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Tag:Hideki Okajima
Posted on: May 20, 2009 6:13 pm
 

Red Sox First Quarter Report Card

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:

Offense:

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.

Starting Rotation:

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.

Relief Pitching:

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:
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.

Bench:
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.

Posted on: May 11, 2008 11:52 pm
 

Red Sox Recap and 1st Quarter Report Card

As promised, here is the Red Sox first quarter report card for this season after 40 games.

Starting Pitching: A-
The Red Sox starting pitching has been better than anticipated, with the younger pitchers delivering better performances than was predicted. Josh Beckett missed a few starts, but has rounded into All-Star form and seems poised for another run for the Cy Young Award. Daisuke Matsuzaka has made a lot of improvements from his first year in the majors and has jumped out to a 6-0, but, leading the league in walks, he has still been shaky at times. But together, they look to be as dominant as any 1-2 punch in the A.L. Tim Wakefield has had a typical season thus far, and at 41 years old, that is all the Red Sox had hoped for. Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz have both flashed the signs that they are ready to be front end of the rotation starters, but also showed that they are in their first full season in the majors. There is no question about their stuff, but if the Sox want to go deep into the playoffs, they need more consistency from the back end of the rotation.

Relief Pitching: C
And this may be generous. The Sox have had very few arms in the bullpen where they feel secure that they can hold the lead. Hideki Okajima and Jonathan Papelbon have been very good for most of the season, although they are likely being overused due to the lack of any other relievers stepping up and getting outs. Manny Delcarmen was supposed to help with the late innings, but he has struggled heavily and has fallen from Terry Francona’s repertoire for tight contests. David Aardsma has been a pleasant surprise, but has struggled with his command. Javier Lopez has also performed well, albeit in very limited duty as a primarily left-handed specialist. A rotation of Craig Hansen and Bryan Corey (who the Sox traded to the Padres today) has shown that neither was ready for major league duty to this point. Mike Timlin started the year on the disabled list and has shown that he has in fact pitched in more games in the history of the major league with the expectation of about a dozen players. Julian Tavarez has been used very sparingly in long relief and has struggled because of his lack of work. The starters have produced a good number of seven inning starts, but that will not always be the case. Someone needs to fill in the middle innings and pitch when Okajima and Papelbon cannot, and those pitchers have not yet distinguished themselves.

Offense: A
The Red Sox have had the best offense in the majors through the first quarter of the season. Their team batting average is above .290 and they have a very good balance of power, run production and speed. Jacoby Ellsbury is doing everything that a leadoff hitter must do, which is get on base and score runs, and Dustin Pedroia leads the league in hits. David Ortiz was the only player to start slow, but he has gotten his swing back. Manny Ramirez should have been the player of the month, and Kevin Youkilis capped the first quarter by having a ridiculous week that vaulted him into the top ten in virtually every offensive category. J.D. Drew has played better so far, and Mike Lowell has come back well from the disabled list. Jason Varitek is, as he should be, focusing on the pitching staff, and the Sox have never looked for much production from him anyway. Julio Lugo has played better at times, but still continues to undercut expectations. If Ellsbury and Pedroia can continue to set the table, the Sox will have an excellent year offensively.

Bench: A
The bench players have been one of the strengths of the team this year. Coco Crisp has been sharing time with Ellsbury in center, and has played with good intensity and has hit over .300. Sean Casey filled in exceptionally when Lowell was on the disabled list, and his replacement, Jed Lowrie, also showed that he was capable of playing on the major league level. Brandon Moss did nothing wrong during his time, and should be able looking for another call-up before the year is over. Even Kevin Cash has performed very well, both in his first year handling Wakefield’s knuckleball, but also at the plate, batting near .400. It is a very comforting luxury for Francona to be able to look to his bench whenever he needs and still feel confident, and also in the young call-ups in the chance of injuries.

Defense: B+
The Sox defense has been good, expect for one man, and that would be Julio Lugo. The Sox have 21 errors, and Lugo has 11 of them. He just seems very reluctant fielding grounders. Most of Lugo’s errors before this season were due to his throws over to first, but this year’s errors have been fielding balls hit to him. Other than Lugo, the rest of the infield’s defense has been good, and Youkilis has been perfect as usual. In the outfield, there have been few mistakes. Ellsbury and Crisp provide Gold-Glove caliber defense and the ability to cover a lot of ground. Drew plays right field well, and Ramirez’s defense in left is sometimes convoluted but for the most part satisfactory. Without Lugo’s errors, the Sox would have a much more respectable overall fielding percentage near the league lead.

Overall: A-
They do have the best record in the A.L., and are likely the best team in the majors right now. They get a minus next to that A because the Diamondbacks have a better record, and because their relievers have struggled so much. They have good enough offense and starting pitching to get them through a seven game playoff series right now, but that could change come October. If they can add another reliever at the trading deadline, it would go great lengths to help the Sox out, but we saw that backfire last year. Considering the injuries, the illnesses and beginning the year in Japan, the Sox are sitting in a pretty good spot right now.

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.

Look for this recap following the series finale against the Twins as the Sox go for the split. (To view all previous recaps, follow this link to my blog.)
Keep the Faith.

Posted on: May 5, 2008 11:53 pm
 

Red Sox Recap 5-5-08

The Red Sox won the series opener against the Tigers on the heels of timely hitting and an up-and-down pitching effort.

Daisuke Matsuzaka had one of the most bizarre pitching lines of the season. He only allowed one run on two hits, but his pitch count soared to 109 because of the eight walks he allowed. Usually when a pitcher’s command is as off as his was tonight, the pitcher generally pays for his mistakes. But he got help from his defense and was able to limit the damage as only one of the batters he walked came around to score. It goes without saying that Matsuzaka had very little in the tank for tonight’s game, but it has to be encouraging that he only gave up one run while being so wild. It shows that when his pitches do find their way over the plate, opposing hitters have a tough time making good contact. Matsuzaka has been wild this season, and now leads the A.L. in walks (Jon Lester is tied for second), but there was very clearly something wrong with him. This was the first night since he has been with the Sox that he looked visibly upset on the mound. He was not getting squeezed by the home plate umpire Gary Cederstrom, but he was very frustrated with himself, being unable to throw strikes consistently. He was stellar in his last start, although he had skipped the start previous to that because of flu-like symptoms, but whether there was something wrong with him tonight, or because of something he did during the week, tonight was almost brutal to watch.

With Brandon Moss headed to the disabled list because of an appendectomy, the Sox recalled reliever Craig Hansen from triple-A Pawtucket. This is Hansen’s second stint with the Sox this season, as he pitched in the April 23 game against the Angels. Hansen’s health problems and subsequent struggles with the Sox have been well publicized, but he is trying to prove that he has come a long way and that he deserves a permanent spot on the 25 man roster. With the recent struggles of the bullpen, Hansen may in fact be playing for a spot. However, he gave up two runs today in 1 and two thirds innings pitched, which did little to help his cause. But it seems highly questionable the way the Sox have chose to use Hansen in the brief stints he has had with the big league club. Even going back to 2006 (he did not pitch in Boston in 2007), the Sox seemed intent on using him for multiple innings, as they have done for both of his appearances this year. This is similar treatment for what they tried with Manny Delcarmen at the beginning of his appearances last year. He struggled in that role, but performed better when he was coming in at the start of an inning, and pitching just the one inning. It seems that Hansen is a very similar pitcher to Delcarmen, and it is puzzling why they are sending him back out to pitch multiple innings. He recorded the first 1-2-3 inning of the day for Sox pitchers in the sixth, but gave up two runs when they sent him back out for the seventh. With Hansen’s addition, the Sox now have 13 pitchers, and given the deep starts that the Sox starters have been providing, the Sox middle relief is pretty well rested (Julian Tavarez has not pitched since April 24, a span of 11 games). There was no need for the Sox to bring him out to pitch the seventh as his future with the club will be as a one inning set-up man and substitute closer, neither of which will require him to pitch for more than one inning. With Hideki Okajima and Jonathan Papelbon both pitching now in consecqutive games, they will likely be unavailable for tomorrow’s game, meaning that the team will have to fill in without them if they have the lead late. With Hansen having thrown 29 pitches, he will also likely be unavailable. Hansen is still a good young prospect, but the Sox have got to use him correctly.

Look for this recap following tomorrow’s game against the Tigers as the Sox go for five straight wins. (To view all previous recaps, follow this link.)
Keep the Faith.

Posted on: May 4, 2008 6:07 pm
 

Red Sox Recap 5-4-08

The Red Sox completed the sweep of the Rays at Fenway. Some thoughts on the game:

Jon Lester delivered another impressive starting performance, and kept the Rays at bay while the offense steadily put up enough runs to come away with the win. With Lester’s performance, he lowers his ERA to 3.94. Josh Beckett now has the highest ERA among the Sox starters at 4.19. The Sox five starters’ combined ERA is a very impressive 3.69 (77 runs in 187.2 innings). Lester has played a much bigger role in the starting rotation than was anticipated in spring training. He has the most innings pitched among all of the starters and has recently been pitching very well late into the games. Over his last three games, he has only allowed two runs over 20 innings pitched for a sparkling 0.90 ERA. He did allow three walks today, and his season strikeout-to-walks ratio is a little over 1 to 1. (By contrast, Beckett’s strikeout to walk ratio is 4.25 strikeouts per walk.) But if he only continues to give up four hits and one run and work deep into games, the Sox can live with the walks.

If the starting pitching is going full steam in the right direction, then the bullpen has run out of gas. With today included, the Sox relievers have given up 57 runs in 103.1 innings, which results in a 4.96 ERA. Manny Delcarmen struggled again, giving up one run while he was in the game, and was charged again when Hideki Okajima allowed an inherited runner to score. With Delcarmens’ 7.29 ERA, he is coming dangerously close to challenging Mike Timlin for the highest ERA among the relievers. Recently, Terry Francona pulled Delcarmen from the game after only facing a few batters, much as he did today, and Delcarmen threw a water jug back onto the field once he got back to the dugout. The bullpen has, and will continue to get, good performances from Jonathan Papelbon and Okajima, no surprises there, and David Aardsma has done a good job as the seventh inning man. Javier Lopez’s work has been sporadic, but on the whole, a good effort. The rest of the bullpen has been completely unreliable, and those three or four guys that are performing well cannot pitch every time the Sox have the lead, and leave the other four arms in the bullpen to mop-up duty. Delcarmen was supposed to be the reliever who filled in for Papelbon when he had pitched in back-to-back games, but Francona would have no confidence putting Delcarmen in with the lead in the ninth inning.

Look for this recap following the Sox opening game of the series with the Tigers. (To view all previous recaps, follow this link.)
Keep the Faith.

Posted on: May 1, 2008 10:40 am
 

Red Sox Recap 4-30-08

The Red Sox followed a similar script, getting a dominating start, and winning in the ninth inning against the throw of Vernon Wells. Some thoughts on the game:

Daisuke Matsuzaka put together another brilliant start for the Sox, tossing seven shut-out innings of two hit ball. He should have improved to 5-0, but the bullpen got into some trouble and Hideki Okajima allowed an inherited runner to score. Matsuzaka was dominating, and he continued a recent trend over his last few starts to limit the walks the number of walks he gives up. The Blue Jays only got four base-runners off of him, two via the walk. He was not able to keep his pitch count completely under control, as he is still having too many deep counts with batters. He totaled 112 pitches through the seven innings, as opposed to Jon Lester last night, who finished with 98 over eight innings pitched. For Matsuzaka, he has to face the same music as Lester has, which is to realize that he has good stuff, and certainly good enough pitches not to play around trying to paint the corners, or get hitters to chase, or try to set batters up. It worked in Japan, but major league hitters can sit on certain pitches and wait for more friendly ones. While tonight was certainly a quality start, he can still work on finishing hitters. It seems like he fancies himself a strikeout pitcher, much in the way Josh Beckett did when he came over from the National League. If he is determined on being so, he has to focus on an “out” pitch, which he lacks right now. Obviously, he can use all of his pitches to get hitters out, but there is no 97 MPH fastball in his repertoire like Jonathan Papelbon has, or deadly breaking curveball like Beckett has. Matsuzaka would benefit from pitching more to contact, rather than always trying to get the strikeout. It would result in fewer pitches, and deeper starts. Plus, the Sox have an above average defense, and are especially solid where it counts: at the corner infield positions and in center field.

David Ortiz collected two hits tonight, and drove a hanging change-up from Dustin McGowan into the right field seats for his fifth home run of the season, a shot that gave the Sox their first run of the night. Ortiz now has more RBIs (21) than Manny Ramirez (20) despite Ramirez getting a great deal of credit, as he should, for such a hot start, and Ortiz receiving the negative attention for a slow start. As is the case with pure power hitters, they will continue to produce runs, even when their batting average would suggest otherwise. However, Ortiz was lifted for a pinch runner in the ninth inning, something that Terry Francona did not do last night, and it was because Ortiz was hurting after he led off the ninth inning with a single. After he had rounded first base and headed back, he was limping slightly, and it was also noticeable when he reached second base after Ramirez’s walk, he jogged back into the dug-out in favor of pinch-runner Jed Lowrie. Ortiz was given back-to-back games off late last week because of the problems he has been having with the knee, and it looks as if it is still not where the Sox had hoped it would be. The surgery performed on it in the off-season was reported as arthroscopic, which usually implies that it is minor and the procedure is usually done simply to get a better look at a problem area, or to remove cartilage, and likely Ortiz’s surgery fulfilled both purposes. But, there is no such thing as minor surgery. He has clearly not fully recovered, and it would be safe to assume that the cold weather is only making things feel worse.

It was suggested that, after the recap following the Rays series, not enough credit was given to the Rays' starting pitchers, and that it was implied in the recap that the Sox were supposed to win every single game, and bang out a dozen hits and eight runs in the process. Clearly, the both the Rays and now the Blue Jays have put up very impressive starts to match the Sox. But I would like to hear all of your opinions on whether you think that the Sox hitters are being out-pitched, or whether the pitchers are taking advantage of a tired Red Sox line-up and the offense is under-achieving.

Look for this recap after tomorrow’s game as the Sox try to pull off the sweep of the Blue Jays, despite having only scored three runs in the two games thus far. (To view all previous recaps, follow this link.)
Keep the Faith.

Posted on: April 15, 2008 11:02 pm
 

Red Sox Recap 4-15-08

 

The Red Sox sweep the two games series against the Indians, winning both games on a ninth inning home run. Some thoughts on the game:

For the second straight night, the Sox got a ninth inning home run to break a tie, this time it is Jason Varitek providing the dramatics against Jensen Lewis. Varitek hit his third career pinch hit home run, as Kevin Cash had started the game to catch Tim Wakefield. Varitek is probably the Sox best pinch hitter, with a near .300 lifetime batting average with almost 100 at-bats. Even with some of the offense sputtering at this early point in the year, the Sox have hit in the clutch, late in the game and with runners in scoring position. And similar to last night, not to take anything away from Varitek’s achievements, but Cleveland has a serious issue to resolve in their bullpen. It seems that Rafael Betancourt is the best choice to fill the closer hole for the short term, but the Indians must decide whether he can hold onto the position for the long haul, because it is nearly impossible for a team to win series in the playoffs with a closer-by-committee.

Jed Lowrie made his major league debut for the Sox, and drove in the first three runs that the Sox scored. Lowrie is a switch-hitting infielder who was rated as the top middle infielder in the Sox farm system at the beginning of this year. It speaks to his versatility that his first game in the big leagues is not at one of the middle infield positions, but at third base. He is solid on the defensive side of the ball, but he may have some issues at the plate that he needs to sort out. He has a slightly upper cut swing that especially shows on high pitches, which can lead to a lot of strikeouts. Understandably a little anxious at the plate, he simply needs to cut down on swinging at close pitches when he is ahead in the count, and try to flatten out his swings on high pitches and he could be a very productive utility infielder. And if Julio Lugo does not pan out, and it does not seem like it will, as he grounded into an inning-ending double play with the bases loaded even though he had three singles earlier, he could be a replacement for Lugo at short, or even Mike Lowell at third.

It is almost always difficult to evaluate a start by Tim Wakefield, because even when his knuckleball is dancing and hitters are swinging and missing, he may be walking a lot of hitters and having to hit with the bases loaded. It seems like the quality of his starts tend to be based on the amount of run support the Sox put up behind him. Since they did not score a lot when he was in the game, some may not be impressed with the production of the 41 year old veteran to this point in the season. But, Wakefield seems to be on top of his game and is responding very well to a new battery-mate. All the Sox can hope for from Wakefield is starts where he keeps the knuckleball down and does not make mistakes by giving hitters something easy to hit, which he did tonight.

The Sox bullpen came through well tonight, as Hideki Okajima picked up the save with Jonathan Papelbon was unavailable. David Aardsma is proving that it was a good decision to keep him on the roster, recording some key outs over the past two games, getting out of a tough situation in the eighth. Seeing how the Cleveland bullpen handled the two games, it showed just how important it is to have a bullpen with the confidence to close out the game. Not only does it help add up wins, but it keeps player morale up. Fans and players alike do not have to start biting their nails as soon as the team brings in that night’s ninth inning guy. Be it either Papelbon or Okajima, the Sox do not have to worry about that issue.

Look for this recap after tomorrow’s game against the Yankees, the first of a two game series in New York. (To view all previous recaps, follow this link.)
Keep the Faith.

Posted on: April 14, 2008 12:19 am
Edited on: April 14, 2008 12:22 am
 

Red Sox Recap 4-13-08

The Red Sox got enough where it counted and won the series against the Yankees, two games to one. Some thoughts from the game:

Daisuke Matsuzaka reverted to the 2007 version that we knew of, as opposed to the much improved version we had seen in the last two starts. Matsuzaka had been pitching very effectively, spotting his off-speed pitches and being aggressive with his fastball. However, tonight, we saw much of what agonized Sox fans last year, a pitcher with explosive stuff, but instead of going after hitters, he nit-picked on the corners and tried to get hitters to help him out. The Yankees, however, are just as patient as the Sox, and that led to six walks given up by Matsuzaka, which ran his pitch count to 116 through five innings. He had a significantly higher ERA at home last year, and also posted an ERA over 6 against the Yankees last year, which are two areas that he has to pick up. He can pitch shutout ball away from Fenway for the entire season, but if he can get it done at home and against the Yankees, he is in for some rough times in Boston.

Mike Timlin made another appearance tonight, and had another disaster. Much in the way that Manny Delcarmen had his troubles against Frank Thomas in the Toronto series, Timlin has now surrendered both home runs that Jason Giambi has hit this season. He gave up three hits and did not record any outs, and was saved by Javier Lopez from giving up any more runs as Lopez induced Johnny Damon to ground into a double play. He has now given up three runs, including the two homers to Giambi, while only recording one out, which results in an astronomical 81.00 ERA. Conventional wisdom would say that he was rushed back too quickly, having only made two appearances during a rehab assignment in Pawtucket. But, it may be that, at 42 and one of only thirteen pitchers with over 1,000 appearances in the history of major league baseball, he just does not have much left in the tank. Eventually, if his woes continue, he may be headed back to the disabled list.

Speaking of the bullpen, Lopez pitched the most effective, and his most important inning, of the short season thus far. This was exactly the reason why Lopez was held while the Sox had to go through roster issues. Lopez, criticized because although he is on the team as a lefty specialist, the numbers have shown him to be more effective against righties, will always play an important role against the Yankees. The Yankees employ five lefties and two switch hitters, and Lopez was brought in to retire Johnny Damon, who grounded into a double play, and Robinson Cano. Lopez is the classic example of a pitcher who will always have a job in the big leagues simple because he is a left-handed pitcher who has a deceptive delivery. But, if he does what he did tonight, there will be no complaints from the Sox. It is also very encouraging that on a night, as expected, where Jonathan Papelbon and Hideki Okajima are unavailable, the rest of the bullpen can at least hold on and get the important outs. Other than Timlin, Delcarmen, who finished the game, along with performances by Lopez and David Aardsma, all had great outings, and at this point of the season, that will be a big advantage over other teams, like the Yankees and Tigers, as we have seen.

As was anticipated, David Ortiz was given the night off, albeit the rubber game of the first series of the season against the rival Yankees. The Sox next scheduled day off is not until April 28, which, beginning on April 8, would have been a stretch of 20 straight games. Manny Ramirez was in the lineup as the designated hitter, and with the still hot J.D. Drew was moved up to the number three spot, Jacoby Ellsbury replaced Ramirez in left and picked up a hit and an RBI. There is no question that the Sox looked much more consistent on offense tonight because there was finally some consistency at the top of the lineup. Since coming back from Japan, the Sox have won back-to-back games twice this season, and Ellsbury has started all of those games. It may not be that Ellsbury is that much better than Coco Crisp, who has a higher batting average this year than Ellsbury, but it is clear that the offense will respond more when the lead-off man can start getting into a routine.

Look for this recap as the Sox open a bizarre two game series with the Indians, their only trip to Cleveland this year. (To view all previous recaps, follow this link.)
Keep the Faith.

Posted on: April 12, 2008 9:48 pm
 

Red Sox Recap 4-12-08

 The Red Sox evened the series against the Yankees after a 2:11 rain delay. Some thoughts on the game:

Josh Beckett pitched much more effectively in his second start of the season. As he got into the later innings, however, he still showed signs of fatigue. This is only his second start of the season, and second since mid-March, but his progression is very promising. He did not have a pitch or inning count tonight, like his did against Toronto his first time out, but Terry Francona could see the wheels starting to come off in the seventh. Beckett's fastball had the life and movement at the end like it did last year, but he still had some difficultly breaking off his curve ball. He had some back breakers, but he also had some that he bounced in the dirt, one resulting in a run scored on a wild pitch. Look for Beckett to be back up to full strength for his next start.

Due to the two hour plus rain delay, it was a very peculiar night for Jonathan Papelbon. He warmed up a total of four times last night, but even through an inning and a third, he still only threw just over twenty pitches. He is absolutely unavaible for action tomorrow, and with Hideki Okajima only throwing two-thirds of an inning, he will handle the closing duties if necessary tomorrow. But, Papelbon's perfromance shows that he is still able to be to handle starting pitching duties. It is obvious that Papelbon serves a much better purpose to the Sox by closing, and the Sox do not have the same issues with him as the Yankees do Joba Chamberlain, but if the Sox ever have a severe starting pitching shortage in spring training, Papelbon can fill in. However, for now, his stuff is as electric as any closer in baseball.

After seeing the Tigers' offense not just stumble, but absolutely fall flat out of the gates of the 2008 season, it is clear the effect of having their explosive leadoff man to set the pace of the rest of the lineup. The Sox's offense, while putting up enough runs to earn the win today, while find the same problems so long as Francona continues to rotate Jacoby Ellsbury and Coco Crisp in and out of the lineup. This constant stutter concerning the center fielder has seriously disrupted the flow of this offense and has prevented guys like David Ortiz and others to get going. Francona can use the early weeks of the season to get a feel for what is going to be the most effective lineup, but soon he has to hammer something out and stick to it. Otherwise, the Sox will continue to provide offense in peaks and valleys, as demostrated by this Yankees series.

Look for this recap tomorrow as the Sox go after the rubber game of the first series this year against the Yankees. (To view all previous recaps, follow this link.)
Keep the Faith.

 
 
 
 
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