Posted on: May 9, 2008 10:53 am
The Red Sox rallied back against a struggling Tigers’ bullpen only to have their bullpen falter and loose the game in the ninth. Some thoughts on the game:
After three great starts where it looked like he was turning out to be a solid reliable starter, Clay Buchholz took a big step back today. He got battered around for ten hits and five runs in just four innings. He was attacking the strike-zone, and even though the Tigers’ lineup has been the benchmark for futility this season, they do have a lot of fire power, so while he only walked one and threw 51 of 82 pitches for strikes, they were able to get solid contact off of him. Buchholz has not the issues with walks (only 15 in 38 innings this year) that some of the other Sox starters have had, but there is one difference between the starts where he looks like the kid who threw a no hitter last year, and the Red Sox version of the Yankees’ Ian Kennedy and Phil Hughes. When Buchholz succeeds, it is because he is effective with his fastball, and his fastball is off, he struggles. His fastball is by no means his best pitch (in fact, it is probably his fourth best, after his change-up, curveball and slider), and is not overpowering (hovers in the low 90s), but no pitcher can be effective if he cannot locate his fastball at least to give hitters a different look. If he does not locate his fastball, they will wait on the breaking pitches and take their shots in hitters’ counts. A lot of the damage that opposing hitters do against Buchholz is off of his fastball, but his command will improve as he becomes more comfortable and begins to know hitters strengths and weaknesses. It was a little surprising to see him not come out to start the fifth inning, because even though he was struggling, he had only thrown 82 pitches, and Julian Tavarez had not pitched in several weeks, and it showed. Also, Buchholz seems to be developing a troublesome habit of pitching well at home, but being much worse away from Fenway. The Sox are hopeful that he will even out as the season wears on, but he needs to show that he can beat contending big league teams away from Fenway.
Cbssports.com baseball writer Scott Miller wrote a good article today about the Sox decisions with Jacoby Ellsbury and the playing time he has received. Miller’s main point was that even though Coco Crisp could start on most teams, Ellsbury brings an edge to the Sox lineup that precious few players are able to do. The Red Sox have not started Ellsbury every day for a few reasons. The first is that they have another starting center-fielder with a decent bat and an outstanding glove. Crisp is not going to be on the Red Sox lineup after come August. But, in order for the Sox to get a good return for Crisp's value, which is better than most Sox fans would think, Crisp has to play. He is not driving up his value by sitting on the bench. Crisp knows that his days in Boston are numbered, and that if he is traded, it will likely not be temporary, and Crisp wants to land a long-term extension. Crisp, much like Manny Ramirez, seems to be playing with a little more intensity with the prospect of such a deal all but assured. Another reason that Crisp is playing more may be to keep him at least marginally satisfied, because he is probably better than any other team's number four outfielder (the Tiger's Brandon Inge would give him the biggest competition). Red Sox fans saw how valuable Dave Roberts was to the 2004 World Series win, and Crisp is simply a better Dave Roberts. He is just as fast, a smart base-runner, a better center fielder and a better hitter who can do the little things like bunting and moving runners up. Crisp is also a switch hitter, which gives Terry Francona a great option off of the bench late in the game. Also, if the Sox have both Ellsbury and J.D. Drew as two of their starting outfielders, they are both left-handed batters, and when the opposing starter is a southpaw, it could create problems. So Crisp has a lot of value, but Ellsbury's value is simply better. There are several teams, like San Diego for example, who are in need of some offense and a center fielder. But Crisp needs to play if the Sox hope to get a good deal from him because, as other teams will notice, the Sox would like to deal him away simply to give them an excuse to play Ellsbury more. There is no question that Ellsbury's plusses out stripe Crisp's. The Sox are as astonishing 15-2 when Ellsbury scores a run. For those who follow my recaps after each Sox game, it was clear to see that the Sox offense was struggling, and getting shutout by guys like James Shields, at precisely the same time that Ellsbury was out. The rest of the Sox lineup clearly feels the most comfortable when he is at the top of the list and they like the consistency that he brings. Before an 0-5 the other night, he had some incredibly statistic where for every game that he had had at least one at-bat, he reached base in 50 of 51 of those games, dating back from his debut last year. He is the first player the Sox have had in several decades who get on base, and come around to score, without a hit having been recorded. Also Ellsbury, with two stolen bases tonight, now has successfully stolen 22 straight bases to begin his major league career. The major league record was set by Tim Raines, who stole his first 27 bases to begin his career before being caught.
Look for this recap following tomorrow’s game as the Sox close out the four game series in Detroit. (To view all previous recaps, follow this link.)
Keep the Faith.
Posted on: April 30, 2008 10:13 am
The Red Sox got another brilliant performance by their starting pitcher, and got just enough offense to win it in dramatic wall-off style. Some thoughts on the game:
Jon Lester kept the streak of very impressive recent starts by Red Sox starters. Lester was incredibly effective and efficient from the first inning on, limiting the number of pitches thrown and attacking the strike zone. In effect, he did with his pitches what the Sox have been expecting of him. Obviously, the Sox do not expect eight innings of one-hit, shut-out ball, but there is no reason why opposing left-handed batters should be batting .333 against Lester, as they were at the prior to the start of the game. A few games ago, we saw a similarly dominating performance by Clay Buchholz, but Lester’s pitching style is much different from Buchholz. Buchholz has to, and did during his last start, rely on his off-speed pitches to get batters to reach. Lester has the benefit of a very lively fastball, and he used it very effectively tonight by jamming both righties and lefties inside early in the count, and using a good moving curveball and cut-fastball. He stayed away from his change-up all night, a pitch that had been getting him into trouble in recent starts. Although there were not many base-runners all night, he did a much better job keeping his composure when someone did reach. No Blue Jay had made it to second base through the first eight innings, which speaks to the fact that his ability to work with runners on base has improved.
Lester did not return in the ninth inning, even though he was only at 98 pitches, because the Sox likely wanted Lester to feel good about the game, even though he was not leading. Since the Sox have lost five straight games, Jonathan Papelbon has had little work as a closer, so the Sox also wanted to give him some work. Since the Sox were playing at home, if the game goes into extra innings, the only way the Sox can win is via the “walk-off,” and there would be no save opportunity. (As an interesting tidbit, Papelbon had more strikeouts (18) entering the game than all but one of the Yankees pitchers, and that would be Chien-Ming Wang, who has pitched in nearly four times as many innings.) As much as the Sox have been concerned about Papelbon’s shoulder and trying to limit him over-working, the Sox also have to be conscious when he goes an extended amount of time without pitching. For relievers, especially someone who throws as hard as he does, going a long time without pitching can sometimes cause more stress on the arm. As it happens, he showed little signs of rust, and upped his strikeout total by two more.
For what seems like an increasingly bad occurrence, the Sox once again did nearly nothing against an opposing pitcher, and almost wasted another brilliant start. True, Roy Halladay is much more accomplished than James Shields and Matt Garza, and he did pitch another gem tonight, but the Sox offense has been downright non-existent for the past week. After having a day off yesterday, their first in three weeks, the Sox offense looked just as tired and anemic as they did against the Rays. The Sox team batting average after the Rangers series was an astonishing .303, but dipped to .288 prior to the start of the Blue Jays series, and since they managed only a few hits tonight, the average dropped even further. It took the Sox until the ninth inning to manage to get two runners on base at the same time, and that was still with two outs. Although they did get timely hitting in the ninth, Halladay was well over 100 pitches, and even with the win, the Sox have to put something together while their starter is still on the mound.
Look for this recap after tomorrow’s game as the Sox try to build some momentum on tonight’s win. (To view all previous recaps, follow this link.)
Posted on: April 28, 2008 6:46 pm
Josh Beckett made his start after missing his last because of a strained neck. He was incredibly effective, throwing his best game since the playoffs. His 13 strikeouts were the most for any one game in his career. Beckett did exactly what the Sox will need from him this year: seven innings, scatter the hits and limit the walks. Although the Sox got swept, the Sox starters for the series pitched six, eight, and seven innings, while giving up only six earned runs. If the Sox can continue to look forward to these kinds of performances, there will not be too many sweeps against the Sox this year.
Someone remarked after yesterday’s recap that I did not give the Rays any credit for pitching such a good game yesterday and limiting the Sox to just one run, and that I was implying that the Sox should win every game. That was not my intent, and I should have given just credit where it is deserved. The Rays are easily my second favorite team after the Sox, and they have some great young players, and played their hearts out this series. The Rays combination of surprisingly great starting pitching and a healthy mix of small-ball offense and power has gotten the Rays off to a great start. Everyone acknowledged that the Rays have enough offensive talent to keep pace with the best offenses in the A.L., but the Rays were written off because of their lack of pitching talent. The Rays have a serious chance at finishing above .500 this year, which is no mean feat given the other circumstances surrounding the A.L. East. They will be a serious problem for the other East teams that have playoff aspirations.
Although the Sox were out-pitched this series, the offense has to be a serious concern. The Rays got great starts out Matt Garza and James Shields, but the Sox will be facing tougher competition once the season continues to role on. When the offense was sputtering earlier on in the year, it was because of the top of the lineup. Now, it is the power guys in the lineup who are not producing in the clutch. Manny Ramirez had a good series, and continued to raise his average, but he is not getting timely hits and extra base hits. Hopefully, with Mike Lowell on the mend, the Sox can start to drive in runs again. To have the top three batting averages in the A.L. is nice, but the batting averages do not mean much if nobody is hitting with runners on base.
The Sox get their first off-day in three weeks tomorrow, so look for this recap on Tuesday as the Sox open up a home series against the Blue Jays. (To view all previous recaps, follow this link.)