Sox with Dan

Where baseball fans gather for commonsensical, opinionated Red Sox banter.

Archive for the month “April, 2012”

Righting the Ship

The Red Sox return home after an impressive 6-1 road trip. It was exactly what the team needed after leaving Fenway dejected thanks to a 15-9 loss to the Yankees on April 21. It was followed by a much-needed rain out. The Sox traveled to Minnesota and promptly swept the lowly Twins.  A trip to Chicago ended with a loss but not before Valentine’s boys snatched up three victories. It was an impressive stretch against competition that is not close to the likes of the Rangers, Rays, and Yankees. But hey, you don’t make the schedule–you just play the games.

Overall, I was very happy with the ways in which the Red Sox won ballgames. On several occasions, it was the offense delivering the blows to the opposition, putting up crooked number after crooked number. The pitching staff wasn’t to be outdone either. Jon Lester went pitch for pitch with Jake Peavy on Saturday night, and the bullpen held up their end of the bargain. The Sox won the game 1-0. This road trip proved that the local nine can win games in a variety of different ways.

Are there still a fair amount of chinks in the armor? Absolutely. But the past seven games have gone a long way in reminding fans of a few important points: It is only April. Slow starts can be (and often are) overcome by good teams. And to win regular season games, you need to be able to hit, and the Red Sox do that better than the vast majority of teams–even without Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford.

Points of interest as the Oakland A’s roll through the hub:

Clay Buchholz-The slender righty will open the series tonight, and he is in desperate need of a quality performance. In his last start, Buchholz again pitched poorly against the frail Twins’ lineup. Similar to his start against the Rays earlier in the season, Buchholz allowed five runs, and the offense bailed him out. He earned was gifted wins in both starts. In his outing against Tampa, Buchholz was able to toss seven full innings. Conversely, the Texas native couldn’t make it out of the sixth frame last week in Minnesota. Tonight is an important start for a pitcher looking to justify a hefty contract extension.

Yoenis Cespedes-The Cuban defector will probably strike out four or so times during the three game set, but he is just as likely to hit a ball that lands in Somerville.

Bobby Valentine-Valentine and his club found refuge away from Yawkey Way, winning six of their last seven. Last time he set foot on the diamond at Fenway, he received a wave of unnecessary and misallocated boo’s from a crowd made up of people who likely still believe Terry Francona is going to bust through the clubhouse doors and save the day (just like he did at the end of last year, right?). I’m interested to see how he is received during this initial stage of this homestand. As always, winning changes everything.

Implications of a Friday Night in Chicago

The Red Sox won their fifth straight game last night as they downed the White Sox 10-3 for the second night in a row on their turf. David Ortiz hit his fourth home run of the season. It came against a relatively tough lefty in John Danks. The Sox offense once again held up their end of the bargain, throwing up a crooked nine runs on a very cold night at U.S. Cellular Field. It should be noted that the grinders at the bottom of the lineup were truly the ones who deserve a pat on the back. In the sixth inning, the Red Sox plated five runs, due in large part to some timely hitting from the latter half of the order. Specifically, Darnell McDonald once again proved that he is a more-than-serviceable off of the bench option in the major leagues as he smacked a clutch two-out three-run double down the left field line. McDonald has not received consistent playing time, so his performance on Friday night (he also hit a garbage time home run) is excellent news for a Red Sox bench that lacks a heck of a ton of firepower.

Daniel Bard threw seven strong innings, allowing three runs–only two of which were earned. The tall righty only issued one free pass. In this league, you’re better off making hitters earn their way on base. A good hitter posts an average of .300. The majority of the time, the guy is going to record an out. I say play the odds, especially when you have the raw stuff of a Bard.

I am convicted flip-flopper. A month or two ago, I firmly advocated for Bard sticking in the rotation. In my defense, I had no way of knowing that Andrew Bailey would have his debut in a Red Sox uniform delayed by three months due to thumb surgery. Even after receiving that devastating news and watching Alfredo Aceves struggle in the opening series of the season against the Tigers, I still argued that Bard should remain in the rotation. Just this week, however, I am on record as saying that Bard needs to take it upon himself to volunteer to return to the bullpen. Mark Melancon, a guy I truly counted on to serve as trustworthy arm out of the bullpen, turned into a puddle and was demoted to Triple-A Pawtucket, further decimating a watered down Red Sox bullpen that is in desperate need of stability. So I’m as guilty of flipping and flopping as one could be.

Here is the bottom line: For now, the Red Sox will attempt to have their cake and eat it too. They want to win ballgames now, while doing what is best for its future, which is keeping Bard on the path of evolving into a quality, low-cost, under team control starting pitcher. As long as the former Tar Heel continues to put together quality starts and the bullpen doesn’t implode like it did a week ago today, both Bard and the Red Sox will be happy.

Ultimately, for the Sox to be considered a legitimate threat in the postseason, Bard has to be pitching well. In high leverage situations. Out of the bullpen.

Quick Hits

  • Kevin Youkilis took a Philip Humber offering over the right field wall in the top of the third inning. Three of his teammates happened to be on base at the time. Youkilis’ grand slam was an encouraging sign. He is at his best when he is taking the ball to the opposite field. It was nice to see him drive the pitch the way he did as well.
  • Jarrod Saltalamacchia plated three runs and hit two round trippers last night.  Salty is an easy target when it comes to criticism because Ryan Lavarnway‘s major league ready bat awaits in Pawtucket, but he is a guy who will put up more than acceptable numbers, especially for a catcher. Saltalamacchia’s 2-25 start is a distant memory. As it always it when it comes to baseball, patience is key.
  • Felix Doubront threw 110 pitches over six full innings last night. I like what I see from Doubront. Once he begins hitting the outside corner on a more consistent basis/umpires giving him that call, Doubront’s pitch count with decrease, allowing him to go deeper in games.
  • When the Red Sox were at their lowest points in this early season, we noted that the offense had consistently showed resiliency in the later innings. They had come from behind on several occasions in Detroit and Toronto. The Sox bats are not waiting until the eighth or ninth innings to do their damage any longer.
  •  Mike Aviles may not be as patient as you would like a leadoff hitter, but he has embraced his role. The guy is scorching hot. He is setting the table and driving in runs. It’s nice to see the offense support the pitching staff the way it has.

Sacrifice Leads to Success

It was Game 3 of the 2004 American League Championship Series. October 16, 2004. The Red Sox were down two games to none to the Yankees. The local nine were in the middle of receiving a black eye bludgeoning from the Bronx Bombers. For most, it was the precursor to yet another year flushed away, another close, but no cigar Autumn in Boston.

But something happened that night, something that will be forever forgotten by many in New England. Tim Wakefield approached Terry Francona and offered to relinquish his opportunity to start Game 4 in an effort to preserve the Red Sox bullpen. When the smoke cleared, Wakefield had taken a bullet for his team. He labored through 3.1 innings, allowing five runs. The Sox lost 19-8. However, Mike Timlin and Keith Foulke went unused, while Alan Embree did end up making an appearance but only faced four hitters. The Red Sox left Game 3 licking their wounds, but, because of Wakefield’s sacrifice, they were able to keep the stalwarts of their bullpen intact. It ultimately facilitated their ability to come from behind and defeat the Yankees in the best of seven series.

It wasn’t about Wakefield. It was about what was best for his team. It was about sacrifice.

And that is something that is sorely lacking on the 2012 Boston Red Sox.

This winter, the front office promised Daniel Bard an opportunity to serve as a starting pitcher. He sports an A+ plus fastball, an A slider, and a changeup that is more than serviceable. Beyond his raw stuff, Bard has the intelligence and makeup that can only boost his ability to start at the major league level. To put it simply, he is a bright kid with great stuff who deserves the chance to maximize his potential.

Ideally, Bard would complete the first step (in a multi-step process) in becoming a front line starting pitcher by tossing an uninterrupted 140-160 innings this season. This, before injuries and ineffectiveness plagued both Andrew Bailey and Mark Melancon respectively, was going to be a difficult task.

The Red Sox did not pursue Jonathan Papelbon in free agency. At the same time, they agreed to move Bard from the eighth inning to the fifth spot in the rotation. First year GM Ben Cherington was tasked with replacing the final six outs in a ballgame. He did a seemingly fine job. In a pair of under the radar trades, Cherington acquired both Bailey and Melancon.

Problem solved, right? Ehh, not so much.

Bailey suffered a freak thumb injury just before the beginning of the season that will ultimately sideline him for roughly three months. Melancon is now in Rhode Island after a series of appearances in which he failed to do anything but struggle.

The Red Sox are now presented with the unenviable task of attempting to replace the replacements that were acquired to replace Bard and Papelbon. Alfredo Aceves and Franklin Morales are your 2012 version of Papelbon and Bard.

That’s ugly.

Bard is in an unique place. Unlike Papelbon, he is still a member of the Red Sox. According to Bard and the brass on 4 Yawkey Way, he is a starter. Nevertheless, his turn was skipped on Monday after a rain out on Sunday. In an interview on Sunday night, Valentine declared that Bard would be able to pitch out of the bullpen once or twice during the week while still retaining his position in the rotation.

Bard’s comments before Monday’s game against the Twins were quite telling.

“I already told them back-to-back is out of the questions for health reasons,” Bard said. “I haven’t thrown one back-to-back all spring. It wouldn’t be fair to ask me. They were totally in agreement on that one.”

Bard is telling management that working back-to-back days is out of the question. Bard, a guy who is entering his fourth, not his tenth, year in the big leagues, apparently believes that he calls the shots. It’s not about what is best for his team. It is about what is necessary for him to continue on the path of being a starting pitcher.

The Red Sox bullpen possesses quality firepower. The bullets, however, have simply not been allocated in the correct chambers. Franklin Morales has a live arm that would look nice in the sixth or seventh inning. Alfredo Aceves is an invaluable weapon who should not be closing. Instead, he should be serving as a multi-inning swingman who also has the potential to retire batters in high leverage situations

So why aren’t these bullpen pieces slotted correctly?

Because Bard has not stepped up.

The bullpen is decimated. Papelbon is in the National League. Bailey is recovering from thumb surgery. Melancon is attempting to regain his confidence in Pawtucket. There are no horses left in the stable. Only ponies remain.

Cherington and the Red Sox have some serious decisions to make. On May 1st, Aaron Cook, who is pitching extremely well in Triple-A, can opt out of his contract if he is not promoted to Boston. Cook could seamlessly enter the Sox rotation, and Bard could slide into the bullpen, which would provide the stability it desperately needs. In order for that to work, it would likely require Bard’s consent (as ludicrous as that may seem).

A move like that would require the same sort of selflessness that Wakefield gave to his teammates and the organization eight years ago.

A move like that would require sacrifice.

Ross Puts Sox on Back

Damn it. Wrong Ross.

Cody Ross slugged two home runs last night, helping the Red Sox snap a five-game skid. His first long ball tied the game in the seventh inning. It was two-run shot to left field that hugged the line. It had the distance. The only question was if it was going to stay fair or not. With two outs in the top of the ninth, and the game still knotted at five runs a piece, Ross took a low, outside pitch from Twins’ closer Matt Capps to deep right field for a solo home run. It was an impressive display of power by 2010 NLCS hero who is known as a predominately pull-hitter. Alfredo Aceves somewhat reluctantly shut the door in the bottom of the ninth, securing a much-needed 6-5 win for the local nine. Ross was the man on Monday night in Minnesota.

A few other observations from a Monday in Mauer country…

  • Before the season, Jon Lester made it abundantly clear that he would like to be mentioned among the game’s elite hurlers. Throughout the spring, Lester was the most contrite out of all of the pitchers who were accused of taking their foot off of the gas in September of last season. He seemed focused, primed for a big year. It may be time to abandon the thought that Lester will ever evolve into a true ace. As a caveat, when I refer to an “ace”, I don’t mean C.J. Wilson. I don’t mean Ricky Romero. When I talk about an ace, I’m pointing to C.C. Sabathia, Clayton Kershaw, Felix Hernandez, and the small fraternity of pitchers who instill a feeling of “yeah, we’re going to win today” in their teammates. Lester is very good, but he is not Roy Halladay. He’s not Cliff Lee. He’s not even Matt Cain. Kudos on settling down and giving your team seven innings but walking four and allowing five runs to the Minnesota Twins when your team desperately needs its stopper to stp up simply does not cut it. And let’s not even get into the fact that Lester has been spotted at least a two-run lead in the early innings of his last two starts. Squandered leads are not good for business in Boston.
  • It was nice to have Daniel Bard out of the bullpen again. It felt so good, so good, so good.
  • David Ortiz is absolutely raking right now. Even the outs he makes are hit hard. Watching him give the metaphorical middle finger to the shift is fun to watch. He looks like a smart hitter who is comfortable in his own skin.
  • Someone should tell Kevin Youkilis that the left side of the infield on the opposing team usually takes grounders before the game. He does not need to provide them fungo work during it.
  • Ryan Sweeney will likely never be a superstar or even a star, but he seems content hitting line drives and doing his job. I like that. (Clearly ignoring his mishap in right field last night. He can thank Bard for that.)

Back Peddling Into Monday

Yeah, that makes me feel better too. When times aren’t going well, whether it is in life or the state of my favorite sports teams, I never hesitate in turning to a photo of Ted Williams. The guy could make stacking wood look magical.

Now let’s get sad.

Boo Bobby Valentine. You have that right. Just understand that it doesn’t make sense. The guy has managed fourteen games in Boston. He has made some questionable decisions for sure (Justin Thomas in Toronto, Grady Little impersonation on Patriots Day with Daniel Bard, and Franklin Morales pitching to Mike Napoli). No argument there. But let’s look at the cards he has been dealt.

The Red Sox astutely decided that Jonathan Papelbon wasn’t worth $50MM. Brass determined that Bard deserved the chance to start. He has cream of the crop stuff, and he really wants to start. I’m okay with that. All of sudden, the Sox lost six very important outs. The eighth and ninth innings now had Help Wanted signs hanging.

Think about this. What would the Yankees do if before the start of the 2012 season, Mariano Rivera decided that his 48-year major league career was over and David Robertson desperately wanted a shot at a spot in the rotation? They would attempt to replace their end-of-the-game arms as best they could.

And that’s what the Red Sox did.

Andrew Bailey stepped into Papelbon’s shoes before injuring his thumb in a freak play at first base in Spring Training. Mark Melancon, a guy who turned out the lights on 20 ballgames for the Astros while posting a cool eight strike outs per nine frames last season, was brought in to secure the set-up role and serve as closer insurance for Bailey. Melancon promptly parlayed a pedestrian spring into a bed-wetting frenzy when the regular season commenced. If you need him, he’s in Rhode Island.

Is Bailey’s career littered with injuries? Absolutely. There is no doubt that I expected Bailey to spend some time on the disabled list this summer. Summer. Not before the season even started. Recently, I’ve heard people bash GM Ben Cherington on the Bailey signing because of his injury laden past. Those individuals would have a stronger leg to stand on if Bailey was on the shelf due to some sort of arm issue. But that’s not the case. Cherington can’t be faulted because Bailey needed thumb surgery.

Was there some concern about Melancon’s ability to pitch effectively in the pressure cooker that is the AL East? Sure. But unless you’re Miss Cleo, there is no way you could have predicted that he would have spent more time watching his pitches travel over the fence than into the catcher’s mitt.

Look, things are not good right now, but if the Red Sox want to put their best foot forward, it begins with Bard going back to the bullpen. Aaron Cook should slot into the rotation. It is the best way to add stability to a bullpen that is without any semblance of an identity.

I’ve abandoned my belief about Bard serving as a starter for the majority of this year. The Red Sox should too.

Pre-game Notes 4/21/12 — Yankees vs. Red Sox

This will the last time I open two straight posts with photos of Alex Rodriguez. I promise.

The Red Sox will take the field this afternoon at 4 p.m. against the Yankees, attempting to earn a split. It’s going to be a two-game series. Trust me.

Felix Doubront will face off against Freddy Garcia. Doubront will have to limit the free passes against a very tough Yankee lineup that can work the count. Conversely, the Red Sox offense must be patient with Garcia who has struggled with command early in the season. Garcia is a savvy veteran. He does not have the raw stuff that can overpower a major league lineup, but if you help him out, he will beat you.

Clay Buchholz turned in a poor performance yesterday, and the Red Sox will look to Doubront to right the ship. Economizing his pitch count will be paramount.

This afternoon’s game has all the makings of a classic Red Sox-Yankees match-up–four plus hours, high scoring, and a lot of trips to the mound.

Let’s look for the Red Sox to bounce back today and earn a win. Then, pray for rain and the Twins.

Pre-game Notes 4/17/12 — Rangers vs. Red Sox

The Texas Rangers roll into town for a quick (and hot) two game set against the Olde Towne Team. Let’s get you greased for the first showdown.

  • Kevin Youkilis is back in the lineup for tonight’s game. He will obviously get a louder-than-normal ovation.
  • The Rangers are 8-2. They have represented the American League in the past two World Series. They’re good. I know it. You know it. They know it.
  • I liked it better when the Rangers were the team who could always hit, but couldn’t pitch to save their lives. I’m always down for a 13-8 win. Tonight will probably not feature that type of score.
  • Colby Lewis takes the bump for The Men of Nolan. He is a right handed pitcher who is quietly very good. So far on the young season, he is 1-0 and sports a smooth 1.42 ERA.
  • Jon Lester toes the rubber for the Red Sox. He is 0-1 with a 2.40 ERA. He has pitched against two offensively talented in teams in their respective neck of the woods. Detroit and Toronto tote stout lineups, but the Rangers may have them trumped, top to bottom. Another daunting task for Lester who looks to assert himself as a top tier pitcher. A strong performance against a Texas team that is playing well would help.
  • I hate (and I mean white hot hate) all of the bullstuff that occurs off of the field. I hate beer and chicken. I hate Bobby Valentine vs. Kevin Youkilis. I’m a fan of the game and the Red Sox because of nights like tonight. Beautiful weather. Two good teams. Two good pitchers.
  • I know it’s because Lewis is a righty, but I really like seeing Adrian Gonzalez and David Ortiz hitting back to back. Ortiz is mashing the ball right now and Gonzalez has great career numbers against Lewis. Keep an eye on the big dogs in the middle tonight.

Key to the game for the Red Sox: Lester’s ability to throw strikes consistently. If he has two walks or less, he will put his team in an excellent position to win. He has a tendency to nibble. Texas has a lineup full of muscle, but I hate free passes. Make them earn it.

Key to the game for the Rangers: Rack up Lester’s pitch count. It may be redundant, but it’s true. Success for any team often hinges on its ability to get into the soft underbelly of the opponent’s bullpen. The Red Sox bullpen, especially in the middle innings, is extremely soft. Vicente Padilla and Scott Atchison are guys that I like having on my side, but if I’m Ron Washington, I would prefer my hitters facing one of them rather than Lester in the sixth inning of the tight game.

Some Thoughts Regarding Bobby V. and Kevin Youkilis

By now, I’m sure you are intimately aware of the details concerning the spat between Bobby Valentine and Kevin Youkilis, so I’m not going to waste our time by rehashing what we already know. Below is the quote from Valentine during an appearance on WHDH’s “Sports Xtra’’ Sunday night.

“I don’t think he’s as physically or emotionally into the game as he has been in the past for some reason.”

The word that I placed in a bold font is the most important aspect to Valentine’s comments. Youkilis is perpetually beat up. He is always dealing with injuries. Currently, he is playing with a groin issue. If Valentine had simply stated that Youkilis is not exactly where he wants to be physically at this point in the season, there likely would not have been even a fraction of the blowback that occurred yesterday.

Whether it is true or not, injuries are largely perceived as being outside of a player’s control. For example, the groin soreness that Youkilis is experiencing is a battle wound, something that happened while he was giving everything he had for the collective success of the team. Conversely, if a player is accused of not being “emotionally into the game as he has been in the past”, that inherently means that the player is choosing to not be mentally invested. That is a big deal.

Just as your Little League coach told you and your teammates–physical errors can be forgiven, mental errors cannot.

With that said, I encourage you look beyond the quote that I highlighted above. In its entirety, the interview with Valentine is not nearly as damning as the excerpts that idiots like myself have chosen to pull. Take a peak at the transcript of the interview. I think you will concur.

Do I agree with the idea of speaking to the media about a player’s physical or emotional commitment to the game? Obviously not. But let’s not pretend like Valentine insulted Youkilis’ family here. My issue with Valentine is not what he says, but rather the frequency at which he speaks.

Bill Belichick was somewhere shaking his head yesterday.

If you were surprised by Valentine’s comments from Sunday night, you are a fool. This is Bobby V. Keep that in mind.

Opening Day is Tough to Beat

State of the Sox

The Red Sox officially began their season a week ago yesterday. Jon Lester was out-dueled by the reigning MVP/Cy Young Award winner, Justin Verlander. Since that loss, the Local Nine have dropped four additional games, winning one in the process.

Times are not “so good, so good, so good” in the Hub.

Baseball is a grind. It is a war of attrition. The 2011 Red Sox pitching staff can certainly attest to that. Playing well early in the season guarantees you nothing. What is now, will likely not be in two months. It would be foolish of me, of course, to feign like I’m not disappointed in this team. If  experiencing success in the initial part of the season was imperative for any squad, it was this one.

But again, in baseball, failure now does not preclude victory later.

And there is reason for hope. So far, the 2012 Red Sox pass the eye test. The wins are not there, but it would be a disservice to this team to claim that they have not shown heart. If there is a silver lining in a 1-5 start to a year, following a season that ended with a mushroom cloud billowing out from Camden Yards, it is resistance–this Red Sox team is not content losing ballgames. Ultimately, that will go a long way in accruing victories.

The fact that it is Opening Day at Fenway Park doesn’t hurt either.

—–

More Than Anything, It’s a Holiday

Unless I’m missing one along the way, today will be my fourth time attending the home opener at the Fens. And there really isn’t a feeling quite like it.

I witnessed a Red Sox team get their World Series rings. I’ve gone for free. I’ve spent way too much on a bleacher seat. I saw a grown man tear up when Bill Buckner emerged from the left field wall. I’ve seen Pedro Martinez pitch on Opening Day. I’ve also seen Daisuke Matsuzaka toe the rubber (please note the juxtaposition, as I’m not bragging about watching Dice-K pitch).

It’s true that the Sox organization puts on quite the dog and pony show before a game–and that’s an afternoon contest in mid-July. So you can just imagine the propaganda that filters out on the field before the home opener.

But today, I’m into it. I love the flyover. I love the flyover like Jerry loves the Drake. I wouldn’t be telling the truth if I thought Tim Wakefield would not be throwing out the first pitch to Jason Varitek. It just makes too much sense, right? I guess it’s possible that Wakefield and Varitek gave ownership the same sort of answer Terry Francona did when he was asked to join the club for Fenway’s 100th anniversary a week from today (for the record, I don’t blame Tito). Whether it’s a freshly retired player or Hall of Famer like Jim Rice or Carlton Fisk, I don’t care. Either way, it’ll get me all sorts of jacked up.

Ultimately, I’m excited to not be at work and have the opportunity to spend in the day in Boston with a group of buddies, talking and watching baseball.

Call me a sap. I probably am.

—–

To Cheer or Not to Cheer

Apparently, the big question this week has been whether fans attending the game will cheer or boo the members of the team upon their introductions. I think validity can be found on both sides of that argument.

I’m a big believer in it being your choice a ticket-buyer to clap or boo. Voice your displeasure or cheer vehemently. Just don’t infringe on other people’s ability to have a good time. Especially mine.

Look, if you want to boo Josh Beckett, boo him. I get it. At the end of last year, he didn’t live up to his end of the bargain. I don’t blame you for wanting to let him know how you feel the first time you see him.

Just make sure you’re consistent. If you believe Beckett laid down like a dog last September and you boo him for that, you better do the same for Lester. And if you don’t, all that means is that you just don’t like Beckett, regardless of performance. Contrite or not, Beckett and Lester both pitched miserably at the end of 2011. Boo accordingly, just be consistent.

As for me, I will cheer the team. Did they collectively wet themselves in the last segment of last season? Absolutely. Did they leave me with a taste in my mouth that stayed with me all winter and into the spring? 100 percent. However, I’m not heading to Fenway Park today to settle any sort of score.

I’m looking for a win. And a quality outing from Beckett wouldn’t hurt.

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