Posted on: June 11, 2010 1:04 pm
In the words of Nationals' radio play-by-play broadcaster Charlie Slowes following the remarkable debut by Stephen Strasburg on Tuesday in Washington D.C., "There's a new mayor in town, and the campaign took one night."
It is permissible to let our imaginations run wild with a player like Strasburg, and not just because everyone else is doing it. However, the fact remains that it is very unlikely that there is a player in baseball right now with the potential to hit 60 home runs, which has long been the most alluring statistical figure in baseball. But the last two A.L. home run champions (37 for Miguel Cabrera in 2008, 39 for Carlos Pena and Mark Teixeira in 2009) have only totaled 76 home runs, which would break the standing home run record by only 2!
As baseball fans, we have to look elsewhere from home runs for a national story. The past few years, the age of the young pitcher has been dominating the national scene. Tim Lincecum has two Cy Young awards by age 25, Zack Grienke took home the Cy Young at age 25 and posted a ridiculous ERA for the A.L., and N.L. teams this season can speak to the utter dominance by 26-year-old phenom Ubaldo Jimenez.
The strikeout has become the new home run. The last generation of great pitchers (Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine, Randy Johnson) have now been replaced by a younger ensemble of hard-throwing hurlers. It is obvious to say that every team wants Stephen Strasburg, and not so that local diners can cash in on a wide variety of sandwiches called "The Strasburger." Every teams wants him for the national draw that he is getting, in addition to the seemingly limitless pitching talent.
So, the question is: Who would you be willing to part with for Stephen Strasburg?
The Boston Red Sox have 25 players on their active roster, and a total of 34 players have donned a uniform so far this season. They have seven minor league affliates, which would put the total number of payers affliated with the Boston Red Sox at around 200.
There is only one player that I would not give up under any circumstances, even if the trade was 1 to 1, and that is Jon Lester. Lester has, believe it or not, the exact same potential that Strasburg does, except that Lester has already begun to follow through with success. Does this sound crazy?
The sport of professional baseball is over 150 years old. Using <a href="http://mlb.mlb.com/stats/historical/player_stats.jsp?c_id=mlb&baseballScope=mlb&teamPosCode=all&statType=Overview&sitSplit=&venueID=&timeFrame=3&timeSubFrame2=0&Submit=Submit" target="_blank">mlb.com's historical statistics page , they list approximately 17,200 hitters who have recorded an at-bat in the majors and about 8,350 pitchers who have recorded an out, with incomplete records dating back to 1871. Yes, there will be some duplicates, but we can very roughly estimate that somewhere around 20,000 people have played professional baseball. Of that number, who has the highest winning percentage with at least 100 starts?
If you guessed Stephen Strasburg, well you'd be wrong. If you guessed Jon Lester, you've earned a sticker for today. With a career record of 49-18, Lester's .731 winning percentage is higher than anybody with at least that many starts. Oh, and he also happens to be leading the A.L. in strikeouts.
Lester has everything that Strasburg has - the size, the pitching repertoire - without the same fanfare because he wasn't the number one overall pick. Lester also has done all of his work in the best division in baseball since he came up, so imagine what his numbers would have been like if Boston played in the N.L. West. Lester has not pitched his last no hitter, and he will win at least one Cy Young Award. At 26 and with the record he has already acquired, Lester is Boston's Strasburg.
As for the rest of the players in Boston, it would depend on what else was included in the deal, but the only other player I would not trade, unless it was 1 to 1 (which would never happen), would be Dustin Pedroia. Rookie of the Year, MVP, and a Gold Glove already, he has batting titles and several more GGs in his future.
The next closest player that I would have initial problems dealing away would be Kevin Youkilis. He plays two positions, is a very consistent .300+ hitter with one of, if not the best, eye in the game, he has the potential to hit 40 home runs and is the cleanup hitter on the team that has scored the most runs in the A.L. this year. But, and this is somewhat surprising, Youkilis is already 31, which means that he is in his prime right now. Nobody expects him to fall off anytime soon, but we said the same thing about David Ortiz, whose last impact year came when he was 31, and we all feel that at 34, he is exceptionally over the hill.
I was thinking that, with respect to the almost 200 players in the Sox farm system, there would be some that I would hold onto. I might have to hold onto Casey Kelly, but he is only in his first year being a full time pitcher, while around the same age as Strasburg.
Lester is a dominant pitcher already, and he would be the one player from this Red Sox team that I would not give up for Stephen Strasburg. <!-- EndFragment-->
Tags: Boston Red Sox, Carlos Pena, Casey Kelly, Charlie Slowes, Cy Young, David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Greg Maddux, Jon Lester, Kevin Youkilis, Mark Teixeira, Miguel Cabrera, Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens, Stephen Strasburg, Tim Lincecum, Tom Glavine, Ubaldo Jimenez, Washington Nationals, Zack Grienke
Posted on: January 2, 2010 5:17 pm
The Baseball America Prospect rankings were released last week, a list coveted by fans and media, but otherwise superfluous for the organizations themselves, who have their own rankings and plans for their players.
The Red Sox minor league system has some gems, but the conclusions that BA came to should be slightly disturbing. The list of the top ten prospects, as I say, seems strong, with names that we have heard regularly, such as Casey Kelly, the shortstop-turned-pitcher, and Jose Iglesias, the first round pick and shortstop of the future.
Ryan Westmoreland, an outfielder from Rhode Island, is listed as the best prospect in the system, the best hitter for average as well as the best athlete.
What should come as disturbing are what BA projects for the Sox offensive power hopes in the near future. Lars Anderson, last year’s top prospect, has long been touted as a power hitting first baseman, someone who can take the reigns at first while Kevin Youkilis moves to third. Unexpectedly, Anderson was listed as the Sox best power-hitting prospect.
Wait a minute. Lars Anderson?? The same Lars Anderson who dropped four spots from last year’s rankings? The same Lars Anderson who mustered a whopping nine home runs in 512 plate appearances last season at double-A Portland?
Can’t be. That can’t be the best in the Sox minor league system.
Believe it. The Sox are in serious offensive trouble. Their organizational depth is astronomically weighted against the power-hitting side of the game. As if this was not apparent through the raw rankings of the prospects, let’s take a look at what BA projects Boston’s 2012 lineup to look like.
The pitching situation is relatively constant with Casey Kelly the only new name in the rotation who is not there now. Victor Martinez, Dustin Pedroia and Youkilis remain the Sox’s catcher, second and third basemen respectively, and Jacoby Ellsbury stays in center field.
Now to the unnerving bit. First baseman: Lars Anderson (9). Shortstop: Jose Iglesias (11-NCAA). Outfield: Reymond Fuentes (1) and Ryan Westmoreland (7). Designated Hitter: Josh Reddick (15).
The parenthetical numbers represent the number of home runs that each player achieved last season, with all but Iglesias’ occurring in the Sox farm system. If we combine those numbers to the totals achieved last year by the holdovers (Martinez, Pedroia, Youkilis, and Ellsbury), we get an astounding 116 home runs.
116 home runs. That would have put the Sox squarely in 29th place last season, ahead of only the New York Mets, who had an absolutely horrible rash of injuries that affectively removed the top half of their lineup at some point during the season.
So while Kelly and Junichi Tazawa are the only two pitchers listed in BA’s top ten Sox prospects, their farm system is not currently in a position to provide them with a 30 home run hitter. It is very much weighted toward the Ellsbury-esque model of player – fast, athletic and a contact hitter.
What does this mean for the next few seasons? Well, firstly we must take everything that Theo Epstein says about acquiring a power hitter.
Yes, I am talking about Adrian Gonzalez. Gonzalez will command a top-flight package, one that would involve at least two of the names on that list of best prospects. But the fact is that the Red Sox are offensively solid for the next few years, with the exception of a big-time bat.
Even though Epstein has said many things about the Sox with respect to how they will deal with their farm system, the only player who is likely a true “untouchable” is Kelly. Kelly was listed as having the best fastball, curveball, changeup and overall control, despite only spending half of his first profession year as a pitcher. Past him, anyone is a possibility.
Given the affordable price tag ($4.75 million in ’10), his outstanding offensive prowess (106 home runs over the past three seasons) as well as his defense (back-to-back Gold Gloves in ’08-09), a package that would bring in Gonzalez would have to be of the caliber of Westmoreland, Lars Anderson and Alex Wilson (0.50 ERA in 13 starts for single-A Lowell Spinners in ’09). The package would also probably include a major league player or upper level minor leaguer who can contribute immediately, such as a Fernando Cabrera (Pawtucket closer last season) or a Manny Delcarmen.
For the Sox, there is no such thing as overpaying for a player such as Gonzalez.
Tags: Adrian Gonzalez, Alex Wilson, Baseball America, Boston Red Sox, Casey Kelly, Dustin Pedroia, Fernando Cabrera, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jose Iglesias, Josh Reddick, Junichi Tazawa, Kevin Youkilis, Lars Anderson, Lowell Spinners, Manny Delcarmen, Portland Sea Dogs, Reymond Fuentes, Ryan Westmoreland, Victor Martinez
Posted on: December 14, 2009 7:04 pm
Edited on: December 14, 2009 7:06 pm
Tags: A.J. Burnett, Aroldis Chapman, Boston Red Sox, Clay Buchholz, Cliff Lee, Curtis Granderson, Daisuke Matsuzaka, David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, GM Meetings, Jason Bay, Johan Santana, John Lackey, Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, Kevin Youkilis, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Matt Holliday, Mike Lowell, New York Mets, New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, Roy Halladay, Scott Boras, Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers, Theo Epstein, Tim Wakefield, Toronto Blue Jays
Posted on: May 20, 2009 6:13 pm
Tonight is the 40th game of the season for the Red Sox, which means they have now completed one quarter of the 2009 season and here’s one look at how Boston has stacked up:
Offensively, the Red Sox have been solid in most areas, despite injuries and slumps to significant players. However, after one quarter, the Sox find themselves fifth in the A.L. in batting average, first in on-base percentage, fourth in OPS, fifth in home runs and fourth in runs scored. These are all good numbers and averages, but unfortunately for the Sox, the are often trailing in these categories to the Toronto Blue Jays, Tampa Bay Rays and in some of the statistics, the New York Yankees (needless to say, the A.L. East is a stacked division). Individually, the Sox are getting huge contributions from the people that we would most expect, with Jason Bay (second in the league in home runs, RBIs; third in OBP) leading the way. Mike Lowell has been much better than anticipated, not only ranking 12th in the A.L. in RBIs, but also playing in all but one of the Sox games, surprising after undergoing surgery in the off-season. Kevin Youkilis was the best hitter in baseball through the first 25 games of the season (leading the A.L. in BA, OBP, OPS) before landing on the disabled list with an oblique strain. While he has just returned to the Sox, it will be interesting to see if he continues being productive, as oblique injuries are some of the toughest to gauge and return from. Predictably, the Sox are getting sub-par performances from some players. Jason Varitek has showed some good power with five home runs, but his other numbers reflect last year’s offensive debacle. J.D. Drew is now in his third year of not producing his value, but a juggle of the lineup may increase his statistics. Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia are stalwarts at the top of the lineup, both hitting over .300 and setting the table for the offense. On the other side of things, the Sox bench and bit-players Rocco Baldelli, Jed Lowrie (before going on the disabled list), George Kotteras and Jeff Bailey (filling in for Youkilis) have all struggled offensivly. And that brings us to David Ortiz. Ortiz, as we all know, was benched for the Sox entire series with the Seattle Mariners because of his abysmal start to the season. Although now playing again, the Sox will have to make changes if Ortiz continues to struggle, and that means bumping him down in the lineup. The most likely scenario is switching him with Drew, who has done very well in his career in the no. 3 hole in the lineup. If the struggles continue, the Sox will need help from outside the organization because the bench is not getting the job done.
Grade: B - The Sox offense has won them games early on, but will need Youkilis and Bay to remain productive to pick up the slack for other hitters.
The starting pitching for the Sox has been, well, terrible in relation to pre-season expectations. Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, and Daisuke Matsuzaka, the Sox top three starters, all have ERAs well above five. Matsuzaka went on the disabled list with “shoulder fatigue” which was more likely an excuse to simply get him properly rested and ready for the start of the season which was interrupted by the World Baseball Classic. Beckett has pitched better than Lester has thus far, but both are struggling with command issues and leaving too many pitches up in the zone. Lester has already given up 10 home runs (he gave up 14 all of last year). If the top three in the rotation have been bad, then the Sox number five starter has been even worse. Brad Penny was thought of as a low-risk, high reward signing for the Sox when he came to Boston on a one-year contract. He has been knocked around in almost all of his starts and despite a 3-1 record, his ERA is an unsightly 6.69. With Michael Bowden and Clay Buchholz ranking 1 and 2 in the International League in ERA, the time may come very soon when Penny finds out what a “low-risk” contract is all about. Tim Wakefield has been excellent all season, and the one starter that has really pulled his weight. He tossed back-to-back complete games earlier this season, one of which was a no-hitter for seven innings. He leads the rotation in ERA and in innings pitched. Justin Masterson has filled in well for the injured Matsuzaka, but inconsistent; in four of his six starts he has yielded two runs or less, while he has given up six in each of the other two starts.
Grade: C- - The Sox have their top three starters are performing well below average, one starter performing well, and one performing badly. Change will come to the rotation if some of these starters continue to struggle.
The Sox bullpen was tabbed in spring training as one of the best in the majors, and they have certainly lived up to expectations. The overall bullpen ERA is second best in the A.L., and are getting key contributions from talented young arms. Manny Delcarmen and Ramon Ramirez have appeared in 37 games entering tonight, and both have ERAs under 1.00 and 26 holds between them. Hideki Okajima (2.89 ERA and 12 holds) and newly acquired Takashi Saito (3.86 ERA and 16 holds) have both been dependable in the late innings. The Sox’s bullpen overall ERA (3.01) is somewhat skewered by Javier Lopez, who is no longer with the team after being designated for assignment and now pitching for Pawtucket, and Hunter Jones, who was brought up as a long reliever to eat up innings after Masterson went to the rotation. Jones figures to be sent down now that Matsuzaka has returned and Masterson will be back in the bullpen. Uber-prospect Daniel Bard has been called up recently after Lopez’s demotion and will also contribute solid innings. Bard was the closer for Pawtucket, and posted a 1.12 ERA and six saves in 16 innings pitched while racking up a remarkable 29 strikeouts (16.3 strikeouts per nine-inning). Meanwhile, Jonathan Papelbon has closed the door with the same results as we are used to, leading the A.L. with 11 saves, but has had to labor significantly more through some of his appearances. Papelbon changed his deliver slightly so as to incorporate an off-speed pitch to compliment his fastball and splitter, but the result has been some wildness as he has already walked two more batters this season than he did all of last season. But again, the results have been fine, as he is always able to get himself out of seemingly any jam.
Grade: A - The Sox bullpen has been nothing short of outstanding, and with Bard and Masterson replacing Lopez and Jones, it will only continue to be one of the stronger aspects of this ball club.
Defense has been a bit of a concern for the Sox thus far, as they rank 11th in the A.L. in overall team fielding percentage. But, most of the problems are coming from the shortstop position. With Lowrie out for a couple of months, and Lugo also hurting, the job fell to Nick Green for much of the month of April. Green is a natural second basement, and it has shown in his defense as he has racked up an A.L. leading eight errors. Since his return, Lugo has been little better, if not worse, recording four errors in only 12 starts at the position. Mike Lowell has played better than his numbers will indicate, and has made several higlight reel plays at the hot corner. Bailey has played above average defense in the place of Youkilis. The outfield has been excellent, with Drew committing the only error among them, and Ellsbury will once again be a serious contender for a Gold Glove. George Kotteras does have six passed balls, but has done an excellent job handling Wakefield all season.
Grade: B - The defense has been solid at times, but shortstop, like catcher and centerfield, is a critical position defensively and that the Sox have a huge hole there is a problem that likely won’t be addressed until Lowrie’s return.
Due to injuries, the Sox bench has become at times the Sox starting lineup. There was not many other options that Bailey at first, and despite his .190 average, he does provide a source of power at the bottom of the lineup. Green is a good hitter, and will be a solid backup later in the season to several positions, including in the outfield. Rocco Baldelli has had to play probably more than was expected, and struggling subbing as the designated hitter, but he is much better suited to play occasionally and in the outfield. Kotteras is having his struggles offensively, but the time has long been since the Sox looked for offense from the catcher position.
Grade: C+ - The bench has had to play more than they should at this point, but Green and Baldelli will provide offense off the bench later in the season, and the return of Mark Kotsay will also bolster the Sox’s depth.
Overall Grade: B+
The Sox find themselves a few games back of the Toronto Blue Jays, but ahead of both the Yankees and Rays. The Sox desperately need better performances from their starting rotation, but otherwise find themselves at the level of production they expected. The rash of injuries to begin the season seems to be clearing up, and it is essential to keep the players healthy and within their roles on the club.
Tags: Boston Red Sox, Brad Penny, Clay Buchholz, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Daniel Bard, David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, George Kotteras, Hideki Okajima, Hunter Jones, J.D. Drew, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jason Bay, Jason Varitek, Javier Lopez, Jed Lowrie, Jeff Bailey, Jon Lester, Jonathan Papelbon, Josh Beckett, Julio Lugo, Justin Masterson, Kevin Youkilis, Manny Delcarmen, Mark Kotsay, Michael Bowden, Mike Lowell, New York Yankees, Nick Green, Ramon Ramirez, Rocco Baldelli, Takashi Saito, Tampa Bay Rays, Tim Wakefield, Toronto Blue Jays
Posted on: May 16, 2009 2:28 pm
Everyone is well aware of the season long struggles of Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz, whose numbers, .208-0-15, would be cause for grumblings even for a player such as Jason Varitek, who also struggled heavily last season.
Manager Terry Francona benched Ortiz for Friday's series opener versus the Seattle Mariners, and said that Ortiz could sit for more than just the one game. The benching follows Thursday's afternoon extra inning affair against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in which Ortiz went 0-7 which three strikeouts while tying Trot Nixon for the franchise record with 12 runners left on base.
For the Sox game against the Mariners, J.D. Drew was moved upinto the number three spot in place of Ortiz. Francona always try to alternate batters in his lineup, left-right-left-right, as much as possible, and with the lefty Drew, Francona was able to keep his alternating batting order.
Last season, when Ortiz was on the disabled list for a wrist injury, Drew filled in predominantly in the number three hole. Everyone remembers the scorching month of June that Drew put up, with the line of stats: .337/.462/.848 for a 1.310 OPS, 12 home runs, 21 extra base hits, 21 base on balls and 27 RBIs.
All of those numbers came from hitting in the number three hole, and when Ortiz returned, Drew went back into his customary role in the bottom half of the lineup, and had what we have come to know as typical J.D. Drew Red Sox numbers: a high on-base percentage, few extra base hits, and untimely hits.
In the number three hole for the first time this season last night, Drew went 3-5 with a double, run scored and an RBI.
It may seem as though this is looking into too small a sample, but this is not just a coincidence.
The Red Sox line-up is in rough shape these days anyway, because of injuries to Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia. In the place of Ortiz last night, Rocco Baldelli got the start as the designated hitter and batted fifth. If we sub Ortiz back in that lineup, and put Youkilis in (due back from the disabled list in about a week) we'll get:
1. Jacoby Ellsbury
6. Jason Bay
7. Mike Lowell
8. Jason Varitek
9. Julio Lugo
Per Francona's alternating hitters rule, the line-up in that respect remains unchanged, with the only two hitters from the same side of the plate in a row is Bay and Lowell.
This line-up does several things. First, (and most obviously) it takes advantage of Drew's prowess in the number three hole and allows his RBI opportunities with Ellsbury (who is, by the way, batting .307 on the year while trailing only Carl Crawford for the major league lead in stolen bases) and Pedroia so often on base.
Second, Ortiz will still be thought of as somewhat of a threat to opposing pitchers, as evidenced by the 20 walks he has drawn. Bay will provide protection for him, so pitchers cannot simply throw around him. The rest of the line-up remains unchanged.
The only problem with this is that Francona is a player's manager. He has said that he has a great deal of loyalty to Ortiz and is not going to give up on him only six weeks into the season. But, if Ortiz continues to struggle and Drew continues to be hot in the three spot, the change must happen for the Sox to really get the most out of their offense.
Posted on: January 20, 2009 8:18 pm
The Boston Red Sox resigned All-Star closer Jonathan Papelbon to a one year, $6.25 million contract. Papelbon has been the Sox' lights-out ninth inning man since 2006, and has made the All-Star game in each season. His career 1.84 earned run average ranks him second among major league pitchers since 1900 who have thrown at least 200 innings. He is only 29 saves away from establishing the Red Sox franchise record for career saves.
Papelbon's salary last year? $800k.
Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein understands the importance of avoiding drawn out arbitration battles, which lead to dissent among players and an altogether uncomfortable player-team relationship. So while the New York Yankees were signing seemingly all of the available free agents and their immediate families, Epstein focused on securing home-grown talent. Reigning MVP Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis, the third runner up for MVP, both completed long term deals that will delay their potential free agency considerably.
But Papelbon has been vocal about his salary and how it does not represent his performance on the field. And, considering that he has earned roughly $1.5 million while established himself as a premier closer, it is easy to see his argument.
During Spring Training before the 2008 season, Papelbon had this to say about his future with the Red Sox: "I can’t sell myself short. I know they’re not going to give me what I want, so the question becomes, ‘How close can we get?’ If I can’t get close, they can just renew me." [ref]
Papelbon and the Sox came to the one-year, $800,000 contract a few days later. Though happy to be with the Red Sox, he was reportedly unhappy with the figures, but having too few years of service to be eligible for arbitration, he had to settle. The contract nearly doubled his salary from the previous year.
However, the Sox reluctance to sign Papelbon to a long term contract should be considered worrisome by Sox fans. With relief pitching being in such limited amounts, and Papelbon entering the prime of his career, there is no reason to believe that a team like the Los Angeles Angels, or Detroit Tigers or even, (gasp!) the New York Yankees will not be quick to offer Papelbon several years with upwards of $12 million per year. (Mariano Rivera can't pitch forever)
As much as Sox fans believe that there are certain young players who are "untouchables," both in trades and free agency, and that the Sox have stuck to their guns with most of those players, Papelbon is no longer a prospect.
Perhaps Epstein is hoping to get one more year out of Papelbon for relatively cheap until he is forced to come up with a long term contract, but whatever the rationale is, Sox fans may be seeing Cinco-Ocho suit up for another team in the near future.
Posted on: May 11, 2008 11:52 pm
As promised, here is the Red Sox first quarter report card for this season after 40 games.
Starting Pitching: A-
Relief Pitching: C
I am putting this report card on my blog, which I do with every recap, and you can access at the last link at the bottom of the recap. Feel free to respond to this report card here, or go to my blog.
Concerning tonight’s game, the Sox received their worst start of the year. Tim Wakefield did not make it out of the third inning. While he normally does well in indoor stadiums, he struggled mightly in the Metrodome. His knuckleballs were frequently left up in the zone, and the control of his fastball was off all night. Wakefield threw an astonishing amount of fastballs, or as Joe Morgan aptly called them “straightballs” because, at 74 MPH, they are hardly blistering. One of the home runs he gave up was on one such fastball that was nicely grooved, belt high. But, Wakefield looked like he was laboring from the first inning, and in this case, the knuckleball just did not flutter in the Sox favor.
Tags: Boston Red Sox, Brandon Moss, Bryan Corey, Clay Buchholz, Coco Crisp, Craig Hansen, Daisuke Matsuzaka, David Aardsma, David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Hideki Okajima, J.D. Drew, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jason Varitek, Javier Lopez, Jed Lowrie, Joe Morgan, Jon Lester, Jonathan Papelbon, Josh Beckett, Julian Tavarez, Julio Lugo, Kevin Cash, Kevin Youkilis, Manny Delcarmen, Manny Ramirez, Metrodome, Mike Lowell, Mike Timlin, Sean Casey, Terry Francona, Tim Wakefield
Posted on: May 9, 2008 11:28 am
One night after Clay Buchholz struggled, Josh Beckett put the Sox starters back on their impressive track with a seven inning, one run and eight strikeout performance. After struggling a bit in his first two outings after missing an extended amount of spring training, Beckett’s last four starts have all gone for at least seven innings, and he has given up just nine runs in 30 innings, a 2.70 ERA with 31 strikeouts. But from Beckett’s starts, which have been comparable to those from last year, the biggest improvement he has made is his ability to distribute his pitches more effectively and go deeper into games. One of the reasons that hurt his Cy Young Award chances last year was the fact that he had pitched in more than 40 fewer innings than winner C.C. Sabathia. However this year, Beckett has averaged seven innings per start while his pitch count is right around 100. Being a strikeout pitcher (averaging about one punch-out per inning), it is exceptionally difficult to be that effective. He made vast improvements last year than from his first year in the A.L., and if he can continue going seven innings in each of his starts, he may find himself in a better position for a Cy Young.
The Sox lineup banged out 13 hits against Tigers’ pitching, but only managed five runs. They left 10 runners on base, and missed out on some good scoring opportunities. Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz were stranded in scoring position after they had reached there with none out and Ortiz laced a double into the right field corner. Kevin Youkilis then struck out, Mike Lowell popped out and J.D. Drew also struck out. Considering that they were facing a pitcher who, to that point in his career, had only recorded five outs, they Sox should have gotten something out of that situation. We have seen in this series, from both teams, the shaky situation of bullpen pitching in the majors, and the notion that no lead seems to large to overcome. Last night, Jonathan Papelbon did have his “A” game. But, a simple check-swing mistake ground ball and an error lead to the loss. We saw in the beginning of the series, and also in last night’s game, the Tigers’ bullpen struggle heavily. Since it seems like the game can turn on such small events when the bullpen takes over, it is very important for the Sox to hit when it matters most, and not just boost their statistics.
Although the Sox will never get rid of him, if Youkilis had to find a new team to play for, it would be one of the easiest decisions in his life. Most hitters simply develop a place on the road that they are very comfortable hitting in, and Youkilis has found that place in Detroit. He has only hit 44 home runs in his career, but eight of them have come in Detroit. Youkilis does not have more than two home runs at any other road park. It is especially strange because even though the Tigers have done a lot to make the ballpark more hitter friendly, it is still a difficult place to hit home runs, and it much like a mirror image of Fenway’s dimensions. It is 345 feet down the left field line, and quickly juts out to 370 in the gap. Youkilis, who is not a power hitter and does not drive the ball with considerable force, has found some strange but incredible groove here. These home runs here would make sense if they were at Fenway, because with the power of his swing coming almost entirely from his upper body, it would be easy to lift fly balls over the Green Monster. Youkilis is in the top ten in the A.L. in nearly every offensive category, including batting average, home runs, hits, RBIs, runs scored and walks, and nobody can remember the last time he made an error. (Unlike Julio Lugo, who now has half of the Sox 20 errors on the season – as a team, the Tigers have only made 13).