Talkin Sox with Dan

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Archive for the category “Game Threads & Commentary”

Youkilis Returns

It feels like it was just three weeks ago when I was driving home after a nice weekend on the Cape, listening to the WEEI broadcast of the Red Sox, Braves game. Kevin Youkilis, in what proved to be his final at-bat in Boston uniform, tripled. Nick Punto, who pinch ran for the bulky corner infielder, met Youkilis, his good friend, with a hug at third base. As he jogged off of the field, Youk emotionally acknowledged the Fenway Park crowd that stood together in praise of the two-time World Series champion.

Wait a second. It was three weeks ago.

Roughly 21 days does not provide enough of separation to truly understand and appreciate Youkilis’ body of work in a Red Sox uniform. Is it enough time to analyze his injury plagued and trade-shortened 2012 campaign? Not a chance. Wait till after the season.

The Red Sox are in the middle of a playoff race. Make fun of the second Wild Card all you want, but the fact remains that it exists, and it’s just as good as the first spot. That’s where fans’ sight should be set–making the playoffs.

Look, I’m as much of a Youk fan as the next guy, but one standing ovation during his first at-bat is more than enough.

He is now a contributing member of the opposition. The White Sox are more than in the hunt, and tonight represents the next opportunity for the Red Sox to record a win, to get closer to the dance.

And that’s what it’s all about, right? Winning ballgames, making the tournament, and seeing what happens once you get there.

So whether you’re at Fenway, watching on television, or listening in the car, tip your cap to Youk, but then move on. Hope the opposing third baseman grounds out to short and then makes an errant throw in the field.

Save the gushing for off-season NESN programming.

Sunday’s Notes

The Red Sox lost last night 5-3 at the Trop in St. Petersburg, FL., which is a total diaper of a stadium. Will Middlebrooks hit a big two-out two-strike two-run home run. The blast was a big hit within the context of the game but also personally for the young third baseman who is attempting to fill the void left by one of Boston’s most beloved sports figures in recent history, Kevin Youkilis, who returns to Fenway Park in a White Sox uniform on Monday.

Here is more on the Red Sox.

Josh Beckett will get the ball today, opposed by James Shields. Beckett is typically excellent against the Rays, especially at their place. He will look to rebound after letting up five first inning runs to the Yankees two Fridays ago. You will remember that it was Beckett who threw one-hit complete game gem against the Rays last year. He was one Reid Brignac dribbler up the third baseline away from being perfect. If you don’t remember the game, that’s okay. It may have something to do with the fact that he did it the same night the Bruins won the Stanley Cup.

—The Red Sox have a slew of difficult games on the docket, including today. As the trade deadline approaches, the front office will have some difficult decisions to make. If baseball operations on 4 Yawkey Way believes that this team can not only make the playoffs but compete for a World Series in October, then they should go out and seek a pitcher like Matt Garza to augment a starting staff that has struggled. If they feel as though this year’s team does not possess the capability of playing up to the level of the Yankees, Rangers, and Angels, GM Ben Cherington and company should look to sell some pieces. The latter option is not very likely as Red Sox brass is dedicated to putting a winning team on the field, or at least a group that can successfully be sold as a winning team. My point is simple: Pick one or the other. Fold your hand or go all in.

—For a period of time, just about a month ago, the Red Sox had gotten in the habit of taking two out of three games from teams. They were winning series after series, typically against teams who were just as good them or worse. Today is a great opportunity to get back into that groove.

Franklin Morales has been solid since Bobby Valentine moved him to the rotation. However, the story does not simply end there. Earlier this season, the Red Sox had the luxury (and I mean that literally–it was a luxury) of having three capable lefties in the bullpen. The aforementioned Morales, Andrew Miller, and Rich Hill were all capable of coming into a game to get one tough left handed hitter or multiple batters. Hill has since moved to the disabled list, and Morales is firmly entrenched in the rotation. Miller is the only left-handed weapon that Valentine has left at his disposal. As a result, the manager has to be much more conservative with how and when he calls upon his lone lefty. It is a small issue but one that looms large as games move towards the later innings.

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.

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.

Beat the Bad Teams

The Mariners are in Boston for a quick two-game series. Aside from bringing the typical rainy Seattle weather to the Hub, the Mariners also tote an underwhelming 16-20 record to town.

I’m going to keep this simple. The M’s are bad. They have some nice pieces like Jesus Montero and Dustin Ackley, but they hit like I did in high school. Which is bad. Very, very bad. The Mariners rank 29th in on-base percentage and 27th in team batting average.

Felix Hernandez pitched in the Bronx on Friday night, rendering him unavailable in the brief series against the Sox. Bobby Valentine’s boys have no business letting the M’s walk out of Boston with a win.

On Monday, Jon Lester will toe the rubber for the home team. The following day, the much-maligned Josh Beckett will get the ball. The Mariners will counter with Jason Vargas, who has tossed well as of late, and Blake Beavan. If this were a game of Texas Hold ‘Em, the Sox have hole hards of Ace, King, while the M’s were dealt a three and an eight, off suit.

It will be up to Lester to start acting like belongs in the same zip code as other aces, something he has yet to show me this year. Beckett, who I still have faith in, will be pitching on Tuesday with a purpose, unless he really is a zombie that lacks a pulse.

Taking the final two games of the home stand would be big as the local nine ready themselves to head south to Tampa Bay as they embark on a tough eight-game road trip. Philadelphia and Baltimore follow.

If the Red Sox hope to get back into contention this season, the performance of Lester and Beckett are paramount. And if they can’t beat the bad teams, they’re certainly not going to beat the good ones.

Pre-series Notes 5/4/12 — Orioles vs. Red Sox

The Baltimore Orioles come to Fenway for a three-game set, beginning tonight. The Birds are in second place in the AL East and seven games over .500 (16-9), while the Sox continue to toil in the basement (11-13). Below are my thoughts and some things to look for over the course of the next three days.

Dustin Pedroia is batting cleanup tonight. He is a career .397 hitter out of the four-hole. I like the move by Bobby Valentine.

—Dan Duquette returns to Yawkey Way as the GM of the Orioles. The Massachusetts native was fired by this ownership group in 2002. Theo Epstein attracts the majority, if not all, of the credit for winning the World Series in 200 (from a front office perspective, of course), but it should not be forgotten that the Duke is responsible for bringing in many of the major contributors to that team. It’s good to see a guy who obviously loves the game of baseball get back in the industry in a major way.

—Don’t bet on baseball. But if you’re going to despite my advice, bet on the Red Sox tonight. Jon Lester is 14-0 against the O’s. The offense has beat up on left handed pitching in the early going. Wei-Yin Chen is a rookie southpaw.

—Here are your pitching matchups, courtesy of the Boston Globe’s Peter Abraham:

Friday: LHP Wei-Yin Chen (2-0, 2.22) vs. LHP Jon Lester (1-2, 4.65), 7:10 p.m

Saturday: RHP Jason Hammel (3-1, 1.97) vs. RHP Aaron Cook (2012 debut), 1:10 p.m

Sunday: RHP Tommy Hunter (2-1, 4.26) vs. RHP Clay Buchholz (3-1, 8.69), 1:35 p.m

—Buchholz is the pitcher to monitor over the weekend. He needs a quality start. Another poor outing could seriously result in a demotion to Triple-A Pawtucket.

—Despite the Orioles’ impressive record, they are not a good team. The Red Sox need to take two out of three over the weekend. Anything less would be a failure.

Will Middlebrooks will bat second tonight as he hopes to inject some energy in this veteran team. He looked good in his debut on Wednesday against the Athletics. Kevin Youkilis is still this team’s third baseman for 2012, but Middlebrooks is a purebred. The guy plays good defense and has shown the ability to hit a ton a very shallow position (third base). Red Sox fans will enjoy watching him play in the short term and especially in the future.

Matt Wieters is the Orioles’ catcher and is an absolute stud. In 45 games against the local nine, Wieters has hit at a smooth .323 clip with three home runs. Red Sox pitchers will attempt to keep the young backstop at bay, but it won’t be easy.

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.

Put This One on Bobby

Well that didn’t go as planned.

The Red Sox notched their first win of the young season two nights ago. They pitched well and showed some late-inning heart with their bats. Naturally, as a fan, you expected the Olde Towne Team to parlay the momentum from Monday night into Tuesday. Two straight wins is one away from a winning streak, after all.

That didn’t happen.

Daniel Bard pitched fine. He induced a number of ground balls that found holes through the Red Sox infield. Bard certainly did not have a great deal of luck on his side tonight. Nevertheless, he pitched relatively well. The tall righty, however, was not the story.

The Red Sox lost 7-3 last night because of some gross mismanagement on the part of Bobby Valentine.

Let’s take a closer look.

With the score 3-1 in favor of the Blue Jays in the bottom of the sixth and Bard’s pitch count in the mid-80′s, Edwin Encarnacion walked. Promptly, Encarnacion stole second. Brett Lawrie followed with an infield single to shortstop that allowed Encarnacion to move to third. Runners on the corners. No one out. Left handed hitting Eric Thames due up.

Valentine came out to take the ball from a noticeably upset Bard–as a disclaimer, I don’t care if Bard wasn’t happy with Valentine’s decision–finish your start, and there isn’t an issue, Dan. The skipper summoned lefty Justin Thomas from the bullpen (more on this later). Thames, a left handed hitter who hits miserably against left handed pitching, was provided a free pass by Thomas. Bases loaded, still no one out. Valentine left Thomas in to face J.P. Arencibia. Matt Albers and his sinker was ready in the bullpen, but for some inexplicable reason Valentine pushed his chips in the pot with Thomas. Arencibia singled to right center, scoring two runs. Colby Rasmus would plate a run with a sacrifice fly. 6-1 Blue Jays.

Gag.

Here are the issues. Thomas should not be on this team. He’s a left handed pitcher. I get it. And it’s real neat. But he’s not a major league pitcher on the Boston Red Sox. Scott Atchison, like Thomas, does not have great raw stuff, but the former is a proven pitcher who has contributed on the major league level. Thomas, on the other hand, is a warm cadaver body that happens to use his left hand to pitch. That’s it.

Valentine and the Red Sox are carrying 13 pitchers. That is ridiculous. It is a noticeable flaw with this roster.

I can’t speak for Valentine, but I firmly believe that going to Thomas (and sticking with him) in a tight game is a result of the manager feeling like he has to keep his guys fresh. In the same fashion that Valentine used Nick Punto, Darnell McDonald, and Kelly Shoppach in Sunday’s game, he opted to go with (and stick with) Thomas tonight even though he may not have been the best option because he wants to keep his secondary players fresh. Unfortunately for Valentine, position players and bullpen arms are inherently different.

To summarize, Thomas should have never even had the opportunity to throw a pitch in a high leverage situation tonight. He should be in Pawtucket. That is on the guys in baseball operations.

Thomas should have gotten yanked after failing to do his job (walking Thames). That is on Valentine.

Pre-game Notes 4/11/12 — Red Sox vs. Blue Jays

Here are some quick pre-game thoughts as Daniel Bard takes the hill for the first time as a starter in the regular season. Rapid fire. Let’s go.

  • Nick Punto will fill in for Mike Aviles tonight. Aviles has a no-big-deal ankle issue. He turned it last night. Gordon Edes of ESPN Boston tweeted back to TSWD as to exactly when it occurred.

  • Ryan Sweeney was tabbed as a quality defensive outfielder who did not carry a big stick. Pfffff. So far so good from the big lefty. He has come up with big hits early this season. I like what I see, so far.
  • Expect a high scoring game tonight. Bard, like I said, is making his first start as, well…a starter. He’s been known to walk a guy or seven. He will likely be working with guys on base for the majority of the night. On the other side, Kyle Drabek is on the bump for the Jays, and the majority of the middle of the order hitters for the Sox have good numbers against him. I’ll take Sox tonight 8-6.
  • As always, it will be interesting to see how the game goes if the Sox are in a save situation. Alfredo Aceves notched a clean final frame last night. Keep an eye on how he performs in back-to-back save situations.
  • With the W last night, I hope this squad loosens up a bit. It’s important to have fun. And winning begets fun.

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