Talkin Sox with Dan

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

Archive for the month “June, 2012”

My Thoughts on Kevin Youkilis

Kevin Youkilis is a member of the Chicago White Sox. Will Middlebrooks is here to stay. There was never a real controversy. Trading Youkilis wasn’t the right move–it was the only move.

I was wrong. Close to two months ago, I argued that if Youkilis was healthy, Middlebrooks would not overtake him. The husky corner infielder was healthy–he simply did not produce. The young kid from Texarkana, Texas, did. Youkilis, who willed himself into becoming an All-Star caliber major leaguer, spent more time arguing with umpires since he return from the disabled list than he did putting together quality at-bats. Middlebrooks, on the other hand, chose to do his talking on the diamond, rather than in the runway that leads to the clubhouse at Marlins Park in Miami.

Injuries, declining performance, and the emergence of a bright young star combined to spell the end of the Youkilis Era in Boston. But it was a heck of a good run.

If you’re someone like myself–a high strung individual who feels anxious when he is not able to watch or listen to the Red Sox when they’re on–then you possess a deep rooted appreciation for the way Youk approached the game. It didn’t matter whether it was April or September–each game mattered immensely to the Cincinnati native. I hang on the result of each pitch whether it is overcast in May, blisteringly hot in July, or refreshingly cool in October. So did Youk. If Youkilis made a soft out in a game, it wasn’t “that’s okay, I’ll get him the next time.” It was a failure. It was an opportunity missed, a chance to help his team squandered. Fans saw pieces of themselves in Youkilis.

The former Gold Glove winner will always be cast in the same “dirt dog” light as fellow champion Trot Nixon, but Youk was more than just a dirty uniform. In 2008, a year that saw Youkilis finish with a smooth .312/.390/.569 slash line, the gritty then first baseman finished third in MVP voting behind teammate Dustin Pedroia and Justin Morneau. Not bad for a guy who used to provoke talk radio callers to refer to him as You-Kill-Us. That year was simply the apex of a Red Sox career that included two World Series titles. He served as a vital cog on the 2007 championship team.

I’ll never forget the job Youkilis did in the 2007 ALCS against the Indians. The Red Sox rallied to overcome a 3-1 series deficit and beat the Tribe, spurring them on to a World Series win over the rusty Rockies. Youk had 28 at-bats in the ALCS. He collected hits in 14 of them. You could rely on him.

When Youkilis was right, he grinded out at-bats. Nothing was made easy for the poor guy on the mound. He got on-base. He scored runs. He drove them in. He was productive. As fans, we trusted him. When Youkilis came to the plate, we felt like we were in good hands. In baseball, you’re going to make an out more often than you get a hit, but with Youkilis, you never felt cheated. For at least four plate appearances each game, you got your money’s worth.

And for the better part of nine seasons, so did the Red Sox.

Ryan Kalish is Needed in Boston

Ryan Kalish should be in the next available Lincoln Town Car that takes him from McCoy Stadium to T.F. Green Airport and on a plane that heads for either South Beach or the North Side.

Either way, he needs to be up with the big boys. Now.

Since being deemed healthy enough to participate in games, Kalish has shined. In a small 13-game sample that spans from High-A ball to Triple-A, the 24-year old outfielder has hit at a .367/.475/.673 clip with an eye-popping OPS of 1.148. He’s launched four home runs, swiped two bags, and drawn nine walks.

This isn’t just some sort of aberration by a minor league standout. Kalish is a guy who has already showcased his talents on the major league level.

In 2010, the left handed hitter was called to Boston during the latter half of the season. The Red Sox were in need. In 53 games, he slugged four home runs, drove in 24 runs, and stole 10 bases. He navigated center field like a veteran (e.g., diving, tumbling catch in Tampa). Kalish looked like a kid that belonged.

Injuries derailed Kalish’s ability to immediately solidify himself as a fixture in the Red Sox outfield. Nevertheless, the Red Sox front office held enough confidence in Kalish to deal Josh Reddick to the Athletics. That’s the same Reddick who has 14 home runs this season in a cavernous home ballpark.

The point is that Kalish possesses both the pedigree and the production that warrants a promotion. More importantly, like in 2010, there is a need.

Offensively, the Red Sox have been potent this season. They’re second in the American League in runs scored and fifth in slugging percentage. Batting average? They’re third.  As of late, however, they have been stagnant to say the least.  In their past five games, the Red Sox have scored 12 runs. That’s an average of 2.4 runs per game. Good luck winning ballgames at that rate.

Over the course of those five games, the Red Sox have faced quality pitching courtesy of both the Nationals and the Marlins. Whether it is Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, or Josh Johnson toeing the rubber, scoring runs is not going to be easy, even if you have a lineup that consists of guys who flat out mash. And the Red Sox lineup certainly does not possess the thump that’s needed to combat quality starting pitching.

Right now, who are you confident in to get a hit, let alone a big hit? David Ortiz and Jarrod Saltalamacchia are the only acceptable answers. Adrian Gonzalez is mired in a prolonged slump that forces followers of the team to count the number of walks, rather than home runs. Dustin Pedroia‘s thumb is not right, and, as a result, neither is he. Kevin Youkilis is either too busy grounding out to the left side or yelling at an umpire to actually care that he has been miserable at the dish since returning from the disabled list.

Have there been honorable contributions from Ryan Sweeney, Daniel Nava, and Mike Aviles? Absolutely. And they should be damn proud of themselves. At some point, however, good pitching beats mediocre hitting. And when the hitting isn’t very good to begin with, the good pitching makes said hitting look even worse.

Kalish is a polished, young hitter who can make an immediate impact on a team that is starving for a spark. The Red Sox have been lackluster against right handed pitching. Kalish would help. Their bench lacks any sort of substance. The broad shouldered kid from Jersey would help create roster depth.

If the Red Sox were ten games over .500, it would make sense for Kalish to remain in Triple-A Pawtucket in order to get back into baseball shape. But they’re not. They’re 30-32 and have exactly 100 games left to turn their season season around.

Reinforcements are needed. There is one less than sixty minutes away from Boston. Kalish should be playing with the Red Sox.

Some, if not many, will disagree. And their reasons are valid.

I recently had an exchange with the Providence Journal’s Brian MacPherson–who does an excellent job covering the Red Sox. MacPherson indirectly raised a fair point: Who do the Sox part with in order to make room for Kalish? MacPherson believes it would have to be Scott Podsednik, who has been better than good since getting called up. Here is a portion of our conversation via Twitter:

MacPherson’s point is well-taken. Nevertheless, whether it is a Podsednik decline, a Nava DL stint, or a different roster move all together, Kalish will impact the 2012 Red Sox at some point this season.

Eventually, no matter what, the cream will rise to the top.

Things to Watch For This Weekend

Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper and the Washington Nationals rolled into Fenway Park on Friday night and won the first game of a three game set against the Red Sox. Strasburg was electric, using all of his pitches effectively. The guy looked good. Harper went bridge to most cavernous area of Fenway–the apex of the triangle in center field. He also made an above average catch as he tracked down a hooking liner off Jarrod Saltalamacchia‘s bat. He is a concoction of both Five Hour Energy and Red Bull. I was impressed. Let’s examine some other points of interest as the series continues on Saturday.

One of the most frustrating things is baseball is when a pitcher goes out and gives up runs after his offense provides him support. This was on display last night when Felix Doubront surrendered three runs in the top of the third inning after the Red Sox drew first blood in the bottom half of the second. With two outs in the bottom of the second inning, Mike Aviles smacked a clutch two-out double to left center, scoring two runs. Strasburg, at the time, seemed to look human. Doubront promptly went out and let three runs cross the plate the next half inning. So, so frustrating. Baseball is a game of momentum, and a one-two-three inning in the top of the third could have seriously changed the complexion of the game.

Daisuke Matsuzaka is back. Damn it. I’m half kidding. Dice-K will pitch Saturday afternoon for the Red Sox for the first time since undergoing Tommy John surgery last year. This will undoubtedly be his final year in a Sox uniform, and maybe, just maybe, he can bring something to the table. Hope resides in the idea that Bobby Valentine may have some sort of a positive impact on him due to his ability to speak Matsuzaka’s native language. Time will tell, but if I wouldn’t place any kind of a substantial bet on the Japanese import.

Gio Gonzalez was close to becoming a member of the Red Sox, but the deal fell through. It would have included new fan-favorite Will Middlebrooks along with other prospects like Josh Reddick. The Sox would have likely landed Ryan Sweeney, Gonzalez, and Andrew Bailey. Instead, the Athletics and Nationals brokered a deal that sent the young south paw to the nation’s capital, where he has been excellent. Gonzalez will tote a 2.31 ERA to the mound on Saturday.

Baseball is all about winning two out of three. Middle games in three game sets are vital. Think about it. If your club wins the first game of the series, then, a day later, takes the second game, you’ve already won the series. The final game is gravy. If your team drops the first game but is able to snag a W in the next game, you at least put yourself in a position to win the series with a victory in the final contest. So, if you’re the Red Sox, stack your lineup full of right handed hitters and grab a win Saturday–because then you’re only one win away from having an extremely successful weekend.

It’s easy to get down on Kevin Youkilis. I mean he did go down looking on a fastball in a 3-2 count with the bases loaded against Strasburg on Friday. Youkilis argued, probably to save face, and was ejected. The ballgame was essentially decided then and there. I’m not someone who believes that just because a player helped win a championship or two he must always receive the benefit of the doubt, but Youkilis is still an asset. He’s in a tough spot on a team where there isn’t a ton of flexibility at the corners. I wish there was a way to utilize both Middlebrooks and Youkilis, but it just may not be possible. I’d be surprised if Middlebrooks wasn’t in the lineup Saturday.

As a piece of advice, try not to let your new found affinity for the young, talented Middlebrooks manifest itself into hate or disdain for Youkilis. If you had a team of 25 Youks, you’d win a lot of games.

Tough Love

Toughness and intelligence are not synonymous. There may be not be a better example of the distinction between those two characteristics than the situation surrounding Dustin Pedroia‘s most recent injury to his right thumb.

According to WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford, Pedroia will return to the starting lineup on Tuesday night as the Red Sox open up a three-game set against the Orioles.

Pedroia has been out of commission since he was removed from the game against the Tigers on Memorial Day. MRI results ultimately indicated that the scrappy second baseman had partially torn a muscle in his thumb. As a handful of days passed, it was revealed that Pedroia originally suffered the injury on May 2nd, a home game against the Athletics, during an at-bat against reliever Ryan Cook. He fouled off a pitch, clearly grimacing afterwards.

(As an aside, I was at that game in May. It was a cold, rainy Wednesday night at Fenway. No one wanted to be there, whether you were in the bleachers or at the plate.)

Since that game against the A’s, Pedroia had been able to successfully manage the discomfort in his right thumb. During the 24 games that followed Pedroia’s foul ball against Cook, the former AL MVP hit at a .296/.360/.429 clip. He slugged two home runs during that time. Nothing exemplary, but certainly more than acceptable.

Prior to the injury, it is safe to assume that Pedroia was nothing but healthy. In the 23 games that led up to the game in which he originally hurt his thumb, Pedroia’s numbers are surprisingly similar his statistics mentioned above. His slash line of .296/.337/.469 compares favorably. From Opening Day in Detroit through May 1st, the All-Star second baseman clubbed three home runs, just one more than he would eventually hit with an ailing thumb.

Essentially, Pedroia remained the same player, despite operating with an injury to the worst part of a ballplayer’s body–his hands. Nevertheless, the former Rookie of the Year successfully took batting practice in Toronto over the weekend. He did use a brace during the sessions. According to Bradford, if Pedroia was able to pass a final examination on Monday, he would be ready to go on Tuesday.

Apparently, he aced the test.

So we are here. The Red Sox and Pedroia have avoided a trip to the disabled list. He would have only missed six games. Nick Punto will go back to his familar position–the bench, while Pedroia returns to second base. He will bat in the tw0-hole against Jason Hammel, a right handed pitcher that he has worn out (4-7).

It is very likely that this aggressive approach will work out. If anyone can do it, Pedey can. Red Sox players, fans, and members of the media will applaud Pedroia for his toughness, and his legacy in Boston will be augmented yet again.

However, there is always a chance that this backfires. Pedroia could go out tonight, get buried with a hard sinking fastball, and re-aggravate his injury, forcing him to go on the disabled for who knows how long. It would be ignorant to ignore the inherent gamble that Pedroia and the Red Sox are making.

I’m not a doctor, but I have to think that rest and rehabilitation would help heal a torn adductor muscle in one’s thumb more than taking at-bats against the best pitching in the world (that isn’t a compliment directed the Fighting Showalters, but rather for Major League Baseball as a whole).

But that’s just not Pedroia. If he feels as though he can help the team win, you’re going to need to do more than threaten to place him on some sort of silly list that says he can’t play for 15 days.

And that’s why he is a beloved figure in a city that cares a tiny bit about its baseball. It’s why Jacoby Ellsbury could have another MVP-like year in 2013, as he did in 2011, and he still will not surpass Pedroia in the fickle court of public opinion. Toughness is a quality that is lauded. It is met with immediate respect and deservedly so.

But toughness does not beget intelligence.

Maybe it will breed luck.

Oh, Hello Clay

8 innings. 2 earned runs. 2 walks. 7 strike outs.

Chew on that.

Clay Buchholz has been worse than bad in 2012. His ERA, even with last night’s dominating performance, is a robust 6.58. It wouldn’t be a huge deal if Buchholz was still a back-end of the rotation kid, still feeling his way in the big leagues. But he’s not. The Texas native is 27-years old. Heading into the season, many Boston baseball people agreed that it would be the performances of Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, and especially Buchholz that would ultimately determine whether the Red Sox would sink or swim. Buchholz has been absent, often the first nomination by fans and media members to take a trip to Triple-A Pawtucket. It would be an understatement to say that Buchholz has not pitched well this year. He’s been downright miserable.

But not last night.

—–

It was the first inning, and Buchholz was in yet another tight spot. Kelly Johnson reached base on a catcher’s interference call. The supremely underrated Yunel Escobar hit a chopper to shortstop Mike Aviles in the hole who moved to his right and booted it. It certainly was not a taylor-made double play ball, but Aviles surely would have been able to cut down Johnson at second. Instead of there being one out and a man on first, Buchholz was now forced to deal with two guys on and Jose Bautista coming to the dish. Buchholz opened with three straight pitches out of the strike zone to Bautista. He battled back and ultimately struck out the dangerous righty.

After the game, it was clear that Buchholz understood the importance of that strike out.

“That’s the time when he [Bautista] rises to the occasion, hits a homer, hits a double, and clears the bags. That was a big part of the game for me,” Buchholz said. “That was just a steppingstone to get to the next inning and go out there with a little bit of confidence.’’

Buch was far from out of it as Edwin Encarnacion brought his 17 home runs and 42 RBIs to the plate. The slender righty induced a ground ball to shortstop. Aviles atoned for his mistake earlier in the inning by starting a crisp 6-4-3 double play. Inning over, damage averted.

Buchholz was able to pitch successfully with runners on-base and wiggle out of a tight spot that he did not create. He went on throw seven more strong innings. It was an encouraging sign for a hurler who has struggled mightily thus far.

For Buchholz, it’s about restoring confidence in himself. And last night was a big step in the right direction.

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