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Archive for the category “Daily Notes”

Silver Linings

Photo courtesy of nesn.com

The Red Sox are in the middle of a critical stretch which includes ten games against the Yankees, Rays, and Orioles—three teams within the division that possess solid pitching and records over .500. It’s a heck of a way to start the second half of the season for a team that could use a bullpen piece or three.

Monday night’s loss, as deflating as it felt at the time, shouldn’t be perceived as anything more than it was – a divisional loss against a hot team. Matt Moore was absolutely fantastic. Nothing more to it.

In fact, as losses go, this one was not a particularly bad one. It was actually an excellent demonstration of how the Red Sox have been able to play at or around .600 baseball for most of the season when no one believed that they could sustain that level of success before the year began. And that’s before Jon Lester decided to post a 93 ERA+ through his first 20 starts of the season, and Clay Buchholz’ status went from Cy Young candidate to Missing in Action.

This team is deep. Last night reinforced that point.

With Buchholz on the shelf until at least some time in late August, the Red Sox have turned to 24-year old Brandon Workman. The tall Texan began the season pitching with Double-A Portland before receiving a promotion to Triple-A Pawtucket in early June.

Meanwhile, Allen Webster, despite his eye-popping stuff, failed in his attempts to claim Buchholz’ rotation spot. In six big league starts, Webster posted a robust 9.57 ERA while walking 4.8 batters per nine frames. He simply was not ready. Alfredo Aceves filled in admirably at times, but the Red Sox have deemed his on-field performance not worth the baggage that comes with being, well, Alfredo Aceves.

Enter Workman.

Including Monday night, he has made two major league starts. His line? 12.1 innings pitched, nine hits, four earned runs, three walks, and a 2.92 ERA. Opposing batters are hitting a meager .214 against him. Workman carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning against the A’s in his debut, and he settled down last night against the Rays after a shaky first inning. Both Oakland and Tampa Bay would be in the playoffs if the season ended today, so it’s not as if Workman has faced the Astros and the White Sox in his two starts. In fact, the Rays are behind only the Orioles, Tigers, and Red Sox in team OPS in the American League. The A’s are more towards the middle of the pack.

Webster was not ready for the majors. Workman, on the other hand, certainly appears equipped to contribute down the stretch.  He deserves a ton of credit for working hard and performing well, but the Red Sox front office should be commended for building the organizational depth up to the point where the team can confidently pluck guys like Workman from their farm and expect good results. We’re only two summers removed from this, after all.

Now, as the deadline approaches, the Red Sox are in an interesting position. They do not have any glaring holes on the roster with the exception of the bullpen, an area where pieces should come easily and at a relatively inexpensive cost. They could pursue a starter, like Jake Peavy, to fortify the pitching staff and move Workman to the bullpen. Or the team could decide to pass on the starting pitching market at the deadline and only look to augment their bullpen.

To be honest, I’m fine with either choice. My ambivalence towards the situation derives from knowing that the Red Sox finally have enough depth in the organization to support a quality team in Boston.

And despite the loss, last night was a perfect example of just that.

Happy Lackey Day

Photo coutesy of bostonherald.com

Every single day you spend on this earth is a gift. But some gifts are simply better than others.

John Lackey will toe the rubber for the first place Red Sox today at 4:05 PM, and things just couldn’t be better.

Kind of crazy, right?

Clay Buchholz, far and away the most talented pitcher on the staff, has pitched 18.2 innings in the past two months. Your Opening Day starter, Jon Lester, has been worse than a league average hurler. Lester’s ERA has ballooned since his hot start to this season and now sits at a bulbous 4.58.

And yet, the Red Sox are 59-39. In first place. Playing north of .600 baseball.

Huh?

It really is quite remarkable how the team has been able to sustain such a high level of success without Buchholz pitching and with Lester being relatively bad at baseball.

Last night’s starter, Felix Doubront, deserves a great deal of credit (I could write a separate piece on how fun it has been to watch the young lefty right the ship after a dreadful start to the season. Check out his numbers since May 16. Go ahead. I’ll wait). But it is Lackey who has assumed the role of Team Ace. He is the horse. He is the stopper.

Since May 19, Lackey has made 11 starts, roughly a third of a starting pitcher’s season. In those games, Big John Stud compiled a 2.32 ERA while punching out 66 batters in 73.2 innings. During the stretch, Lackey has held opposing hitters to a stingy .219 average.

He passes the eye test too. The burly right hander looks in command on the mound, dotting his fastball and going to his secondary stuff when necessary. Lackey’s delivery is free and easy. To put it simply, he is pitching with a healthy arm that he trusts. An argument can be made that this is the first time Lackey’s pitched pain-free since arriving in Boston in 2010.

When Big John takes the mound today at Fenway against the New York Yankees, he will bring with him a 2.78 ERA, a mark that is good for fourth among American League starting pitchers. He trails only the great Felix Hernandez, the portly Bartolo Colon, and the superb Hiroki Kuroda.

In years past, Sunday night’s C.C. Sabathia, Lester matchup would be tabbed as the best duel of the series. But not this summer. Not this series.

Instead, it is Lackey taking on Kuroda today at a steamy Fenway Park, and it should be a lot of fun.

Update: Lester will not pitch Sunday night. Dempster will go in his place in order to get the lefty a bit more rest.

Measuring Stick

Photo via rotoprofessor.com

 Just over a month ago, on May 3, the Red Sox lost to the Texas Rangers by a score of 7-0. They didn’t know it at the time, but that loss would start a swoon for the Sox that would span 11 games and drag the club through three cities –Arlington, Boston, and St. Petersburg. When the dust settled, the Red Sox had gone a miserable 2-9, getting swept by the Rangers, losing three of four to the Twins at home, losing a three-game set to the Blue Jays at Fenway, and dropping the first game of the series against the Rays.

When the Red Sox touched down in Texas in early May, they were 20-8. When Fernando Rodney nailed down the save for the Rays at Tropicana Field on May 14, the Sox found themselves at 22-17. Maybe their scorching start to the season was nothing more than an aberration, a mirage.

The Red Sox were reeling.

Since May 14, however, the Red Sox have gone 13-6. They’ve won games in the clutch. They’ve won tight games and been on the favorable side of blowout victories. The Red Sox are back in first place and possess a record to be proud of at 35 wins, 23 losses. At this point, it is safe to say that they are a pretty good team.

And again, here come the Rangers.

The first place Texas Rangers will visit 4 Yawkey Way for a three-game series that begins Tuesday night. It’s been roughly one month since these two teams squared off, and really, not much has changed. Both squads sit atop their respective divisions. Both have solid pitching — each team is in the top three in the American League in ERA–, formidable bullpens, and the ability score runs in bunches. However, just like it was last months, the Rangers are simply a better team than the Red Sox at this point.

But that doesn’t mean the Sox can’t do anything to alter that perspective. Winning this series will go a long way in proving that this team is for real, that they belong with Texas and Detroit, the true powerhouses of the American League.

This isn’t the first time the Red Sox have been tested this year, and it won’t be the last. But this one is a little more important the ones the have preceded it — at least as a barometer for exactly how good this team really is.

The exam begins Tuesday night at 7:10.

Red Sox, Yankees, and the Importance of Pitching

Photo via bostonglobe.com

Have the Yankees gotten outstanding performances from throwaways like Travis Hafner, Vernon Wells, and Lyle Overbay? Absolutely.

But that doesn’t tell the real story behind their surprising 30-23 start to the season–a season where the shiny toys like Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter, and Alex Rodriguez have spent most, if not all of their time, collecting dust on the shelf. Hell, even their band-aid third baseman, Kevin Youkilis, has spent quite some time on the disabled list (he’s made just 72 plate appearances).

It’s much more fun to talk about Hafner and Crew, but in reality, it has been the Yankees’ pitching that has stepped up in the absence of so much offensive firepower. C.C. Sabathia has been reasonably good. Hiroki Kuroda who is roughly 100-years old has been stellar as the Yanks’ early season ace, and their bullpen, especially the backend, has been quite effective with David Robertson and the ageless Mariano Rivera serving as the anchors.

Unlike the Yankees, the Red Sox have hit relatively well in 2013. Heading into the weekend, the Red Sox league Major League Baseball in runs scored at 274. The Yankees? 218. The Twins have plated more runs than the Bronx Bombers, while playing in two less games.

The Yankees, despite lacking the usual amount of thump in their lineup, have been able to win a bunch of games because of their pitching. They are tied for second in the American League with the Tigers in team ERA at 3.66. That’s pretty darn good. And the Red Sox are right there with their rivals. A team ERA of 3.79 in the AL East is nothing to be ashamed of.

These two teams meet this weekend for the first time since Opening Day. The Red Sox in first. The Yankees in second. They’ve won a combined 63 games, and it is due in large part to guys like Sabathia, Kuroda, Jon Lester, and Clay Buchholz. It’s fitting that all four of them are scheduled to pitch over the next three nights.

It should be fun.

The Red Sox: Observations and Opinions

Photo courtesy of sportsillustrated.cnn.com

Terry Francona will return to manage a game at Fenway Park on Thursday night. For Francona, his vantage point will much different. He hasn’t managed a game against the Red Sox at 4 Yawkey Way in nearly 14 years. Back in 1999, Tito was at the helm of the not-so-good, very mediocre Phillies. Fast forward to 2013, Francona is back in the saddle. This time, it’s with the Tribe. It’s expected to be a wet, rainy night at the Fens on Thursday. And I’m sure Tito thinks his return as an opposing manager is not a big deal. But the banners, the wins, and the memories make for a much different argument. If in fact Francona doesn’t believe Thursday night is a big deal, he’s wrong. It most definitely is.

— On Wednesday night, ESPN’s Buster Olney tweeted this:

Olney has connections that pretty much everyone could only dream about, but I see that statement as pure, relatively uninformed, speculation. First of all, Jacoby Ellsbury hasn’t even been displaced from his usual leadoff spot yet. And really, that probably couldn’t happen until Shane Victorino and his hamstring are feeling good enough to get back on the field. The idea of sitting a player like Ellsbury who has a major league track record — as head-scratching as it may be — in favor of guys like Mike Carp and Jonny Gomes is absurd.

So maybe Olney is talking about some of Pawtucket’s young stars? Well, Jackie Bradley Jr. is back on the field, but he is still recovering from biceps tendinitis and isn’t playing every day. Olney later went on to mention that Bryce Brentz is an option. Brentz is a talented power hitting outfielder with eight home runs on the year, but he is not on the 40-man roster. That means the Red Sox would have to make room on their 40-man before even thinking about adding him to their 25-man roster.

Would the Red Sox really make roster-altering moves because Ellsbury is simply struggling? I don’t believe there is even a small chance that happens.

— Speaking of struggling hitters, Will Middlebrooks continues to disappoint at the plate and, at times, in the field. There is no doubt that the young third baseman is playing through pain after colliding with David Ross and injuring his ribs. Even before the injury, however, Middlebrooks was scuffling. Late in the game on Tuesday night, Middlebrooks came to the plate against the White Sox’ reliever Jesse Crain with the bases loaded and one out. He struck out, swinging at a ball outside of the strike zone. The talented right handed hitter has been very frustrating, despite hitting for a fair amount of power and delivering a clutch two-out, two-strike double that plated three runs and ultimately won the game in the ninth inning against Fernando Rodney last week.

I don’t like Middlebrooks’ approach right now. When I watch his at-bats night in and night out, it feels like he is doing a lot of guessing, rather than recognizing the spin of the baseball out of the pitcher’s hand. Middlebrooks is a big, strong kid who can hit the ball to right field with authority. I’d like to see more of that. The good news is that the season is still relatively young. Middlebrooks is a good month/month and a half away from a much more respectable slash line than what he is sporting these days — .208/.243/.423. Ick.

Red Sox, Blue Jays: What to watch for

Photo via weei.com

The pitching matchups. The Red Sox, on paper, have the upper hand on the 9-17 Blue Jays in each of the three games during the series. Jon Lester will take the mound on Tuesday–opposed by Brandon Morrow. Clay Buchholz draws Mark Buehrle on Wednesday, while Ryan Dempster will take on either Josh Johnson or J.A. Happ. The Jays’ starting pitching, like much of their team, certainly does not lack talent, but the Red Sox hurlers are absolutely rolling right now.

Lester’s demeanor. The big lefty is an emotional guy. And he has no problem admitting that. However, I firmly believe that when Lester doesn’t get a close call (or two or three) he can let his emotions negatively affect his pitching. I’m confident that John Farrell has had discussions with him about showing up umpires while he is on the mound–like he did during his last start on Wednesday. It just doesn’t help your cause as a pitcher. Nevertheless, as long as Lester is pitching well, I don’t care if he gives the umpire the finger (seriously don’t do that — you’ll get ejected). But when his antics begin to affect his ability to execute his pitches — that’s when it becomes a problem.

Jose Bautista is back. The powerful right handed hitter did not play in any of the three games against the Red Sox earlier this month due to a minor ankle injury. He will be back in the Jays’ lineup this time around and is 10-45 against Lester with four home runs to his credit. (Side note: Brett Lawrie is back too. And he is an important player. I also really appreciate his hard-nosed approach to the game).

Jose Reyes is not back. He is nursing a severe left ankle injury suffered in mid-April during a game against Kansas City–a devastating blow for a struggling Blue Jays team. Reyes, as he so often does, showed us why the Marlins, the Jays, and a myriad of other teams salivated over acquiring his services as he blistered the baseball around the Rogers Centre in Toronto during the early-season series against the Sox. The guy is an elite talent at a primer position. We’ll wish him a successful recovery, but we certainly won’t mourn his absence during the next three games.

— (Keeping up with the theme) Shane Victorino‘s back. Literally. His back. It’s sore. According to reports, there is only inflammation present, and, by all accounts, the Red Sox are determined to keep Victorino off of the disabled listed. It’s worth noting that Jackie Bradley Jr. was back in Pawtucket’s lineup on Tuesday serving as the designated hitter. That is a solid indicator that Victorino will in fact be able to avoid a trip to the DL. However, he will not be in the lineup on Tuesday night. Daniel Nava has served admirably in right field.

The closer situation. Joel Hanrahan was officially activated by the Red Sox today. Although Farrell has not formally disclosed who will work the ninth during the next save situation, he has indicated enough to make fans believe it will be Andrew Bailey who gets the ball.

If that is the decision, I agree with it. Bailey, by and large, has been outstanding in Hanrahan’s absence. His stuff plays in the ninth–his fastball has shown a tremendous amount of life. And when he is healthy, he has proven to be excellent. For now, I would leave Bailey alone and ride things out.

Update: CSNNE.com’s Sean McAdam reported that Farrell informed both Bailey and Hanrahan that Bailey would remain the closer. Look for Hanrahan to work a few low leverage situations as he is eased back from his hamstring injury.

Road Tripping

Photo via cbssports.com

After a 13-0 win, starting the season 4-2, and doing it against the Yankees and Blue Jays, it is tough to complain about the Red Sox. A team that desperately needed a positive start to the season, the Sox have certainly answered the call. I’ll be at the home opener on Monday, and I couldn’t be more excited to watch this team in-person.

After six games, here are some of my initial observations.

Jon Lester looks good. His outing against the Yankees was nothing write home about, but it certainly wasn’t a poor start. He minimized the damage when he got in trouble and gave his team a chance to win the game. The Red Sox offense staked Lester to a lead on Sunday, and he never let the Jays believe they were in the game. Lester is my MVP of the road trip. Here’s why: 12 IP, 10 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 13 K. Two wins.

— He went 0-5 in the season opener, but Mike Napoli has started to heat up. More importantly, he’s been showing off some of his impressive power. His hip condition seemingly has not affected his play. Nap will head to Fenway with two home runs on the season.

Shane Victorino has proven me wrong. I know that Spring Training (and World Baseball Classic) stats don’t matter, but Victorino was especially bad this spring. Since the start of the regular season? It’s be a 180 for the right fielder. After Sunday, Victorino has collected eight hits on the young season. He’s not slugging, but he’s contributing night in and night out.

Will Middlebrooks has to potential to be legitimate source of power for this team. It’s easy to say that after witnessing him go bridge three times on Sunday, but it was his opposite field home run off of R.A. Dickey that really impressed. He’s a strong kid.

— Don’t let Sunday’s power surge fool you, the Red Sox need David Ortiz back. I actually like the lineup from top to the bottom, but the middle of the order lacks the muscle of traditional Sox lineups. When Ortiz is ready to come back, he will not only help instill some pop in the middle of the order, but his presence will help balance things out as everyone will be able to move down a spot.

Jackie Bradley Jr.’s torrid spring has not spilled over into the regular season. He’s been good defensively is getting on-base, so it’s not like this experiment has been a failure. There’s been some chatter about sending him down to Pawtucket. This is what I wanted to avoid when the JBJ debate was at its peak. I don’t see why you’d want to treat a prospect like a yo-yo. When he is ready, bring him up. And when you bring him up, understand that struggles and slumps are unavoidable. Nevertheless, it’s likely he will be in Pawtucket at some point this season.

— So far this season, the Red Sox have won games started by C.C. Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Josh Johnson, and Dickey. It’s nice to do well against good pitching. They’ll get Wei-Yin Chen tomorrow at Fenway Park.

Appreciating a Good Start

Photo courtesy of huffingtonpost.com

“Every aspect of the game we’re playing well. We’re running the bases well, swinging the bats, pitching well. It’s a positive start for us.” – Shane Victorino

It’s hard not to agree with the new right fielder. The Yankees lineup is depleted. We get it. But hey, the Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, and the rest of the Red Sox aren’t responsible for making the schedule. They’re responsible for playing the games.

And so far, they are winning them.

It’s sort of too bad that most Red Sox fans don’t allocate as much energy towards celebrating when their team does well as they do when they play poorly. The Red Sox simply could not afford to start the season playing the same terrible brand of baseball that fans have come to expect during the initial part of the year. The 2012 Red Sox spent so much time digging themselves out of holes — whether it was a three or four-run decifict at the beginning of a game or a 1-5 start to the season — that when they finally got their metaphorical head barely above water, there wasn’t enough in the tank to sustain it. As a team, they needed to stop reacting to a punch. They needed to punch first.

So far, this year’s version of the Old Town Team has answered the call, and we should be very happy with that. But there is still a sense of pessimism because the Yankees’ lineup is watered down. I get that. The Bronx Bombers are beat up. Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, and Curtis Granderson are cogs in a machine that is used to cranking out crooked numbers night in and night out. Without them, the Yankees lack muscle.

But that’s not the Red Sox’ problem. I can’t imagine Joe Girardi and his boys felt bad any of the times they beat up on the Sox last season on their way to churning out 95 wins in an extremely competitive AL East. They saw a fractured, oft-injured Red Sox team as an opportunity, not an asterisk. This year’s Red Sox should feel the same way about the early season version of the 2013 Yankees.

So it is perfectly fine to feel good about your team. They’ve won a couple of ballgames. Be happy. You’re not a fanboy. You’re not getting ahead of yourself. The Red Sox have games on their schedule. They have to play them, regardless of who is (or is not) in the opposite dugout.

Spring Training Notes

Photo courtesy of bleacherreport.com

The offseason can be fun, but it sure is nice to have baseball back in our lives. Real life, reach out and touch it baseball. That’s not to say that Spring Training doesn’t get tedious, for both fans and players. But for now, let’s be happy that we can turn on our televisions tonight and watch live baseball. It’s hard not to smile.

— Lost in the fray a bit this spring has been newly acquired starting pitcher Ryan Dempster. Relative to players like Zack Greinke, R.A. Dickey, and James Shields, all guys who changed uniforms over the winter, Dempster is not sexy. The 15-year veteran is certainly not on the front-nine of his career. The righty does not boast a big fastball that is designed to blow opposing batters away. As a guy who will play the majority of the 2013 season at age 36, Dempster sort of is what he is–roughly 200 innings, 4.00 ERA. But that may prove to be exactly what the Red Sox need. I’m excited to watch him pitch in meaningful games.

— I have been extremely cautious when it comes to David Ortiz and his Achilles injury. When he strained it (over seven months ago), the reports indicated that it was only going to be a few days. As we all know, that quickly changed. Ortiz must be himself this season if the Red Sox hope to contend. When you start hearing that the left handed slugger will be ready for Opening Day, it doesn’t leave you feeling warm and fuzzy. Opening Day!? How about Spring Training games!? Let’s set games in March as a goal before we talk April!

Lately, however, the news has been sort of, kind of encouraging. Doctors have told him that his Achilles is good to go. At this point, it’s fair to say that Ortiz needs the peace of mind of knowing that the injury is completely healed. Has the progress been slow? Absolutely. But maybe that will be the key in preventing re-injury during the season. For the first time in a long time, I’m confident that Ortiz will be 100 percent on April 1.

— Spring Training, as I mentioned, can be dull. The writers can get a bit bored from time to time too. And that is perfectly fine. But Jackie Bradley Jr. is not breaking camp with the Boston Red Sox. It ain’t happenin’. Look, the kid’s good. He’s a mature, well-rounded hard working player. Bradley knows how to get on-base and plays stellar defense. There is nothing not to like about the left handed hitting, right handed throwing outfielder. In fact, I would go as far to say that I believe he’s ready to make a legitimate impact on the major league level. So why not give him the nod at the end of Spring Training? It’s simple: I don’t see the benefit of starting Bradley’s service-time clock when he will only serve a part-time player. Jonny Gomes, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Shane Victorino make up your outfield. Barring injury, count on Bradley playing in Rhode Island, not Boston.

Weekend News

Photo via milb.com

–There will not be a competition for the starting shortstop position in Spring Training, according to GM Ben Cherington. Stephen Drew will be the guy, barring injury. That’s bad news for Jose Iglesias.

–Staying on the subject of shortstops, last year’s first round pick, Deven Marrero, received an invite to major league camp. No big deal, right? Not so fast. Marrero is the first position player to be invited to major league Spring Training in the year after he was drafted since Scott Hatteberg in 1992. Marrero is 22 years-old and played in only 64 games last year. Dude must be thrilled.

Here is what Cherington had to say about Marrero’s invitation: “Typically, it’s not something we do very much, bringing a draftee from the previous year into camp. We felt like in this case, we knew him well enough because we had scouted him all the way back to high school, and he’d been through a lot and played a lot of baseball at a high level — college, Team USA — and played a premium position. We just wanted to get him exposed to the major-league staff and felt like it was appropriate to do in this case.”

–Most Red Sox followers were extremely surprised about the news regarding Marrero when the non-roster invites were announced. I was more surprised that Bryce Brentz was not included. He participated in the rookie development program in Boston earlier this offseason–all signs pointed towards the power hitter getting the nod to report to big league camp. As it turns out, Brentz shot himself in the leg while cleaning one of his guns. Although he is not 100 percent, the accident will not keep him on the shelf for long.

Daisuke Matsuzaka signed a minor league deal with the Indians. He will be reunited with former manager Terry Francona. We imagine Tito is just thrilled.

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